‘Myths are a link to a collective past of symbolism and meaning’ – Joe Machine at CNB Gallery

CNB Gallery present Britannic Myths, the gallery’s second solo show by the acclaimed British artist Joe Machine.

3. Math, Son Of Mythonwy, 2015, Courtesy the artist and CNB Gallery
Math, Son Of Mythonwy, 2015 | © Joe Machine. Courtesy the artist and CNB Gallery

The twelve paintings that make up the exhibition have been created in collaboration with the academic and writer Dr Steven O’Brien, and are based on a dialogue around his soon to be published book, Britannia Stories.

I had the chance to speak to Joe about the exhibition and his artistic practise.

How did you become involved in creating art?

I grew up in the cockney Riviera of North Kent where crime and alcohol related violence was endemic. I began drawing and painting at a very young age as a reaction to the violence I witnessed growing up, it was the only way I knew of externalising my fear and trying to deal with it.

What inspires / motivates you?

Transcendence and my relationship with God. Most of my life has been spent trying to rise above my personal circumstances. When I was younger, I did this through crime and theft, I come from a family of violent men and learned the hard way not to follow the same route as they did. I learned from my experiences and educated myself, not out of any need to become good, but rather to break out of the dysfunctional pattern and use my energy to do something worth while. Most of my work is self confrontational, a visual way of examining my life, the human condition and the wider world.

5. The Tuatha De Danaan, 2015, Courtesy the artist and CNB Gallery (1)
The Tuatha De Danaan, 2015 | © Joe Machine. Courtesy the artist and CNB Gallery

You are a self-taught painter; how do you think this influences your artistic practice?

I have a very different background to most artists and in this sense, life influences my work rather than the work of other artists. I had the benefit of finding out for myself what I wanted to do and following it rather than having institutional fashions rammed down my throat. I’m not saying I’m totally against art education, just that it doesn’t work for me. I’ve developed and widened my interests at my own pace and in the areas that I’m most interested in. I work in much the same way as I always have, using a very limited palette and mixing colours to achieve what I want.

You are a founding member of the Stuckists art group: can you tell us more about the groups’ principles?

Stuckism is the first re-modernist art group founded with the purpose of promoting painting as foremost art form and opposing the empty culture of conceptualism. The movement is part of a wider tradition of visualising human nature and the function of the human spirit through art. It is both a continuation and a further and wider development of Modernism. The founding group, which I am part of, was comprised mostly from artists from the Kent and Medway areas. Stuckism now has over 250 groups worldwide and has done much to combat corruption in the art world and challenge institutional authority.

2. St. Dunstan & The Devil, 2015, Courtesy the artist and CNB Gallery
St. Dunstan & The Devil, 2015 | © Joe Machine. Courtesy the artist and CNB Gallery

Your upcoming exhibition presents twelve paintings created in collaboration with writer Dr Steven O’Brien; how did you determine which myths to portray?

Dr. O’Brien’s selection of myths contains some of the oldest and strongest stories in the British mythological cycle. In selecting which ones to paint from for the show, I picked those which embody both a historical and archetypal significance.

To what extent do you consider myths to be as important today as they ever were?

Myths are part of an archetypal narrative intended to embody humanities struggle often against insurmountable odds. These are tales often derived from the ancient oral traditions. Even the lesser stories convey a moral meaning more profound than many forms of modern ethical instruction. In this era of technology, viral media and instant gratification, myths are a link to a collective past of symbolism and meaning. Say what you will about ancient cultures, but much of their lives were spent in search of the spirit, while we are mostly concerned with throwing ours away.

1. Herne the Hunter, 2015, Courtesy the artist and CNB Gallery
Herne the Hunter, 2015 |© Joe Machine. Courtesy the artist and CNB Gallery

Have you got any future projects / plans lined up?

The most immediate project is an exhibition of my work in Bologna, Italy, based around the Prometheus myth, due in late February. In May, I am exhibiting a series of paintings based on the life of St.Stephen in St.Stephen’s Church, Walbrook, London. I have a retrospective show in Prague early 2017 and an ongoing project based on how immigrants to the UK have helped to shape Britain’s art,music and culture. At the moment, busy is certainly an understatement.

– Harry Dougall

Britannic Myths is on view at CNB Gallery, 32 Rivington Street London EC2A 3LX, 19th February – 13th March 2016, Admission: FREE

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