I first came across the work of Joe Machine in 2009 when visiting a Billy Childish exhibition at The Aquarium Gallery. Since that time I have been an avid supporter, champion and promoter of Joe Machine and his work across all media.
During that time I have sold many of Joe’s paintings into private collections and the one thing that I have often tried, but often failed to convey, is that ‘certain something’ that I, and those that choose to collect Joe’s work, see in it.
I used to assume it was some intangible thing, something about the duality of the human condition, the thin line between love, anger and the human need for contact. Contact, either through the healthy act of sexual intimacy or through the primal acts of violence, that once withdrawn, only amplifies the ultimate isolation that is, in reality, the fate of all human beings.
It is present in all his work, whether it’s vibrant greens amongst a snowy landscape, the regal purples of a Russian fairy tale or the ruby red of a slashed face. His work has a sense of timelessness about it.
Joe’s work is traditional, brutal, crude, uncomfortable and violent, yet is also refined, lonely and vulnerable. However his work still contained an element central to its message that remained something that I could not put a word on...well not a single word or tag anyway.
I have the privilege of having a large selection of Joe’s work around me at the moment and as I have been going through it, describing it and spending time with it, it has become clear to me what that ‘something’ is. It’s Englishness. Now not English in the ‘stiff upper lip, ‘cucumber sandwich and cream teas’ kind of way, but still very English. What Joe captures in his work is the outsider, the underbelly, the England that we don’t like to address, but that we all know is there...if we are honest. Joe presents an England of bare-knuckle fighting, of dogfights by the docks, of criminals glorified to the status of mythical kings, of eccentricity and of violence. Joe’s England is a violent rugged land with an understanding of structure, an order, a belief in how things are supposed to work whether right or wrong, an agreement made in blood hundreds of years ago, and although unsavoury, a set of rules that all English people understand implicitly.
This knowing look at the underclass of England is what makes Joe’s work so vital and so important. In a time when groups like Britain First and Ukip are selling us a dream of England’s green and pleasant past, Joe reminds us of the blood that has been spilt in these fields and on these streets. This blood has not always been spilt in the glory of war, but in the struggle just to be alive, just to live, just to love.
Joe shows the dark heart of England and holds up a mirror to its bestial, violent and proud subconscious. What’s reflected is an internal landscape forged between the clash of fists, steel, cultures and beliefs, of desperate men and sensual women, of right and wrong, of sex and aggression. This is a landscape where fear, anger, love, hate, violence and sex stagger together through its backstreets looking for meaning. Like William Blake, Joe is not interested in the England that England thinks it is. Joe is interested in England’s dark satanic mills.
So on the publication of this limited edition print, I raise a glass to my friend Joe Machine and feel comfortable in toasting his place at the table of important English artists. Joe’s work, although disturbing, will stand the test of time because he is not concerned with the shock of the new, but rather the shock of the present and the shock of the past. Joe’s work is about all of us really. It’s about what it means to be English, or rather, what it means to be a human living in this green and pleasant land.
Laurence Johns. co-director of Theme and Joe Machine's Agent.
'The Blonde Kiss' is available in a signed limited edition of only 15.
For more information or to but your print click here.