Joe Black is an innovative artist on the rise with a recently auctioned work selling for over 30 times its estimate. His inventive method is to construct portraits of famous persons using hand painted everyday objects which resonate with their personality – examples include a Stalin portrait made up of pawns and a massive picture of Chairman Mao made from an army of toy soldiers.
His most striking work is also made up of soldiers, this time in black and white to form the face of President Obama. With a simple monochrome palette and with all the soldiers’ guns pointing out from the centre, the portrait becomes more aggressive and angular, thus giving Obama the look of a warmonger. Black’s peaceful beliefs are also reflected in sculptures of soldiers that are made entirely from small flowers.
Conversely a portrait of the Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher made up of iron bolts is less effective – the choice of softer colours doesn’t capture the impact you’d associate with the often ferocious nature of the former Prime Minister.
Black is not afraid to tackle contentious issues as a portrait of Lady Diana is made up of crashed cars and a wall has many colourful planes that look like they’ve flown into it in a reference to 9/11.
A series of eyes line the walls and on closer inspection the individual blocks contain pornographic images. This is an effective reference to the voyeuristic society we live in, but the works lack texture and are therefore not as engaging as his portraits made from household objects.
Not all Black’s works hit the mark but his unique style and eye-catching portraits will ensure his popularity will continue to grow. This is an exhibition worth seeing.
Joe Black: Ways of Seeing is on at Opera Gallery, 134 New Bond Street, W1S 2TF from 18 October to 30 November. Entrance is free.