Even with all the aptitude Mandy Joy had for creating lively paintings, the artist never imagined extending that talent to people. Portraits intimidated her more than any other style she’d tackled. “It’s kind of like what you imagine to be the highest [form of] scrutiny.” the 39-year-old says. “I had seen it done poorly and I was afraid.”
Joy wouldn’t undertake her first portrait until the summer of 2014. She accepted a commission to paint a woman wearing Day of the Dead makeup. The artist says her main concern with portraits derived from getting the skin tones just right, but Día de los Muertos makeup didn’t require such consistency. So, she went for it.
What started as a tenderfoot, one-off project turned into a four-piece acrylic series of colorful and compositionally-stellar Día de los Muertos women at Jana’s RedRoom at the Arts Factory in October 2015. The show excelled. The next month, Twisted Artist Gallery tapped her to display the series at its location.
In reflection, the artist says she’d probably never have taken the portrait project on if she hadn’t moved to Las Vegas. Painting for the acclaimed Mexican holiday freed what little remained of Amanda Joy Wisniewski, the small town girl from Warsaw, New York, where the Hispanic population barely broke 100. The opportunity echoed a song of perseverance for her. In December 2015, Joy would face another roadblock that would require the same tenacity.
“Some people think I should be flattered because they had to have it, but if you had a paycheck on the counter and somebody stole it, it’s not a compliment. I’m not flattered.” – Mandy Joy
“The owner of Twisted Artist Gallery [Paula Rice] gave me a call. The paintings were actually [hanging] outside of her gallery in the hallway of the stairway here in the Arts Factory. She came into work one day, and noticed that they weren’t on the wall,” Joy says. “She hadn’t sold them, so she gave me this phone call. … I’d just heard the message, but I thought, ‘Oh my god … maybe somebody moved them.’”
Someone did move them, just not for Rice or Joy’s sake. Rice asked around, trying to get a lead on where the paintings might’ve been relocated. But the only details Joy says she got were that it sounded like a “bunch of teenage boys” were in the hallway around 11 p.m., but they quickly dispersed. Whether they were the culprits is still unclear. We’re just left with the feelings.
“I was pissed off, but I was really just shocked that somebody would do that right off a main wall,” she says. “It takes balls.”
Rice and others in the Arts District pulled together to spread the word about the wrongdoing. Joy says Rice even went as far as offering to compensate her for the stolen work. The art scene understood the hit she took, but the same could not be said about others. “Some people think I should be flattered because they had to have it, but if you had a paycheck on the counter and somebody stole it, it’s not a compliment,” Joy says. “I’m not flattered.”
The artist says she’s still holding onto a “shred of hope” that the paintings will return, but she’s not waiting by the door. In fact, she’s painting her revenge.
“My new show is a little bit of a screw you to the thieves,” she says. Not every painting will give the figurative bird to the art crooks, “but then there’s two side paintings, which are the girls who were stolen. I re-did them in a different way, which I won’t exactly reveal until the very show.”
Ahh, come on. We might not have the juiciest details on what Joy’s show will look like, but mentor, friend and 19-year painter Steve Anthony might have a little idea. “Her follow up show, as a result of [what happened], is gonna be killer. … ” he says. “I told her, the way you’re responding to this situation, and firing back with what you’re doing … that’s what makes great art to me.”
You’ll have to pencil in October’s First Friday at Jana’s RedRoom to catch how Joy enacts her sweet revenge. But just know, it’s much more than that.
“These girls are for anyone who has been victimized, crossed, stolen from, or stepped on,” she says in a written letter about the show. “Like Mama said, ‘When life gives you lemons, eat them whole. Choke them down—skin, seeds, pulp and all, without breaking eye contact. Maybe life will stop being such a jerk if you show it you’re done fucking around.’”
Revenge of the Dead
At Jana’s RedRoom gallery in the Arts Factory. Oct. 7.