Meet Joe Black (sorry, we couldn’t resist!), an innovative artist who gives another meaning to the phrase ‘there’s more than meets the eye’.
Despite Joe Black’s evident expertise in the avant garde, his first foray into the art world saw him take a distinctly different route. First studying sculpture, he moved onto illustration, before working as a commercial artist for a number of years. Although he enjoyed it, this line of work left Black feeling somewhat restricted. “Ultimately you’re producing work that has boundaries as you are working to a brief,” he explains. “It started to feel that my work was being watered-down to something that I really didn’t have too much connection with.”
This feeling of disconnection pushed the young British artist to explore other forms of creative expression, resulting in his first solo exhibition at The Opera Gallery in London last year and making him one of the most exciting contemporary urban artists. His work is, quite simply, astounding. Black combines his perfectionist personality with an exquisite eye for detail, to create large scale portraits made up entirely of miniature objects. The end result gives the effect of a pixelated image, as each piece is meticulously put together using thousands upon thousands of various materials; including test tubes, LEGO® bricks and ball bearings, culminating in stunning portraits of various figure heads, ranging from David Bowie to Barack Obama.
The items used are anything but random. Black aims to engage with his audience on a number of levels, ensuring each piece only contains materials which relate to the subject matter at hand. For example, a portrait of the late Princess Diana immediately captures the viewer’s attention, but moving in for a closer look reveals a more chilling image behind her smile, as the piece is made up of 1,500 smashed toy cars.
A similarly tragic icon, Marilyn Monroe, provides the inspiration for another arresting image. Monroe drew a big red cross through a beautiful, yet unwanted, portrait taken shortly before her death. Black chose to recreate the image using 1,665 handmade badges featuring pornographic images of women depicted as dehumanised sex objects. How apt. The running commentary throughout each piece prevents Black’s audience from simply admiring his work, and urges them to become critical viewers. It is not just a visual experience. It also requires a physical interaction.
Considering its hard-hitting and sometimes political nature, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Black’s work is heavily agenda-driven, but this isn’t entirely so. “I’m not trying to convey any feelings or values,” he stresses. “I like to leave that to the viewer to decide. It is more interesting for me to hear other people’s views on a piece and how they perceive the relationship between material and subject.”
It also means selecting the materials is no small feat. “I have boxes of new and interesting objects that I am keen to use, but have not found the right subject matter or imagery yet,” Black explains. “It can be a long process getting the media to marry up for a final artwork.” Each piece can take up to a year to complete, and he admits, “they’re definitely labour-intensive, but I really like how they work once the piece is finished.”
Black’s love of materials means that, moving forward, he’s keen to explore other ways they can be utilised, saying: “I’d like to play with scale a lot more.” He also mysteriously hints that this year he will be working on pieces that are far removed from what we’ve previously seen from him. If his current body of work is anything to go by, we’ll be eagerly awaiting his next move.