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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Joe Machine

2-2, 2014, Joe Machine
Torch the Tate It's Not Too Late,
Alice in the Art World Series,
2014, Joe Machine
Throughout the history of mankind, when a group or a movement goes too far, there always seems to be a contractive reaction. Some (myself included) have likened it to pendulum swing. Isaac Newton enacted the entire phenomena into law: "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." Some time ago, I invented the analogy of society breathing, especially with regard to art. The definition of art expands, then it contracts, taking in life-giving oxygen, expelling life-giving carbon dioxide for which the plant world owes us an immense debt of gratitude. Nowhere is this more evident than during the past fifteen years or so in England. The art world there took a deep, (some would say pretentious) breath, expanding its art definition to include all manner of conceptual art. In 1999, a group of twelve deeply disturbed painters (disturbed by the onslaught of unmade beds and dead animals showing up in art galleries and museums, if nothing else), aimed their pointy paint brushes at this "inflationary" trend and pricked it, not bursting it by any means, but letting some of the hot air out, causing the conceptual art movement to exhale. British artists Charles Thomson, inspired by the outrageous outraged anger of Tracey Emin, labeled the group he co-founded with fellow artist, Billy Childish, "Stuckists." The name stuck.
Joe Machine in his studio. (Is that a prison uniform?)

I Used To Be a Thief and
Murderer, Joe Machine.
Among the dozen or so co-founders of the Stuckist group was Joe Machine. Many of the founders and subsequent members espousing Stuckism are highly trained artists with impressive academic credentials. Joe Machine is not one of them. As you may have guessed by now, that's not even his real name. Joe was born in 1973, named by his parents Joseph Stokes. He grew up in Chatham, Kent, on the Isle of Sheppey, (near the mouth of the Thames). His family is of Romany background, an ethnicity arriving in Europe from India some one-thousand years ago, (sometimes referred to a Gypsies). Joe's background may not include formal art training, but it's certainly one of the most colorful among the Stuckist group. As a boy, he was sent to what we Americans used to call "reform school" for theft of scrap metal, and again later for burglarizing a greengrocer. He once stabbed his teacher in the hand with the business end of a drawing compass. Violence runs in his family. His grandfather, with whom he was quite close, was a bare-knuckle boxer.
My Grandfather Will Fight
You, 2001, Joe Machine
Joe Machine's art is not easy to take. Roughly half of it is so obscene as to be out of bounds for a blog like this. This art resides in a category of it's own. It's way too violent and crudely drawn to be traditionally erotic, yet it bears the redeeming qualities of personal creative communication lifting it out of the quagmire of pornography. Machine's work has been called by critics raw and autobiographical, as if that's a bad thing (below, left). Both comments are valid. Machine grew up in a rough part of town on the "wrong side of the tracks." Before taking up art, he made ends meet running the family amusement arcade and breeding Rottweilers. His world was rife with naval uniforms, loose women, coarse, violent, homicidal men, and low-life ugliness of the most disgusting genre. It's who he was...perhaps still is. In any case, he's married now with five kids. He's represented by reputable art galleries and participates regularly with the other Stuckists in their periodic shows.
Mother's Last Cigarette, Joe Machine

Joe Machine is prolific, though his paintings are far from any British "best seller" list. His work is important because he's a charter member of the Stuckist group and the Stuckist group is important because it's the first totally 21st-century painters' group having a major impact on the world of art. Along with it's counterparts in countries all around the world, Stuckism is also a vital counterbalance to Tracey Emin and the other conceptual artists of the YBA (Young British Artists). Moreover it's a much-needed prickly thorn in the side of the Tate. It's evidence that British art today is very much alive and well and breathing regularly.

Painting of Joe Machine, by fellow Stuckist, Bill Lewis.



  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, coming from a member of the group, that means a lot. Glad to know I got it mostly right.--Jim