In Joe Webb’s Stirring Up A Storm (2014), the nearly full moon peers resolutely down like a removed voyeur, while a continent-sized Sunbeam Mixmaster Junior (an electric mixer from the 1950s) stirs Earth’s atmosphere with its twin silver beaters to create massive, hurricane-like weather patterns. From the description alone, issues of global warming and energy crises come to mind; however, the well-crafted humor, imaginative aesthetic, and a subtly wry irreverence in Webb’s collages ensure that his message is successfully communicated.
Webb makes his collages by combining and removing imagery from vintage magazines and printed ephemera. While he describes his working methods as “analogue” and “luddite reaction(s) to working as a graphic artist on computers for many years,” the works strike particularly contemporary notes, both formally and conceptually.
The resulting Richard Hamilton-esque works create interesting tensions in this era of instant sharing and DJ-like remixing of endless visual content. Webb says: “Collage has a long-running tradition of political satire, sourcing material from the mass media and manipulating it to explore topical issues of the day. My recent artworks pick up this baton—observing worldwide economic, social, and environmental dilemmas (…). The core of the work appropriates ideological imagery of the 1950s, juxtaposed with conflicting and alternative ideas, reinventing the scene and weaving narratives within. The messages embedded into the artworks are not intended to take a higher moral position, but aim to reflect on and to consider the world we live in.” The combinations of vintage color schemes with decades-old advertising conventions create a resolutely nostalgic visual effect, taking the viewer backward, first, yet after a few seconds the current importance of the collages’ subject matter comes into full view.
In TV Times (2014), Webb depicts the stereotypical 1940s/’50s nuclear family unit watching the eruption of a volcano on their personal television. The family is outside, and the eruption is happening just behind where they are sitting watching the simultaneous broadcast. Webb isn’t just portraying the ironies of present-day society’s obsession with screens and experiencing the world through them, even when actual events are precariously nearby. He is also implicating anyone looking at the collage as a part of this confounding screen-bound culture.
Webb’s use of vintage magazines and appropriated imagery from the 1950s and 1960s also reminds the viewer of the post-production filters and tones used in image-sharing platforms like Instagram. Now old is new, and nostalgia is less a sentiment than an aesthetic, but Joe Webb defies this switch in works like Voodoo Child (2013). He carefully constructs an image—physically, not digitally—to create a lyrically humorous composition that highlights a continued, historical Western fascination with perceived forms of “otherness” and the “exotic.” Voodoo Child and all the push and pull implied in the anguished, surprised, and fascinated facial expressions of the children bring to mind the opening lines of the song “Magic Dance” from the 1986 David Bowie film Labyrinth: “You remind me of the babe/What babe?/The babe with the power/What power?/Power of voodoo/Who do?/You do/Do what?/Remind me of the babe.”
Humor comes to the fore in all of Joe Webb’s images through clever juxtapositions and subtle layering, but when looked at further, Webb’s collages also consistently offer a non-sarcastic criticality. Additionally, there are collages in Webb’s portfolio that deviate slightly by opening and representing moments of deep contemplation and cultural homage. At the Gallery (2013), an ode to astronomer Carl Sagan and his Cosmos television series, fittingly being re-presented and augmented by Neil deGrasse Tyson, engages with existentialism as a unifying idea. By showing the backs of the two boys, dressed identically and posed as brothers, Webb places the focus solely on the cosmos as a place, and as an idea to be meditated on.
Joe Webb is a visual artist living and working in the UK. Webb works primarily in collage and solely in what he calls analog forms of production, without the aid of digital editing or manipulation tools. His work is shown internationally, largely at art fairs and through personal and professional gallery platforms. His work is shown through the Saatchi Gallery and Christie’s Contemporary Art Gallery that specializes in limited-edition prints.