COLLAGE ON VIEW
Bo Joseph: Feeding the Beast
at McClain Gallery in Houston, Texas, USA
29 September-30 December 2020
“Feeding the Beast” is a solo exhibition by Bo Joseph, featuring two parallel bodies of work: works on paper, which layer imagery from Renaissance scenes of battle, mythology and religion, and a new series of wall reliefs depicting composites of divergent historical, religious, and ritual objects that span the globe. This is Joseph’s third solo exhibition at McClain Gallery.
Since his youth, Joseph has been captivated by art from around the world, particularly artwork created for ceremonial use. His initial response to these objects was primarily formalistic, with only peripheral knowledge of their broader and essential cultural meaning.
As Joseph became aware of how western civilization systematically colonized the cultures of the people whose land they occupied and whose sacred objects they plundered, he began to see himself, and by extension, the viewer, as a beneficiary of the destruction caused by one culture forcing itself on another. These preoccupations result in a friction between Joseph’s formal interest in objects and all that the act of appropriation encompasses. The referential images summon the encyclopedic stance of large western and colonial institutions and begin to tease out the role artists can play in the reconciliation of history’s fraught legacy. Joseph earnestly grapples
with his own engagement with sovereign traditions and asks the viewer to question where their own contributions lie.
Joseph’s new series melds together appropriated imagery referencing Greek and Roman mythology, Renaissance battle scenes, Christian Biblical subjects, and depicts Roman, Germanic, Inuit, and African objects. Of note is a series of wall reliefs in a new technique developed by the artist. These graphic sculptures achieve their rich patina from casein, a medium made with milk protein with 11th-century origins. The wall reliefs explore visual combinations using a pared-back approach, with themes ranging from Jungian archetypes to a 12th-century Sufi poem, or a theatrical gladiatorial
helmet seen against a powerful Ekoi figure. Joseph cites Louise Bourgeois and Joseph Beuys as profound influences not only on form and color choices, but also on the use of recontextualization to extract the charge from found sources. Across the show’s works, layered scenes of historical imagery give way to energetic vibrations, framing each work in a crystallized tumult. No longer relegated to the image’s perimeter, these vibrations appear throughout the composition, breaking his own rules while maintaining his trademark syncretism.
Joseph’s method of abstraction is not overt; rather, it ebbs and flows with energy, pulsing from one sheet of collaged paper to the next and across his signature concentric strokes. Outlines pile on top of and against one another, the specificity of their shapes falling away into sometimes tight and tense fields, sometimes into broad amalgamations of forms that whisper of novel, looming beings. These stacked silhouettes of positive and negative forms straddle the realms of abstraction and figurative art, examining the complexities of human relationships and asking the viewer to reevaluate their own psychic space.
(text adapted from the gallery’s press materials)
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