A goldenrod ‘70s Honda bike sits up against the tool bench on the other side of the basement. Around the room there is an assortment of art supplies, crates of paint, brushes and other tools. Two manual cameras hang from a nail underneath a screen printing machine he made after his trip to Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Joseph Toney walks over to the table across from the motorcycle. A cow skull hangs on the wall above it and a deer skull sits on the corner of the table. He flips open a large makeshift folder and pulls out a series of screenprints.
The image is blue and red. Where the colors combine it creates a dark purple. A figure stands on the edge of a crag and looks over the side of the mountain. Its arms open like an eagle or hawk about to take the plunge into nothingness. Fog obscures the mountain peak in the background. In the foreground, the slanted apex emerges on the right hand side of the frame.
“I was out in Jackson Hole this summer,” Toney says. “I got to ride out to Colorado with a friend who was moving to California. We did a ride up to Wyoming and we spent this crazy 14-hour day summiting this 14,000 foot peak.”
The peak of the mountain suffered an onslaught of rain, snow, hail, thunder and lightning. At about 1,000 feet from the summit, Toney and two friends huddled for warmth in a cave as nature unleashed against the 14,000 foot giant for 45 minutes.
“We knew we were so close that we had to do it,” he says. “We got up there and I had my SLR with me. I was able to snap some pretty incredible photographs. I then turned it into a screenprint.”
Joseph Toney is always pushing the boundaries. It does not matter if it is art or just in life itself.
“I like pushing my boundaries a lot,” he said. “It’s kind of like when I am focusing on art my mind gets in this kind of direction. The same thing happens to me if I am skiing, climbing or mountain biking.”
Born in Atlanta, the Toney family moved to Boone after a few years. He went to middle school in Boone. He went to high school in Boone. And now only a few days until graduation he plans to finish out his college career in Boone.
“It was an interesting place to grow up,” Toney said. “It was definitely a small town. I knew everyone in elementary school, everyone in high school. I pretty much knew my entire senior class.”
Art was not always the top priority on Toney’s list. For the longest time he was a zealous soccer player until he tore his ACL his senior year of high school. He found that being locked to his wheelchair was really the tipping point, the experience that changed him from drawing building schematics to creating art.
“I was taking AP art and it was a three hours a day course,” Toney said. “I ended up spending six hours a day, five days a week working on art in high school because I was stuck in a wheelchair or on crutches. That’s when I started pushing it more than I ever have. That’s when I knew I could do it forever.”
Toney has a deep entrepreneurial spirit that he acquired from his father Bryan Toney, who founded the Entrepreneurship Center at Appalachian State.
“Entrepreneurship has been instilled in everything I do,” Toney said. “He has guided me in a way that has helped me realize how to make money as an artist and a designer working for myself.”
His father also helped nurture Toney’s love of nature and skiing.
After his first three semesters at Appalachian State, during his sophomore year, Toney studied abroad in Austria designing skateboards, T-shirts, hats and stickers for Icone Skateboards.
“Honestly my ideal place to live is in Austria,” Toney said. “It was like being in the south; southern hospitality with bigger mountains and some of the best skiing in the world.”
Toney came back to North Carolina for two weeks following Austria, then he was back out into the world again in the fall of 2012 for an internship.
“I went to Jackson Hole, Wyo. almost instantly,” Toney said. “I was pretty broke so my parents gave me $750 for gas to get out there and that was it. Think Boone but with bigger mountains.”
His first two weeks in Jackson Hole, Toney lived in a storage unit and camped. To shower he would go to the local pool and to eat he would sneak into a hotel for breakfast. For the duration of his unpaid six-month internship, Toney worked two jobs bagging groceries and working for the local government at an indoor waterslide.
“It was one of the greatest learning experiences of my life and taught me a lot about myself and how hard I can push myself to make the dream of living in Jackson Hole happen.”
Before being a contracted designer working for Appalachian Ski Mountain, Recess Ride Shop and Beech Mountain Resort, Toney’s entrepreneurial spirit guided him to a now almost iconic bumper sticker.
“In high school I got this sticker that said ‘noob’ like ‘n-o-o-b’ and it was neon pink,” Toney said. “Then I had this Dakine sticker with an “e” in it. I was like ‘I live in Boone I want a Boone sticker on my car,’ so I switched ‘noob’ around to ‘b-o-o-n’ and then added the ‘e’ in white. I put it on my car.”
In high school, he made 250 of the now-familiar “Boone” stickers. Since then he has sold around 3,000.
“It’s weird how something like that caught on,” he said.
Toney can be seen working in his studio in the basement of his Boone house, but if the creative muse does not strike him he has ways of breaking the block.
“Sometimes it’s going outside, being active, or going out with my friends, but if it comes then I am going to stay up until four in the morning,” Toney says with a smile. “And then sometimes just for school it’s like ‘alright under pressure it doesn’t matter what I have to do something.’”
Toney’s entrepreneurial spirit pushes him to separate himself from work and his passion.
“A goal of mine is to not have to be behind a computer screen as a designer. And to be able to do as much work by hand as possible. To be able to be in nature and work in nature, and take what I see in nature.”