There is a strong sense of theatricality in Joanna Phelps’ drawings and paintings. Elements are suspended or balanced within a vertiginous space; often at tipping point or actually falling. The compositions are playful and are a celebration of colour. Recurring motifs in the paintings include small dots of colour that heap and spill like juggling balls, piano keys, kites and multi-coloured twisted threads or ropes. The coloured dots could also be a myriad of small lights. Odd shapes behave like anchors in the picture plane, keeping the tilted compositions in place. There is often a feeling of implied movement, in spaces where the viewer is left reeling and trying to find stability. Floors are never completely horizontal – small rooms hold furniture which could slide away. As if entering a wonky house in a funfair, the viewer feels their way through the space in a strange trajectory while grasping any fixed points if they exist.
Drawing inspiration from diverse sources that include curtained stages and performances by the circus troupe Cirque de Soleil, it is hard to find artists to whom this work relates. Yet it can be encountered in the finely balanced sculptural and filmic compositions of Marijke van Warmerdam and the colourful abstract paintings of Thomas Nozkowski. Although not emulating them in any way, associations can be made between Joanna’s lines of thought and the playfulness and delicately balanced elements in those works. The stage sets could equally be imaginary places. Joanna references Italo Calvino’s ‘Invisible Cities’, in which a city such as ‘Diomira’ has “sixty silver domes” and “multi-coloured lamps…lighted all at once”. Having graduated from the Royal Academy School of Arts, London in 2008, Joanna has shown her paintings in the UK and internationally.