Joe coleman - palais de Tokyo, Paris, 2007
An obsessive pictorial universe embracing madness, holiness and serial killers
An artist, performer, musician and actor, Joe Coleman is a legendary New York figure. Playing with pathological obsession and a fascination for psychopathic tendencies, his dense and detailed paintings plunge viewers into an illuminated Gothic universe featuring cultural icons of violence, anti-heroes and historical figures. His works are more than simple portraits: they recount the lives and legends of their subjects (serial killers, the deranged, etc.) by adding texts, stories and a labyrinth of mini-scenes, rendering the reading of the images and text chaotic, all the while maintaining a highly structured and delicate compositional sense. His painting presents itself as an autopsy of the human condition – concentrating on its violent or demented side – which he dissects with a scalpel on the surface of a canvas.
Influenced in equal measure by Renaissance painting, medieval illuminations and crime comics of the 1950s, the artist replaces images of saints with contemporary figures of holy madness. His work exists in the tradition of painters like Bosch, Bruegel, Grünewald or Goya who were also inspired by madness, trauma or suffering. To this awareness of loss and human fear, Coleman adds a dimension of humour and a pictorial intensity that is almost hallucinatory.
Indian Larry, Glory of New York, War Triptych, Joe’s Fear of Disease, Big Bang: these are among the titles of the pictures Joe Coleman presents at his first exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo. A collection of twenty paintings by this self-taught artist provides an introduction to this world fed by obsessions and eccentricities. Mixing popular cultures and religions, the images of festival, war, paradise and hell seem like the extreme coordinates of a joyful world that is nonetheless haunted by perversity
This exhibition is presented in partnership with The Cartin Collection, Hartford, Connecticut and is curated by Steven Holmes.