Joe Webb’s playful prints are a strangely familiar mash of references – think Casablanca, Disney’s Fantasia and 2001: A Space Odyssey. He spoke to Wonderland today about the work, currently on display at London’s prestigious Saatchi Gallery.
Why do you like working with collage as opposed to technologies such as Photoshop?
For me, my art is an escape from the digital world. I’ve made it a rule to make all of my artworks by hand. I was freelancing as a graphic designer for many years, and was always asked to change and edit my designs, so when I make my artwork I don’t want to compromise at all. If someone asks for a version with a different background I can just say piss off, it’s stuck down with glue! Initially I was reluctant to cut up 60 year old magazines. I tried scanning them in and altering them on the computer, but it’s just not the same as working by hand. The work needs the ‘analogue’ limitations in order to achieve the look and feel. Photoshop has too many options, leaving you forever tweaking… looking for the perfect balance – until the work loses it’s initial charm. It’s as if the vintage imagery is incompatible with modern day technology.
Why vintage photographs and where do you find them?
I like the quality of the print and fuzziness of vintage imagery, the colours used back then look unreal… I liken it to listening to an old vinyl record – the scratches and dust transmit a comforting warmth which become part of the aesthetic. The photographs also often have an iconic feel to them, full of history and substance. I find them in charity shops and second hand bookstores. I like to accidentally stumble across things that can then become a piece of art. There’s an element of serendipity to it. Sometimes I can go ages without finding anything, and then find a batch of gems that keeps me going for months.
What do you like about that particular era?
I’m naturally drawn to the 1950s – it was a visually golden era. Everything looked great – there was an emphasis on design and real craftsmanship in everything man made. The future turned out to be a bit shit really.
What’s the message behind “Antares and Love” series?
I’m asking the viewer to decide if the cosmic chap is a perfect dreamlike “significant other”, or a more sinister, nightmarish character. Some of the characters in the series seem darker than others. I guess the silhouettes leave us questioning his identity and intentions. The space theme seems to add to the mystery somehow… the silhouette is a vacuous space filled in with an image of a space… another vacuum!
Would you say your work delves into psychoanalysis?
There is a dark undercurrent to much of the work. By removing the veneer it uncovers the reality underneath. Sometimes hiding or removing the identity of the people in the images seems reveal more of their personality. It’s odd. Again the 1950s imagery seems to suit this, as although I love the look and style of the era, I acknowledge a lot of shit went on through those perfect white picket fences… segregation, corruption, inequality… All this bleeds through the original images – and I do my best to emphasise it with my editing.
How does it feel to be exhibiting in the Saatchi Gallery?
Yeah, great! It’s good to start at the top, the only way is down now…
What would your artistic interpretation of the word “Wonderland” be?
Wonderland would be a “50s vision of the year 2000”. Flying cars, white triangular suits, rocket propelled backpacks, robot servants. A sort of surreal Disney utopia.
Words: Sufiyeh Hadien