Mythology has always been at the center of Joe Machine's work. Whether its his reinterpretation of Alice is Wonderland, his fascination with biblical stories and Russian fairy-tales, or his obsession with the fear, violence and sexuality that run throughout his autobiographical sailor paintings, Joe takes his subject matter away from their ordinary constraints and looks at them in a mythological light and uses them as symbols or icons of the darkness and light that resides in all of us and within the human experience.
We asked Joe Machine to tell us about his current series of artworks.
"I heard somewhere that the origins of European Royalty began in the ancient world as nomadic bandits and outlaws. These teams of villains rode from town to town killing and burning and offering “protection” from their own exploits to towns that would pay them. Once the bandits were in, they took over the town, establishing themselves as rulers. In time, they became royalty. Whether this is true, or not, the story reminded me of the British Royal Family of the underworld – The Krays.
The famous twins who ruled London’s East End during the 1960's were well known for fine tuning the protection rackets and had most of London’s club land stitched up like a kipper. As villains, their lives and crimes were incredibly public, as was their eventual trial in 1969 for the murders they were involved in.
I first heard stories about the Krays from my father, a Gypsy who lived in Poplar, not far from the Twin’s manor in Bethnal Green. My father was not a gangster, although like a lot of people in that area, he knew the Krays personally and drank in the Double R Club in Mile End Road and their billiard hall in Eric Street. My Aunt Sheila was married to Tommy Brown, Reggie Krays minder. My Grandmother and my parents often received visits from Ronnie and Reggie, who I’m told, were always polite and well liked by my family.
I was born in 1973, four years after the Krays received their life sentences. When the other kids were getting bedtime stories about Rupert the Bear, mine consisted mainly of my father’s recollections about 1960's London gangland. I remember the tales of the shadowy Kray Twins who were described by my father as wearing suits as sharp as a razor, and their notorious exploits fighting and shooting other villains in the smoke filled beer-dark clubs of the East End.
The decades I grew up in were different to the era of the Krays. In the eighties, drugs swamped the streets taking over from the alcohol and gambling synonymous with the 60’s and 70’s. Drugs changed everything, including the face of crime. Gone were the old school ethics of London gangsters, the huge amounts of money involved with drugs insured that “honour amongst thieves” was well and truly dead.
Of course, opinions of the Krays and the era they dominated differ vastly depending on the experiences of those who knew them. To this day they are a paradox, respected and denounced in equal measure, even by members of their own firm.
For me, the bedtime stories I was told about them are as relevant as those of Robin Hood or King Arthur. For anyone who does not see the comparisons, look up the bloodthirsty legends of the Arthurian knights who murdered women and betrayed each other to understand the holistic human nature within the myths.
The Krays come from an era which has now passed into antiquity. Few members of their ‘firm’ are still living and when the last of these die, the stories of the Kray’s will pass forever into the realms of mythology. When this happen’s the tales of lives and activities will change forever. Over the years I’ve heard several different versions of the now famous shooting of George Cornell by Ronnie Kray in the Blind Beggar Pub. In fifty or sixty years time, I expect" - Joe Machine, 2015
Theme Artefact are the official dealers of Joe Machine and his Kray artworks are available exclusively from us.
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