London Based multi-disciplinary artist Joe Clarke has, with his unique punch-in-the-stomach-aesthetic, made a lasting impression on the European art scene. Plundering tropes from historical art epochs this young artist filters these reference points via a raw gaze in order to explore the urban cityscapes of everyday life – finding beauty in the unexpected.
In his two previous exhibitions Clark has played with the mix between digital aesthetics, fine art and architecture, constantly digging deeper and deeper into these contrasting fields in a deeply personal way – a game that he continues to master in his most recent work.
Tonight Clarke opens his debut solo show, Contemporary Cluster #8, in a seventeenth century Italian palazzo in Rome. The exhibition consists of several series of work that come together to create a coherent body of work. Contorted steel sculptures meet canvases, video installations and brutal industrial pieces that illustrate the visual and conceptual research that Clarke has worked with over the last couple of years.
Here, Clarke gives us a preview of his show a day before it opens.
Maria Kowalska Elleberg: This is your first solo show, can you tell me a little about the ideas behind it?
Joe Clarke: I would say it’s a refined continuation and development on ideas I’ve presented over the past year or so. The aesthetics are consistent, there is more experimentation and a greater emphasis on materials. I’m hugely influenced by historical art movements such as Constructivism and Bauhaus, these references contrast with my own ideas and perhaps a slightly more decorative way of working.
MKE: Can you tell us a little bit about the pieces on show?
JC: Everything is produced in series, I’m showing a triptych of steel and ply sculptures alongside thirteen canvas paintings which are broken down into four series. The show layers hyper graphic with highly detailed textural images, while a biographical video installation is also on show, giving viewers an insight into my creative process. The second video installation depicts a surreal and abstract representation of graphic-visual constructions.
MKE: In this exhibition, and in earlier work, you use many different mediums and materials, how do you choose what is the right form for your ideas?
JC: The materials used are derived from the subjects referenced, for instance the Brutalist movement utilised concrete – a material which is frequent throughout this presentation. Whilst the materials are aesthetically pleasing they are also socially responsive and innovative.
MKE: A lot of your work references architectural tropes.
JC: There are principles to architecture, such as durability, utility and visual allure, that I try to apply these to my work. The forms that certain architecture encompasses stand out to me and have tendencies to filter through into my practice.
MKE: And these are taken from urban cityscapes.
JC: I want to push art with a narrative and feel there are stories to be told throughout such environments. I’m drawn to the palettes, textures and materials that form these landscapes, I think these spaces offer such a diverse source of inspiration.
MKE: Some of the pieces, I’m thinking specifically about the canvas work with metal and straps, have an almost violent beauty about them. How do you approach the concept of beauty in your work?
JC: It’s not a conscious approach anymore, everyone has different tastes, so ideas and visuals I present within my work may appear ugly to someone else – it doesn’t matter, I just go with what I think is right.
MKE: The exhibition space is an seventeenth century Italian palazzo which, I can imagine, will clash absolutely perfectly with your work. Was this a conscious choice?
JC: Yeah you’re right, the juxtaposition works perfectly. Usually the aim is to transform the space, but we’ve definitely made a conscious effort to embrace the architecture and features of the gallery.
MKE: What was most challenging aspect of this project?
JC: I think that working on such a large body of work to be presented across three rooms was a huge challenge, focusing on multiple aspects simultaneously while ensuring a succinct and coherent body of work. The work was all created over a time period of around four months, whilst having longer deadlines is beneficial it’s also a difficulty when something produced in week one has to communicate consistently with works produced in the final week.
Joe Clarke ‘Contemporary Cluster #08’ opens on 12th May at Contemporary Cluster gallery.