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An artist profile of Joe Becker.
You have piece at Narwhal Art Projects in the upcoming group show ‘The Dazzle'. What was your inspiration behind it?
Kristin was nice enough to ask me to participate in the show and I was already working on the new series so I just shipped her a few pieces that I thought would work really well for the show. The types of subject matter I am drawn to and find interesting are also the same types of images and ideas she had in mind for her vision of the show. Overall I think my inspiration for making these types of paintings is being such an admirer of the works of the 17th century Dutch and Flemish painters that ventured into this type of subject matter. I have recently seen a lot of the works of David Teniers and others that tackled the subject of The temptation of St. Anthony and that has been a major influence on me in this recent body of work.
Your work has evolved since the last time I had seen it in the MOCCA for Carte Blanche 2. Has working in Leipzig for the past few months given you the motivation to take your work in a different direction?
I think the work has been circling itself and I don't think it has changed that much at all. A few years ago I was obsessed with Flemish still life paintings and I worked very hard to copy their ways of picture making, making my gesso (unsuccessfully) to laying the types of grounds and even mixing my own pigments that I bought from a specialty pigment store in New York.
I soon realized that these guys were drawing and painting from such an early age and that they would be assistants in some of the best artist's studios of all time and that type of education can't compare to the education I got being taught by those ding dongs at OCAD. So I slowly realized I would never catch up, so I gave up for a couple of years and started painting looser and with more vibrant non traditional colours.
But now I feel as if the work is heading back in a more old master palette and technique. That's a direct result of being exposed to all the great museums Europe has to offer. I think being here in Leipzig has really been good for me. Also, I paint about 60 to 70 hours every week and my favourite living painters are all in the same studio building. It is common to be in the art store downstairs and be picking out paints along side Neo Rauch and Tilo Baumgartel, so just being in their presence and in the same studio building seems to add a seriousness with painting that I just can't get in Toronto.
How does the Leipzig art scene compare to Toronto?
I really have no idea what the Toronto Art scene really is. I haven't gone to a non friend opening in years. I attend the odd MOCCA show but that's to hang out with my buddies and drink free beer. In Leipzig I went to a few openings and they were fantastic, they really go all out with bands, fire breathers or whatever the hell they are called when a guy blows fire out of his mouth and juggles those sticks on fire.
The openings here tend to be multi gallery openings and you get a real feeling as if the entire city is celebrating the opening of the exhibition. It's like a monthly Nuit Blanche so in that regard I think Leipzig has Toronto beat, but in general I have to think that the work in Toronto is better than the work I have seen here in Leipzig, the work in some instances has been absolutely terrible. Sure they have the biggest and best painters in the world but it is quite a drop to the next level of work in the galleries.
From looking at your blog, it looks like you are visiting every museum you can find in Germany. Seeing all those masterpieces in person must have an influence on you. What have been some highlights so far?
Peggy and I have been researching the museums so much that this "vacation" is more like a military operation than a real vacation. When we hit Berlin or Brussels or anywhere for that matter we have scoped out where the museums are, when are they open, how much it costs to get, in and if there is another museum near it, and if so what's in it. We have seen every major museum from Amsterdam to Berlin and it has been grueling but also the best thing I have ever done in my life. Seeing the works in real life and not in a book makes all the difference in the world.
For me the highlights have been the Alte Pinakothek in Munich for the Flemish paintings with all the Rubens, Snyders and Jan Weenix paintings but the Gemaldegalerie in Berlin was fantastic and the famous Gemaldegalerie in Dresden was also very, very impressive.
Do you have any shows coming up?
I am currently finishing up some work for a group show here at the residency, at Pilotenkueche studio at the Spinnerei here in Leipzig for September 11th, I also have some pieces in the show "The Dazzle" at Narwhal Art Projects coming up on September 9th as well as a couple pieces in a group show at Gowanus Studio Space Projects in Brooklyn on September 24th.
I also have some pieces in a show at High Roller Society in London in October as well as a group show with my girlfriend Peggy Kouroumalosand my friends Rory Dean, Derek Mainella, Tibi Tibi Neuspiel and Richard Stipl and maybe a couple other friends sometime next year in London as well. I have also been working for the past three years on a two person show with Rory Dean that we are in the process of finding a venue for.
Do you do preliminary drawings? And why blood paintings?
I never do preliminary drawings, I usually just come up with an idea and search the internet for a source to start from and then I just see where it takes me, I know that sounds really cliché but it's true. I have an idea of what the painting is going to look like and in the end it is never ever what I intended the picture to be.
Blood was something I wanted to try ever since I saw Marc Quinn's frozen self portrait sculpture made of blood, I wanted to do it for years and since I was in Germany trying new things I thought why the hell not. One morning I approached this butcher shop near the Spinnerei and asked the owner who happens to be the weirdest human being on earth if she could get me some pig's blood, a few days later her and her equally creepy daughter gave me a free 8 litre bag of pig's blood from a freshly butchered pig named Gustav. My friends at the residency had the pleasure of helping me cut the corner of the bag (like a bag of milk) and pouring it into two 4 litre jugs. By the end of it we only got one 4 litre jug full and the rest went all over the sink, floor and us.
At first the blood was fun to paint with but about a month later it got really hot here in Germany and the fridge couldn't keep the blood cool enough so the blood started to smell really bad and I was gagging when I was painting with it and it drew hundreds of flies. So in the end I think I would not recommend it at all and in fact it was a gross and stupid idea. I was not happy with the paintings because I wanted them to be delicate and really painted beautifully but it stunk, so bad and the flies were swarming real aggressively so I just painted them as fast as I could just to get them done.
Has it been really expensive acquiring painting supplies in Germany? What materials have you been using?
I shipped a lot of my paints and brushes over here to Germany. Linen is very cheap over here and I have never used it before and now that I have used it I never want to go back to canvas ever again. I really like how easy and smooth the paint goes on linen compared to canvas. The paint here is also really good, I use Old Holland paint which is quite expensive and because I have been doing such large works I have used quite a bit of it so I have been buying Rubens brand paints and they are quite a lot cheaper and in my opinion just as good.
Any last words?
"Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure" - Oprah Winfrey