(Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1952 - )
Jody Mussoff was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1952 to Sam and Lenore Mussoff.(1) Her father, a World War II Army veteran, worked in a variety of capacities including owning and operating a shoe store and working in a sporting goods store. Mussoff says her childhood was "very solid" and that she "had a loving father and mother (and sister) who always supported my artistic talent."(2)
In fact, art always seemed to be a part of Mussoff's life, she remembers beginning to draw around kindergarten or perhaps even earlier.(3) She continued with art classes throughout high school, graduating in 1970 from Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh and continuing on with her first year of college from 1970 to 1971 at the Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. This was a pivotal period in Mussoff's life and after a year she decided to take a break from college.(4) Several years later, in 1974 Mussoff moved to Washington D.C and continued her education at the Corcoran School of Art, where she studied until 1976.
Remaining in the DC area, Mussoff currently resides in Riverdale, Maryland with her husband Christopher Wilson. In addition to working as a visual artist Mussoff works at the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Library in catalogue management. She began her library career thirty-five years ago in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Library.
Mussoff consistently presents her works of art both nationally and internationally. In the 1980s galleries in both Sweden and New York frequently gave her exhibitions and, for twenty years until the gallery's closing in 2001, Mussoff worked with Gallery K in Washington DC. In 2000 Mussoff received a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council and in 2007 the DC Commission for the Arts and Humanities also recognized her artistic contribution to the Washington DC area by awarding her a prize.
Using colored pencil on paper, Mussoff creates stylized figurative drawings. She chose this particular medium as she feels it allows for a more immediate gesture than the process of painting. The fact that pencils are non-toxic is also important to her.(5) In the last few years, Mussoff also began working in ceramic. For her, ceramics allow her to be more whimsical and "has given me a needed break from working only with pencils and paper; it's changed my scale, let me work sculpturally, and lightened the imagery somewhat. I value both ways of working."(6) In addition to her drawings and ceramic work, Mussoff creates book illustrations and cover art, including the covers for a series of books of fiction by Washington area women.(7)
As a young girl, paintings by Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917) and Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890) drew her in and, as an adult, the works of Francis Bacon (British, 1909–1992) and Egon Schiele (Austrian, 1890–1918) provided inspiration. In fact, while Mussoff's works have a distinct quality, her inspirations are evident. Mussoff's depictions of women demonstrate movements that recall Degas's dancers, her sure and assertive placement of lines relate to van Gogh's energetic paint strokes, while her depictions of emotional states allude to the figurative works of both Bacon and Schiele.
Mussoff's images of women stem from her imagination; in fact they essentially function as self-portraits portraying various alter egos that Mussoff creates to "create a narrative that feels right and is important to me as I try to come to terms with living."(8) By building vivid color up through simple lines and a process of cross-hatching Mussoff adds a theatrical quality to her illustrative images of young girls and women. Artist and critic Joe Shannon agrees, stating, "Mussoff's is contour drawing, not particularly volumetric; it is, however, alive with multicolored hatching that provides an unreal light consistent with the Prismacolor rendering of reflections. This hatching has the zany effect of light thrown by theatrical gels; again, the artificial, the theatrical, is stressed. This distances reality as it emphasizes it."(9)
Adding to the surreal nature of her work and accompanying the women are dogs, birds and other animals that Mussoff often incorporates into her images. "I feel very close to animals—they are so much more perfect than humans! The animal/human relationship in my drawings is very provocative to me."(10) Mussoff positions each of her figures, human or animal, on a white field created by the paper. They appear to have odd interactions with each other and by isolating her subjects and removing contextual information Mussoff creates a fantastical setting that invokes a psychological space. Her women appear to be lost in an ambiguous private world in situations that at first glance may seem humorous, yet a sense of tension or anxiety often seeps through.
(1) Primary sources for this essay come from the following a variety of artists reviews along with e-mail correspondence with the artist. See Artist's Vertical File, MMFA Library and MMFA Objects Record File, 2011.6.
(2) E-mail correspondence between author and artist, March 8, 2012.
(4) Looking back, Mussoff says that leaving schools was "a good thing." Ibid.
(6) Artist Statement, http://www.galleryneptune.com/en/126/; accessed March 15, 2012.
(7) "Electric Grace: Still More Fiction by Washington Area Women" (2007); "Enhanced Gravity: More Fiction by Washington Area Women" (2006), and "Grace and Gravity: Fiction by Washington Area Women" (2004).
(8) Artist Statement, http://www.galleryneptune.com/en/126/; accessed March 15, 2012.
(9) Joe Shannon, "Jody Mussoff at Monique Knowlton," Art in America, September 1983, p. 177