Joe Black is an illusion-maker: strangely familiar icons occupying our Western imagery and imagination, projected by our screens, posters and magazines, are ingenuously depicted. Or are they? Take a step forward and the smiling, candy-coloured portraits dissolve into pixels of the most unusual kind.

Soldiers, Lego pieces, toy cars, candles, tacks, nuts… coming straight from the toolbox of a (very) astute child, these countless pieces make one’s head spin. Assembled and hand-painted with a meticulousness verging on obsession, these objects are certainly not chosen by chance. When looked at closely, they assume their solid materiality at the risk of eclipsing the very image they are meant to represent; a never-ending game of back-and-forth played out between object and subject, content and expression, form and concept, medium and message.

Joe Black’s artworks are multi-faceted portraits that trigger multiple points of view, giving rise to countless interpretations. When faced with the ghost-images dissected by the artist, we understand their truth is obviously being questioned, as are our interpretation and the meaning we give them. For Black’s canvases are nothing but a double-edged surface, the union of a material mediator – the manufactured object itself – and our mental representation of the subject portrayed: a legendary actress, a famous fashion designer, a political figure…

Joe Black’s audacity is to introduce, via the careful selection and arrangement of objects – images in their own right – a jamming in the machine that produces meaning. The image turns into a hollowed and abstract form, while its multiplied object-components bring new meaning, creating a metalanguage of pervading militarism, addictive substances, mental illness, the tyranny of appearances…

The artist thus becomes a master in the art of dismantling and recreating myths in the way of Roland Barthes. And yet, he takes care to leave free reign to the viewer’s interpretation, to suggest a world of possible meanings, inviting the onlooker to abstain from taking the meaning of his images for granted.

The artist also pushes his experimentations with colour, forms and shapes towards a greater abstraction. He relentlessly challenges our way of seeing, looking and perceiving. The investigation of colours and materials thus becomes methodical; the visual effect produced, quasi-hypnotic.

Anamorphosis by Hans Holbein, deceptive frescoes by Hieronymus Bosch, phytomorphous portraits by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, double-edged paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder… Joe Black brings new vitality to the tradition of Op Art with compositions that are as explosive as they are new.

Because, above and beyond mere optical illusions, Black’s artworks are treasure chests of cross-references, tributes and puns, whether artistic, historical or popular. His art feeds on Pop Art and Surrealism, on Op Art and Classicism… with humour and irreverence, he revisits our iconography.

Within the jigsaw puzzles that are his paintings, absurdity flirts with darkness while never abandoning that typical British dry wit. In the footsteps of Marcel Duchamp, Black decontextualises objects and images that have become cliché, allowing the marvellous to gush forth.

Joe Black questions our relationship to images, but also to time. The process of making his art is in itself a way of pooh-poohing the manner in which images are produced today: accelerated, saturated and adulterated to the hilt. Fastidious, meticulous and delicate, each brush stroke, each composition has an effect on the final tableau, and on the creative detonations that result.

With a sharp and poetic touch, the artist takes a fresh and sparkling look at what surrounds us. More than ever, Joe Black’s paintings call a deep dive behind the image.

-Annabel Decoust