Hang-Up travelled to sunny Brighton this week to meet up with the man behind our upcoming exhibition 'Sweet Armageddon': Mr Joe Webb. The artist took us around his favourite vintage book stores and roadside markets to show where he gets his inspiration for his witty collages. In an exclusive interview with Joe, he talks about the message behind the new collection and his life as a fully fledged artist.
Hang-Up are very happy to welcome you back for your second solo show 'Sweet Armageddon' this month. How have the last two years been since your first ever solo show with us in Spring 2013?
I've gone full time as an artist since the show. I've been exhibiting at most of the London art fairs and have recently had a solo show at The Saatchi Gallery. It's a bit surreal not having a 'real' job anymore. I like it.
The new collection will showcase a recurring, and very current 'apocalyptic' theme. What was the idea behind this specific subject?
I wanted to express how more and more mainstream culture distracts us from the realities of what's happening. As half the world are starving or killing each other the rest of us are laughing at a talking dog on a talent show.
I've tried to mirror this juxtaposition in the collages, something sweet next to something horrific. I want to ask how we would feel if bombs were raining down outside our windows as they are in other countries.
The 1950's imagery I use is mostly taken from advertisements are very wholesome and innocent. The collage's look at how these ideas and aspirations for the future have gone wrong.
You are known for injecting wit and humour into your works. This collection incorporates a darker side this playfulness. What is the message you are trying to get across in the new collection?
The humour in the images is a way of dealing some pretty grim subjects, climate change, famine, drought, consumerism, war...yeah LOL. Injecting some dark humour into the situation makes it more palatable for the viewer to deal with. I can trick them they are having fun when in reality I'm slapping them around the face with an unsustainably caught wet fish.
Will your work continue to play with this theme and comment on global issues, or do you have other plans in the mix?
I'll carry on with the doom and gloom I think. There's so much that can't be ignored. For example, how we've become incapable of looking forwards and getting lost in our imaginations instead of checking our phones every two minutes. How there's a mass of plastic rubbish in the sea the size of France. How we are selling arms for profit. I just don't understand why no one ever wants to go for a pint with me...it's like I'm no fun or something.
The work juxtaposes 50's advertising imagery with found edits of mass destruction - be it man made or natural. Where do you source the imagery these days?
Mostly second hand shops around where I live, theres a few good ones in Brighton. I don't enjoy shopping at all but it's a good excuse for a day out at the seaside. There's an element of serendipity to wherever I'll find something I can work with. I've rinsed most of the local shops out so am thinking about heading abroad soon on the hunt for new material..any excuse for a holiday. Maybe the south of France have some good magazine shops.
Do you think artists who are making strong statements, and voicing their opinion through art, such as yourself, have the ability to make a social impact?
We have a stage to present our ideas and say something through images to whoever can be bothered to look. Collectively there's a chance of making some kind of impact.
I believe in activism through art...there's too much art about nothing, the usual themes; 'the human condition', death, a skull, a light going on and off...whatever... yawn yawn. It's been covered.
Why aren't we thinking about the world we find ourselves in now in 2015 and try to say something about it.
When I look at your collection in its entirety, I can see a clear split between the romantic, silhouette collages and the more narrative, witty pieces that illustrate a bold message. Is your mood dependant on what you create...?
I jump between the two themes depending on how I feel on the day. All of the collages aim to communicate an idea through a simple edit. I use space imagery as its so enigmatic and vast...it puts our everyday lives into perspective.
All the collages in the new collection will be larger scale, which is a new direction for you. Why did you decide to enlarge your collages, and how have you found the difference in the making process?
There's more impact when you can see artworks from across the room...it draws you in, you're asking the viewer to work much harder when the collage's are small. Sometimes you need to SHOUT in order to be heard!
Do you still work by the 'two image' rule?
Yes mostly, it's a loose rule I work to. It's not the law or anything. I'll add a few more bits sometimes if it's necessary. It seems the more concise the edits the stronger the message. I'm also quite easily bored...I couldn't do anything to intricate. Stick two pieces together, boom there's the idea... then I'm off.
