Joy Laville, English/Mexican (1923 - )

Joy Laville

Joy Laville (born September 8, 1923) is an English/Mexican artist whose art career began and mostly developed in Mexico when she came to the country to take art classes in San Miguel de Allende. While there she met Mexican writer Jorge Ibargüengoitia, whom she married in 1973.

During this time her art career developed mostly in pastels with a reflective quality. In 1983, Ibargüengoitia died in a plane crash in Spain and Laville’s painting changed dramatically. Since that time, her work has focused on the loss of her husband, directly or indirectly with themes of finality, eternity and wondering what more is there. Her work has been exhibited in Mexico and abroad including the Palacio de Bellas Artes and the Museo de Arte Moderno. In 2012, she received the Bellas Artes Medal for her life’s work.

Joy Laville was born on September 8, 1923 in Ryde on the Isle of Wight. Her father was Francis Laville, a captain in the Indian Army of the Seventh Rajput Regiment. Her mother was Vera Elizabeth Perren. While Joy was conceived in India, her mother decided to go to England to give birth because she lost her first pregnancy. Her parents divorced shortly after her younger sister, Rosemarie, was born and Joy was five. Her mother remarried shortly after and her father died in 1939 from tuberculosis.

Joy describes herself as a child as quiet and sensitive but happy, near the ocean with her talent for drawing appearing early. As a child she took ballet and piano classes. One frequent drawing was that of ballerinas.

When the Second World War began, Joy and her sister had to leave school and stay home. Bored, she demanded art classes and her mother sent her to an art school in the south of England. Due to the needs of the war, Joy soon joined the Observer Corps in Yorkshire, where she worked to detect and map the movement of Allied and Axis planes as they flew over England. The war took its toll and she learned that life was fragile. This made her rebellious and libertine in young adulthood. At age 17 she fell in love with a Jewish refugee named Julius Taussky but her mother and stepfather would not let her marry because of her age.

Later, Joy met Kenneth Rowe, an artilleryman with the Canadian Air Force which whom she married at age 21 and went to live in Canada. She says the marriage was a mistake, more to run away from England than anything, living in Canada from 1947 to 1956. In Canada, her husband obtained a permit to log in the forests of British Columbia, which led the couple to live in very remote locations. She said she loved the vast forest but it was a lonely existence, far from civilization. She began to read anything she could get to pass the time. Later, in 1951, her only son, Trevor, was born in Prince George, as she worked as a secretary and took painting classes. However, she became increasingly dissatisfied with the marriage, feeling “petrified” and not only decided to leave her husband, but also Canada. Like her own mother, she left Trevor’s father when Trevor was five and decided to move to Mexico to make a clean break.

Of Mexico, all she knew that it was cheap to live there from books such as Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry . She wrote to the Mexican consulate in Vancouver asking were to live with her five year old son and study art. They suggested San Miguel de Allende. She arrived in 1956, not knowing any Spanish and began her social live with other foreigners. She rented a house and began to take classes. She lived in San Miguel de Allende for twelve years. From 1956 to 1958, she studied at the Instituto Allende, which would be her only formal art training. Afterwards, she experimented with a number of artistic styles from the 20th century including Cubism and Abstract Expressionism. Eventually she established her own style and this is when galleries began to be interested in her work. To live, she worked at the Institute in the mornings and painted during the rest of the day.

In 1959, he met painter Roger von Gunten with whom she has been friends and colleagues since. At the beginning of the 1970s, Von Gunten moved in with her and helped her develop as an artist for two years until he decided to return to Mexico City.

After leaving the Instituto Allende, she began working in a bookstore in called El Colibrí. She met Jorge Ibargüengoitia in the summer of 1964, but they did not start dating until the following year. She moved to Mexico City in 1968 after she sent her son off to college in Vancouver. They first lived in an apartment that Jorge built on his mother’s property. They married in on November 10, 1973. When his mother died, the couple decided to live in Europe, spending time in London, Greece and Spain before settling in Paris in 1980. Ibargüengoitia called her “la mujer lila” or the “lily woman” and sometimes referred to her as “Cleo” in his writings.

Ibargüengoita died in an airplane crash on November 27, 1983 in Spain, while Laville was at their home in Paris. She continued to live in Paris until 1985 when she returned to Mexico because, she said, she felt at home there. She then went to live near Cuernavaca, bringing Jorge’s private library with her as well as his ashes. She kept them for fifteen years until she was convinced to inter them at the Parque Antillon in front of the house where he was born.

She now lives in the town of Jiutepec, near Cuernavaca and still paints for several hours per day, but for fewer hours now because of her age. True to her English roots, she likes whiskey but likes tequila as well. She still travels occasionally to England for periods of time. Her house is filled with books which cover tables and chairs, as well as her paintings, which can be found even in the bathrooms. There are also many photos of her son Trevor, her granddaughter and her husband Jorge.

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