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’.

Schon! - - Living In A Material World - Words / Jade Thomp­son Art­work / un­ti­tled, hand painted marks on 1 500 smashed toy cars on alu­minium 160 x 120 cm, 2013 by Joe Black Spe­cial Thanks to the team of the Opera Gallery, Lon­don

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.

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