This Q&A series focuses on artists contributing to the #ArtisticVisionPgh project cosponsored byMost Wanted Fine Art and Penn Avenue Eyewear. Our next contributor is Joe Wos of the Toonseum.
Name: Joe Wos
How old were you when you first had to wear glasses? I started wearing glasses when I was 7 years old. The year was 1977. I had blonde hair back then. I actually had hair back then. My parents dressed me in the current fashions of the 70’s and I can only say what doesn’t kill you probably only makes you look stupid 30 years later.
There I was with my blonde hair and my paisley print shirt with wide collars trying on glasses. My mom took one look at me and said “You look like a little John Denver!” Not realizing of course that would be exactly what the kids in school would say too.
Throughout most of my childhood my glasses were the subject of ridicule. I hated wearing them. I would lose them, I would break them, but they always seemed to return to rest firmly on my somber young face.
How old were you when you had to pay for the glasses you wear? I went for a few years without glasses after they had broken and we couldn’t afford to get new ones. I went through most of high school without glasses. Consequently I failed my driver’s license test several times! By the time I was in my early twenties I realized I was going to have to get a pair of glasses. I set aside money that would have been spent on movies and comics for a few months. After I got the glasses, the movies were much better.
Have you ever had to “fix” your own glasses with tape, string, glue, etc? I used a paper clip after one of the screws from the arm hinge was lost. I shoved a paper clip in to hold it together and I worked it back and forth bending it to try to get it to snap and have a smaller piece sticking out and not a whole paper clip! It worked, and that paper clip held my glasses together for a few weeks! It’s the only time I ever actually found a paper clip useful.
Tell me about a character in literature, film, television or other pop culture who wore glasses and how that resonated with you for good or for bad. Clark Kent! Diana Prince! Any superhero who needs to hide their true identity. Often clumsy, nerdy, but smart, I learned that anyone who wears glasses is just trying to hide the superhero inside themselves. But when that time comes the glasses come off and the cape comes out! The only problem was my cape came out, I would fly right into a tree without my glasses.
Describe your relationship with your glasses now. Once i was in my thirties my glasses were a part of my persona! An extension of my identity. They helped make me a character in my own cartoon world. I always draw myself with my glasses, they add a lot of personality to my face.
But when I remove them I am invisible, people don’t recognize me. I guess I must be superman.
There’s a pervasive stigma about wearing glasses for young and old, but an equally pervasive idea that glasses indicate intelligence (or hipness.) Explain that duality. Nerd! Geek!
They are not labels, they are badges of honor! But it took a long time to get there. I get frustrated by people who wear fake glasses because it makes them look hip. I can’t imagine they would do the same with a wheelchair. Actually I can imagine some doing that.
The stigma around glasses involves a perception of weakness. Men who wear glasses “don’t play sports.” They are automatically classed as nerds. And often if they don’t play sports will immerse themselves in academic and trivial pursuits. Glasses have always been associated with intelligence. Librarians, teachers, even Indiana Jones when he needs to look like a professor puts them on. In our society physical weakness is associated with strong intellect. Weak eyes mean a strong mind!
Can you describe how the cost of vision health services has had a negative impact on your life? I’ve gone years without glasses when I was younger. I couldn’t get a drivers license, I had trouble in school, it was tough. In fights the first thing they did was break your glasses! and growing up in Braddock in the 80’s there was a lot of fighting. So my glasses would break and I might go a year or more before insurance would cover a new pair.
Tell me about your work for this exhibit. While I need my glasses to see at a distance, I have perfect vision close up and it has allowed me to draw great detail in my mazes. My maze has been dubbed the world’s most difficult by Ripley’s Believe it or Not! and I created the world’s largest hand drawn maze. Mazes are one of the world’s earliest interactive art forms. It is an art form that requires participation and literally draws you in. My mazes are different from many as they incorporate illustrations within the solvable paths.
How can readers learn more about your work? Google me! Type in Joe Wos and maze and see what comes up.
I also have a new book coming out soon called the Three Little Pigsburghers, it is the story of the three little pigs as told in Pittsburghese.
Thank you, Joe.