The shy, reclusive and self taught maker of shadow boxes and experimental films, Joseph Cornell , rarely left New York State, with the exception of a few college years in Andover, Mass, spending most of his life in a modest house in the beautifully named Utopia Parkway, Queens, caring for his mother and disabled brother. His artwork is filled with a yearning for the unobtainable ; birds with their freedom of flight, glamorous movie stars and ballerinas as the source of passionate, platonic romances and especially travel to the most luxurious and wondrous locations.
Hotels are a common feature of his shadow boxes, miniature visions of rest stops and trysting places for artistic, mythological and astrological archetypes as they travel through the starry Empyrean and the wastes of infinity.
In the early 1930’s a young salesman who lived on Utopia Parkway, Queens, while browsing in a bookstore, as was his habit when he had some spare time, came across a book that was to forever change his life . It was Max Ernst’s collage novel La Femme 100 Tetes, and from it’s marvellous pages, the shy and dreamy young man, whose name was Joseph Cornell realised that you didn’t have to be a trained painter to be an artist; art could be made out of everyday objects with the aid of a pair of scissors and a pot of glue. Inspired Cornell would create collages late at night after his mother and his beloved brother Robert, who had cerebral palsy and Joseph cared for, went to bed.
From collages Joseph Cornell went on to assemble his fabulous, intricate glass-paned shadow boxes that create in miniature beautiful and sublimely mysterious dream-worlds.
The above collage conveys Cornell intense and yearning romanticism. Although in many respects Cornell had a highly successful artistic career and everyone in the art world would visit Cornell when in New York, he remained a reserved and reclusive figure. He never married and remained in his mother’s modest house on Utopia Parkway until his death in 1972.