Isn’t it great that in times where digital trickery is so omnipresent - in the majority of times to the extent that we’re not even aware of the fact that the images in front of us are actually the constructed result of the latest software’s artifices - some artists consciously return to basics with similar stunning results? In the case of British artist Joe Webb: stunning collages with a biting social commentary that consist of a majority of three different elements. His images thwart the idyllic world of the 1950s with today’s apocalyptic vision of the very near future as lonely housewives longingly watch a mushroom cloud and pool parties are held in a desiccated wasteland. Lodown interrupted Mr. Webb as he’s busily preparing his upcoming solo show - an exhibition with brand-new paintings and collages at London’s Hang Up Gallery as well as a Jersey exhibition with CCA Galleries International - for a quick chit-chat in mid-March.
As far as I understand, you’ve been working as a graphic designer for many years before you turned to collages... what made you suddenly embrace the possibilities of working analog again?
I don’t think I was a very good graphic designer. I was always being asked to edit my designs. With Photoshop you can edit an image to death. I find technology utterly frustrating most of the time, so I made the decision to get away from the computer and go back to basics. A friend of mine was working with collage and I really liked his stuff, so I decided to give it a try. I’d been painting with oils in my spare time up to that point. The high impact graphical look of collage immediately appealed to me, it’s a great medium to explore political and surreal ideas. We live in a time of the remix and mash up, so collage seemed a natural format to work with. Glue, scissors, images. That’s all. No modern tech needed... it’s really liberating to work like that in the middle of a technological revolution.
Your collages follow the very basic rule that there shouldn’t be more than three different components involved in the final result... why is it important to you to work in this kind of self-imposed dogma style?
I’ve noticed there’s a lot of very intricate and complex artwork out there. So I decided to try the total opposite. It was a simple experiment to see what would happen if I took just two or three separate images and placed them together. I noticed how narratives would often appear within the scenes I was creating. I liked the idea of placing opposing cultures together or bringing the vastness of space into an everyday domestic scene. Demonstrating the madness of the world, a luxury yacht in a drought or doing the housework in the middle of the apocalypse.
I was wondering about what triggered the idea to use vintage magazines as the basis for your collages? Did you come across an old pile of zines in your parents’ attic? And what happens when the flea markets run out of fresh supply?
There’s a lot of second hand book stores near where I live, so that helps... I like the imperfect quality of vintage magazines, the print is fuzzy, blurry and offset. It reminds me of old vinyl records, complete with the dust and scratches. The 1950s era is great subject matter to manipulate... the idyllic veneer can be scraped away to reveal a darker more sinister side.
Is the idea for a final image developing through “work in progress“ or do you often have a clear vision from the start and then look for the right imagery?
I have loads of images sitting around my studio, waiting for me to cut up. Sometimes it’s obvious what’s needed to make that particular image a successful piece, other times it’s only through trial and error that an idea materializes from something that I wasn’t expecting. I have a lot of half-finished collages sitting in draws forgotten about, then occasionally I dig one out and work some more on it.
Would you say that the basic aesthetic for your collages is a kind of series that will come to an end sooner or later... can you imagine that the ideal world of the 50s and 60s will soon have to make room for the nasty 80s in your work?
I have recently started to use modern magazines and newspapers, they make up the backgrounds of the works... scenes of war zones, global warming, floods and droughts - cheerful upbeat stuff like that. Current global issues are featured in a lot of my work now. I find that the 1950s images are great to juxtapose with these themes... it shows how the 1950s optimistic vision of the future went wrong.