Influences: Joseph Cornell

Of all my influences (and there are many), Joseph Cornell is by far the biggest. Here then is a short bio of the man and his work.


ABOVE: Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Medici Princess), c. 1948, construction, 17.63 x 11.13 x 4.38 inches, private collection

Joseph Cornell was born in Nyack, New York on December 24, 1903 to Joseph, a textile merchant, and Helen, a kindergarten teacher.

The eldest of four siblings, he was a shy child who played in isolation, and was wary of strangers. The Death of his father in 1917 (when he was 14) amplified his shyness.

It also brought hard times upon the family, and they were forced to move to a smaller house in Queens. With the exception of 2 years away at school (he didn’t graduate), Cornell spent almost his entire life in that house.

A deeply religious man, he was either incapable, or unwilling to enter into a romantic relationship, so instead, he spent his adult days in the company of his mother, and brother Robert (who had cerebral palsy). He did sometimes enjoy the friendship of women, but they found him far too weird to date.

Cornell is best known for his boxed assemblages, which he created using found objects. These works have several themes, chiefly among them: Medici children, birds, ballet dancers, and female film-stars.

While he never pledged allegiance to any one ‘ism’, he is most often considered a surrealist, and owing to that, he became friends with some of the movements biggest players. Later in life, his influence could be seen in other movements, such as Pop.

Joseph Cornell died of a heart attack in New York City on December 29, 1972. He was 69.