FAULT Focus: Joe Webb, Contemporary Artist

Joe Webb is a contemporary artist who uses images from vintage magazines and posters to conjure surreal narratives that express both a comical and cynical take on the modern world. His bold collages are hand-made, with Photoshop strictly off-limits and a decidedly ‘anti-technology’ approach to his art. Ironically, his work has taken the Internet world by storm, going viral on multiple online platforms and being shared by hundreds of thousands of people. Joe is based in the UK and has original collages and prints in the Saatchi Gallery in London. He is exhibiting at the Saatchi and at Hang Up Gallery later this year.

Hot Tub - 2014
Hot Tub – 2014

When did you first begin making art?

From childhood…I was one of those weird kids who drew all the time, made spaceships from washing up bottles, that sort of thing – I just didn’t stop.

What were your original influences?

I’m really into painting, seeing a Peter Doig exhibition about 10 years ago made me interested in making artwork again after stopping for a while. Also Neo Rauch, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Fred Tomaseli. I only like pictures on walls really- the kinetic, conceptual, 3d neon art installations can do one. Matisse’s cut-out exhibition currently at the Tate Modern is outstanding.

How has your art practice and approach to collage changed over the course of your life so far?

Over the years, narratives and ideas have crept into the pieces. I’ve always tried to inject some dark humour into the work, which seems to be getting darker. I know really ‘real’ art is supposed to be ambiguous but I like to tell a story through my art that can be deciphered.

At The Gallery  - 2014
At The Gallery – 2014

You have described your art practice as ‘anti-technology’- how does this combine with the nature of the modern art world in regards to social media, networking, self-promotion etc.?

It’s a dichotomy; on one hand I want to get away from the screens we are all glued to nowadays…but then I can spend half the day posting collages on Facebook. I suppose I can’t deny that it’s been an essential tool for getting my work seen. A recent collage of mine was shared 100,000 times on Tumblr and those numbers would be hard to beat in a traditional gallery exhibition. The internet is fun- there are amusing cats, and you can find videos of obscure 1970’s jazz fusion bands…I suppose all that stuff is quite good but it’s easy to procrastinate too long and not achieve anything. I think I’m just aware of how addictive being online can be and doing my best to resist it, even if it seems futile.

It is interesting that, although your appropriation of magazines and posters shows an engagement with pop culture, it is has a decidedly retro focus. Do you feel a detachment from modern pop culture (reality TV/pop music etc.)?

I’ve found the idealistic imagery of the 1950’s compliments the modern day subjects I’m addressing. It’s kind of showing how the 50’s vision of the future went wrong.

You work by hand, and without the use of Photoshop or similar tools- however, your work is incredibly popular online. Do you find that what you do translates seamlessly onto the internet, or are there certain challenges that arise when something so hands-on goes into digital format?

I think the simplicity of the work translates well on a screen funnily enough. I try to keep a rule of only using a couple of different images in the pieces, which gives the work impact and makes it easy to see even as a thumbnail image.

Thirst - 2012
Thirst – 2012

You have described the way in which collage allows you to comment on social issues and human nature. What issues and themes are central to your work?

Just the usual cheery day to day stuff…global warming, consumerism, war, drought, famine, etc….It seems half the world is killing each other while the other half are watching singing competitions on TV, which I find an odd juxtaposition. My artwork is just my way of mirroring this. It’s not meant to preach or take a standard liberal leftist view…but just tries to present my interpretation of what’s going on out there.

Is there a pressure, in the current art world, to shock? How do outside pressures impact your work, if at all?

Is anyone still doing shock art? Who actually gets shocked anymore? Some tabloid journalists or people like that I guess. I’m not into doing shocking work just for the sake of it. Shock art is really 1990’s anyway.

Stirring Up A Storm - 2014, ©Joe Webb
Stirring Up A Storm – 2014

How do you see your artwork and your practice developing – or rather, evolving- over time?

I’m looking at ways of making the work larger, using silkscreening and painting with collage. The core of the work will always try to visually communicate ideas I think– I guess these evolve naturally and change as I work through different subjects.

What are you currently working on?

Lots of half finished collages which need finishing. And in my studio there’s a series of new paintings in progress. I’ve switched from oil to acrylic paint recently and have found this has made the paintings much more graphic looking. I’m looking forward to showing them, but holding off putting them online for now until my exhibitions with Hang Up Gallery and The Saatchi Gallery later in the year.

What is your FAULT?

Online way too much.

Joe Webb
Joe Webb