You've experimented a lot with different materials such as oil, acrylic and wallpaper. Do your allegiances lie with collage or are you going to continue to branch out into other mediums?
All the work starts with collages. Sometimes that evolves into a painting or a silkscreen. As long as it's a picture on a wall. I'm old school like that. I won't be doing any conceptual immersive expressive dance installations or anything like that.
Why have you decided to include a painting in the 'Sweet Armageddon' exhibition?
I like paintings. The theme fits the show so it's going in! It was made with painting through stencils and masking, so a scalpel was involved in the process which connects it with the collages.
Are you happy to be labelled as a collage artist?
Ecstatic! I'll probably be called much worse after this interview.
Collage has really made a come back in the current art scene since the days of Sir Peter Blake and the British pop culture. Why do you think this is? Have you seen a lot of similarities in new collage artists to that of your own work?
Goes further back than Mr Blake... Hannah Höch, Kurt Schwitters etc. yeahs there's similarities appearing out there on the interweb. Especially the space based work. I try not to let it bug me too much...but I WILL hunt these people down if they keep on doing it! I'm kidding (sort of).
You obviously have a lot of followers. What is your reaction to emerging artists making work with a similar theme and style?
I hate it. I'm kidding (sort of). It's flattering (I'm told). We all start being inspired by something, but you need to find your own voice to stand out.
You've been busy creating new prints such as the Kissing Magritte, Giant Leap and the more recent Embrace, which was a huge success. Why did you decide to start making prints from earlier collages?
In the beginning I didn't really want to sell the original collages. It takes a long time to come up with some of the ideas. So I started making prints as preferred to sell these. And prints are more affordable to people. Prints are art for all!
Will you continue to produce prints along side your original work?
I shall indeed. I'm working with Jealous Gallery now on lots of new silkscreen prints and ideas.
You recently had a very successful solo show at Saatchi gallery that showcased your very first works to the more recent wallpaper pieces and prints. What work was most popular?
The Embrace prints did very well. I think the simplicity appealed to people. The original collages were well received too.
Have you found your artist profile has accelerated since then?
The Saatchi is one of the most visited galleries in the UK so I think it's definitely helped.` I'm a bit out of the loop down here in the Sussex countryside, which I like. I'm not caught up in any competitiveness or egos as haven't a clue what's going on most of the time. I'm not sure how many people know about me or whats being sold or exhibited in what gallery...I just keep my head down and make the work I enjoy.
Difficult question - what's your favourite collage? In our first interview in 2013 it was Kissing Magritte and Daydream. Has this changed?
I like Distraction III as it's almost totally unsalable.. It features a lady watching 'Gangnam style' on her iPhone not noticing the burning man in the background. No one will want it above their sofa. It's how I feel when I see everyone staring at their phones walking along ignoring each other (Something I can be guilty of doing as well).
What's your favourite collage by another artist - alive or dead.
I love the psychedelic craziness of Sigmar Polke - He's dead unfortunately.
Would you ever consider doing commissions? Have people approached you?
I prefer not to work to briefs. If a band or something want me for the work I've already made then yes. Although recently was commissioned to do a record sleeve design for US singer Janelle Monae and her Wondaland record label. There was a few late nights making last minute changes and Skyping with them with the time difference in the US, but managed to come up with something just a few hours before it had to be submitted to iTunes.
How does it feel coming back to Hang-Up gallery for the second time?
It's lovely! It's like going full circle back to where it all started.
Finally - What's in store for Joe Webb over the next few years?
More collages. More prints. A hip hop album?! I don't know just going with the flow and will see what happens.
SWEET ARMAGEDDON RUNS 29 MAY - 12 JULY | PRIVATE VIEW OPENS THUR 28 MY 6 - 9 PM | RSVP AT http://hanguppictures.com/exhibition/sweet-armageddon#RSVP