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Jean Tock

Artist Bio

I am artistically inspired by the possibilities of found objects and recycled materials. There is something very satisfying about taking a discarded object, juxtaposing it with other elements and transforming it into a three-dimensional commentary.

“Pictures just come to my mind, and I tell my heart to go ahead.”
— Horace Pippin

“For a pessimist, I’m pretty optimistic.” — Hayley Williams

Artist Statement

I try to be as precise and meticulous as possible in my craft, while at the same time looking for the unexpected and pushing my imagination. I generally follow a theme in my work.

In The Artist’s Studio

A conversation with Jean Tock

When did you first start as an artist?
1984, I was hired right out of college to be an assistant in Harper & Row’s Advertising Dept. I worked closely with staff artists and art directors and had on-the-job graphic design training.

Did you go to art school or have you taken art classes?
My BA is in English Literature, but after accepting a job with H&R I took graduate classes at Parsons School of Design – back in the day when your employer reimbursed you for continuing education!

Who or what inspired you (why).
Joseph Cornell. He was the first artist I studied whose work did not rely on drawing and painting. He opened my mind to different forms of fine art.

What medium do you work in and why?
I originally started work in collage but then went in the direction of “found object” assemblage. It’s similar to collage (the concept of piecing things together). But with found objects, it’s rewarding to use everyday items to emotionally connect the art to those who see it. I like to use vintage or antique items in my work. One favorite find of mine are prescription cards I came across from the 1900s.

What is your creation process like?
Almost always it begins with the box. The size and depth of the box starts me thinking. Then I look through my piles of vintage games, toys, books, sewing items, etc. and I start to place things together to see what items “talk” to each other. I spend a lot of time treasure hunting at Good Will or flea markets to collect pieces that appeal to me. About five years ago, I built this studio where I work and luckily I now have the space to house everything I’ve found that I want to use in my art some day.

How do you describe your style?
I try to be as precise and meticulous as possible in my craft, while at the same time looking for the unexpected and pushing my imagination. I generally follow a theme in my work. I am currently working on aviary pieces but because I use found objects like old games or a part of a rusted bike frame, sometimes these have a nostalgic feel. I recently did a piece starting with an old desk drawer as the box. At the Mahopac Library, I showed a piece that included scrolled pages from books like the Koran.


Do you find it difficult to title your pieces?
It is challenging to title your work. I hate titles that are too cute. I sometimes take the title from some text that is visible on the piece (such as “Alberta Springs”). Other times I have to really think about what message I am trying to illustrate before a title comes to me.

What’s your favorite piece?
Right now I’m having fun with the aviary pieces. I bought a bunch of these vintage spun cotton birds at a flea market in NYC, and I’m enjoying seeing them in their second incarnation. Of course my use of birds in artwork is also a nod to Mr. Cornell.

Where are your favorite places to see art?
I love the Met. It has everything, and their docent tours never disappoint. Locally we are lucky to have Katonah Museum of Art, LOOK | ART Gallery, and of course Putnam Arts Council.

Who are your favorite artists (current and historic)?
The aforementioned Joseph Cornell; Robert Rauschenberg; Kurt Schwitters (all historic). Mark Wagner (current) – Mark is an artist who uses US dollar bills to create beautiful collages. I love how he combines precision with imagination.

What are you currently working on?
I’m working on several new pieces for my upcoming shows. I generally work on two or more pieces at once since there is a bit of drying time for each one. I have a current show with painter Carl Mazzella at LOOK | ART Gallery in Mahopac. The show runs through March 23. I then have a solo show opening May 1st at Mahopac Public Library’s Third Floor Gallery. I am also in two international shows.

What challenges do you face as an artist?
Well, like most artists I know, the business side of the work is most difficult for me. I would much rather be in the studio than on my computer searching for show opportunities. As an assemblage artist, I find it extremely difficult to explain to non-artists the type of art I create. The first question people ask when they learn you are an artist is “What kinds of things do you paint?” People tend to have more respect for a skill like drawing because they understand that; in my work much of the skill is in the concept and that is a tough thing to help people understand.

What has been the impact of the Putnam Arts Council on you?
I joined the Board of the Putnam Arts Council in 1998. I was the mother of three, with my youngest child just a year old, and my husband said he thought he might apply to be on PAC’s Board. I objected — art was my domain! — so he said “OK. Well why don’t YOU apply then?” So I did! I served as a Board member for many years, and it was through a collage class at PAC with instructor Christopher Staples that I learned about Joseph Cornell. Christopher has educated and encouraged me tremendously over the past 10 years, and without PAC I would not have met her – and perhaps would not have “met” Joseph Cornell.

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