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An Artistic Point of View: NIEHS's Joseph Tart

By Colleen Chandler

Joseph Tart produced 75 paintings in the past 5 years. But for him, it's more about the process than the quantity. For Tart, the process is therapeutic and calming.

Tart is the art director for the NIEHS journal, Environmental Health Perspectives. By day, he sits at his computer, using electronic tools to do a lot of the same things he does at home in his studio with paint brushes and a palate: eliciting emotional appeal from a flat, blank surface.

In his office, he sits back in his chair and ponders the creative aspects of his job and his painting. His eyes focus on something far in the distance, well beyond the wall that faces him. He talks about the use of certain colors to create a mood or emotional state. The concept, he says, is well documented in the art world, but the way people react is almost always subconscious.

Joseph Tart, art director for NIEHS's Environmental Health Perspectives, with his painting, River Stones

"It's important to reach people with their feelings as well as their minds," he said. That element of emotional appeal causes people to reach down deep inside, deeper than they otherwise would, to relate to whatever topic is presented.

Tart said he tends to go back to certain themes in his painting. He has an affinity for still life, especially using simple objects like fruit. Lemons and pears are among the objects he has painted multiple times.

Joyce Bumann, Freedom of Information specialist at NIEHS, bought one of Tart's paintings of a lemon several years ago. She hung it in her breakfast room, which she has deliberately turned into a bright, cheery space. The painting, she said, is the perfect complement for the room, tying together all the elements of color and quality.

"There is just something wonderful about what he does with color," Bumann said.

As a child, Tart watched his beloved grandmother as she painted. Hers were somber landscapes. He, too, paints landscapes. His feature simple boats that, in Tart's words, "explore the quiet moments of sunrise and sunset" and bridges that "suggest our connection between different moments in our past and future.

"The relationship between artist and the subject is revealed in my paintings through the interplay of light, space and color," he continues. "The luscious maternity of fruit is reflected in the fullness of curve, the richness of hue. Nature is refracted through the lens of human experience and assumes the contours of the human form."

Among Tart's favorite pieces is a mirror he did for the Raleigh (N.C.) Hospice Association, which conducted an auction to raise money for hospice activities. For that piece, he found an old mirror. Over the peeling, cracking frame, he painted angel wings. He used wire to float a piece of wood above the mirror. On the back of the wood, facing the mirror, was a reversed passage about angels who come to you when you are unaware. The passage was legible in the mirror, but camouflaged from direct view of the mirror. A colorful, loosely printed heart adorned the front of the wood panel. Tart said the piece did very well in the auction. That was payment enough for him. Tart said he admires hospice workers, who generously offer love and patience to support a family, but remain unobtrusive in the process. His contribution was his tribute to their work.

Tart, who has a degree in biology, said he paints more now that he has a studio addition to his home, where he lives with wife Kimberly, EHP news editor, and four sons. The couple decided to add the studio about 5 years ago. To see some of his work, visit

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