Although it may seem to many as bizarre and eerie, the artistic opus of Joe Coleman is an astounding example of dissection of American underground subculture. For two decades the artist is producing mostly peculiar portraits of celebrated freaks – convicts, writers, sideshow performers, music composers, etc. The approach to portrayal is slightly different since Coleman incorporates various symbols and frames the whole composition. By doing so the artist undermines the sacredness of the portrayed person so the works function as some sort of mysterious almost occult icons.
Joe Coleman was born in 1955 in Norwalk. He was born to a World War II-veteran father and mother who was the daughter of a professional prizefighter and raised in up as Irish Catholic. Namely, Joe Coleman started with performance art back in the 70’s with the seminal punk band The Steel Tips, over his ‘80s exploding geek act as Professor Mombooze-o, to his more recent roles in feature films by Asia Argento and Julian Hobbes. His work has been published in numerous books, prints and his paintings have been exhibited in museums and galleries across the United States and Europe and are in the collections of celebrities like Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Iggy Pop, and Jim Jarmusch.
Coleman’s inspiration comes from all the possible layers of twisted, abject and bizarre. From Gothic literature, over cult horror movies to macabre stories of serial killers, mad scientist, and circus owners. Among the misfits are even serial killers and the best known portrait is of Charles Manson, a notable American cult leader.The way the artist interprets the stories is staggering since the majority of his portraits portray the central subject in the center of the canvas, lozenges containing biographical scenes and details from the subject’s life ring the central image. His paintings are most often compared to those of Hieronymus Bosch, and his work has been exhibited alongside canvases by the Dutch master.
Coleman paints with a single-hair brush and uses a jeweler’s loupe, yet much of the detail is not visible to the naked eye. Perhaps one of the most interesting and challenging artists working in modern portraiture, Joe Coleman brings us ecstatic visions of martyrdom and myth. Fascinated with the lame, the infirm, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the accused and the insane, Coleman plunges in the examination of darkest corners of the human psyche. Behind the apparent obscurity stands very concise agenda of critique of American society in regards to the conservatism and cannons of decent behavior.
Joe Coleman is a passionate collector so a large number of sideshow objects, wax figures, crime artifacts and works of religious devotion are gathered in a private museum titled Odditorium. That cabinet of wonders can be considered as a perfect playground from which the artist additionally drains the inspiration. The permeation of life and art of Joe Coleman is additionally accentuated with his performances for which he became known back in the ‘80s. Some of them and can be seen in the films Mondo New York (1988) and Captured (2008). The book on extreme performance, Avant Garde from Below: Transgressive Performance from Iggy Pop to Joe Coleman and G.G. Allin by Clemens Marschall, explores Coleman’s influence during this pivotal period.
In 2006, Coleman had a retrospective at New York’s Jack Tilton Gallery entitled Joe Coleman: 30 Paintings and a Selection from the Odditorium and was the subject of an award-winning feature-length documentary, Rest in Pieces: A Portrait of Joe Coleman (1997). He has appeared in acting roles in films such as Asia Argento’s Scarlet Diva (2000) and The Cruel Tale of the Medicine Man (2015). In June of 2014, reproductions of Coleman’s work were displayed in Portland and the works in the exhibition were directly referenced within the play, which focused on his output from the 90’s and early 2000’s. The staggering influence of three decades long activity of Joe Coleman is an effect of precise and well-thought practice wrapped with ghoulish and lurk atmosphere which never leaves the observer restless.
All images are courtesy of the artist
|2017||Joe Coleman||California State University, Fullerton's Nicholas & Lee Begovich Gallery||Solo|
|2016||Desire||Moore Building, Miami Design District, Miami||Solo|
|2015||When the Curtain Never Comes Down||American Folk Art Museum New York, NY||Solo|
|2015||Unrealism||Miami Art Fair, Moore Building||Solo|
|2015||Sideshow||Yale University Art Galleries||Group|
|2014||Ninth Annual BLAB show||Copro Gallery||Group|
|2013||Raw Vision: 25 Years of Art Brut||Halle Saint Pierre, Paris||Group|
|2013||Hey! Modern Art & Pop Culture Part II||Halle Saint Pierre, Paris||Group|
|2012||One On One||Kunst-Werke Berlin - KW Institute for Contemporary Art , Berlin||Solo|
|2012||Houdini: Art and Magic||MMoCA - The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison, WI||Solo|
|2010||Joe Coleman||Dickinson Roundell Inc., New York City, NY||Solo|
|2008||Darkness Ascends||mocca - Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, Toronto, ON||Solo|
|2007||Joe Coleman - Internal Digging||Kunst-Werke Berlin - KW Institute for Contemporary Art , Berlin||Solo|
|2006||Joe Coleman||Jack Tilton Gallery, New York City, NY||Solo|