Joseph Forest Vey Biography

Joseph Forest Vey




Painter, printmaker, and illustrator Joseph Forest Vey was born in the Bronx, New York on September 11, 1920 and brought up in Edgewater, New Jersey. He moved to New York to attend Cooper Union with the aim of studying architecture, but soon switched to painting and printmaking. An artist, illustrator, and teacher, he was also a carpenter who made a living for a time repairing antique furniture for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At age 21 he was studying at Mc Lane Art Institute

Following his stint in World War II, Vey moved to #35 Cooper Square, an 1820s dormer-style building that housed a flatware company on the bottom floor. Using a portion of his G.I. Bill earnings, he rented all of the available rooms and improved the building's plumbing and portions of the structure, and effectively became the building manager. Along with his wife Marguerite, he cheaply rented out the upper floor units to young artists, actors, and writers, operating his own painting studio on the middle level. According to his son, cartoonist P.C. Vey, the building often played host to all-night gatherings on the top floor, while his father held court on the level down, inviting artists to join him at the large kitchen table to work on individual and group projects or to engage in discussions of political, social, and artistic nature. Among the people who lived there were author Claude Brown who wrote
Manchid in the Promised Land, and actor Joel Grey of "Cabaret" fame. Vey's efforts established #35 Cooper Square as a home for struggling artists establishing themselves in what was arguably the 20th century's main art hub. Sadly, despite years of efforts to save it, the building was demolished in 2013.

Vey's style evolved from Modernist objective with a focus on cityscapes and other representations of everyday life, to the strictly non-objective abstract later in his career. When he suffered from a debilitating allergic reaction to the oil paints and inks he used - forcing him to wrap his hands in gauze in order to work - he moved on to a new artistic pursuits, including watercolor and woodworking. 

He was a lecturer and workshop teacher throughout his life, and among his posts he taught watercolor at Hunter College and Rockefeller University to the staff. In 1960 he taught with Robert Indiana at the Scarsdale Studio Workshop in a creative workshop for children. While little can be found of his work online, his son recalls that his father's output was prolific, creating drawings, prints, and paintings fairly regularly until the end of his life. Two of Vey's works from 1955 and 1958 are included in the archives of the Guggenheim. 

J. Forest Vey died in Monroe, New York, on May 7, 1993.