Joseph Grahame: I want the art to feel honest

In light of the current exhibition we met with Joseph Grahame to discuss his main aspirations and art practice.

The new exhibition that is currently on at ADH Gallery “Nature is the law: morphing sensitivity” is driven by the notion that despite the decisions of modern civilisation, nature ultimately continues to flow and reminds us that it will have the ultimate say. How did you come to this understanding for your art?

I think it’s more of an observation of humanity and civilisation as a whole. Art naturally reflects life and almost everywhere you look these days, you see poor decisions being made, people and nature being exploited for the sake of greed and selfishness. Without getting into the politics of it all, I suppose it’s just something which I’ve been reflecting on. Though it is discouraging to see these things happening so regularly, I think that making art, is an optimistic act and I am glad that it can be a vessel to open conversations.


The current series has drawings and works on paper, will it have continuation for big scale canvas works?

I am not entirely sure at the moment, though it is something I would like to explore in the future. These works were made out of necessity and offered some kind of catharsis alongside exercise and meditation, so I liked the fact that they were quite small and could be worked on as and when I wanted. Short bursts of energy.


Assemblage and improvisation play an important part in your art, why?

Everything is a form of improvisation in a way. I have never really planned out a painting or drawing, it just sort of happens. I enjoy making things that surprise me and kind of look like somebody else could have made them. I don’t really like the idea of making the same sort of work or employing any type of ‘signature’ in my creative output.


When we look at your work we get an impression that you just follow the journey, there is enthusiasm and joy of improvisation especially punchy in your current series. Do you have fear when you work?

I wouldn’t say so, I just believe that making art is a practice like anything else. I try to set aside a small portion of each day to make something, whether it’s drawing, painting, printing, recording, sewing, etc. Due to a western university education in Fine Art, I became somewhat preoccupied with what other people thought of the art which I created, which acted as a barrier for a while and added unnecessary noise while making things. I’m trying to get away from that and just create things that I enjoy making or would be interested in seeing. I think it translates when the artist is making work that is honest to them.


How self-concerned are you in the process of your work on the painting and after the completion when you evaluate the results of your work?

I see it in much more of an abstract way. I think that I’m constantly just learning how to make marks and use different materials. I enjoy problem solving and trying to figure out how to use something when it’s not working. I think that the longer you spend on a painting, the richer it becomes - but it’s a balance. A constant tug of war.


Do you think an artwork is a sole expression of an artist personality? Can art exist being separated from its creator?

Yes, I think so. Once it’s put into the universe it belongs to everybody else. People project their own circumstances and history on what they see. I always thought that the greatest thing art (in all forms; music, fashion, cinema, etc) can do is inspire others, so I don’t think artistic personality is that important. I love Picasso’s work, but I don’t love him as a human being. I think it’s okay to appreciate what he made without appreciating his personality.


What do you think your art could tell about you?

I think you would have to ask somebody who doesn’t know me. There are probably a multitude of different interpretations.


Your previous works are very moderate in use of colour, while the current series is exploding with vivid colours, where red dominates the composition most of the time. How did this dramatic change happen?

I think that I was probably hesitant to use colour so much in the past because it opens up a whole new set of problems. But because these are all small scale pieces, there was less at stake, you know? It gave a freedom to just use whichever colours felt right for the mark, composition, or whatever you would like to call it.


Currently you live in Italy. How would you describe your artistic life? Are you an active member of an art community? Do you socialise with other artists?

Like many other artists, I work a full time job and create art as and when I can afford to. I work as a teacher and make art outside of that. I have a few good friends who are in a similar situation and practice as artists outside of having ‘real’ jobs. I think everybody has the desire to create and, for me, I see it as something important to prioritise in my daily life.


When did you discover art?

Like most children, I loved sitting down for hours on end just drawing. I think since I was young I just felt that I needed to create things. I then got into skateboarding when I was about seven or eight years old and that opened up a world of music, art and culture. That led me to being a part of a thriving DIY community of musicians and artists and eventually pursuing art at college and university.


What artists influenced you?

What really influenced me was the DIY attitude I was introduced to through ‘punk’ music as a teenager. Discovering that you could make music even if you could barely play was liberating and I’m sure that is something I took with me when I started making art more consciously. I had the greatest tutor one could ask for when I was at art school in Leeds, and I feel really lucky to have been introduced to artists like Callum Innes, Christopher Wool, Philip Guston, Albert Oehlen, etc, through him. His name is Duncan Mosley, an incredible painter and thinker in his own right.


What is the best setting to display your works? What would your perfect exhibition be like?

It depends - living in Florence, I am constantly surrounded by beautiful centuries-old architecture. I think it could be interesting to show some paintings in a space like that, as there’s such a stark contrast. Though I have seen paintings hanging at collectors homes’ and they seem comfortable amongst mid-century furniture. I don’t really know.


What is the most important in your art? What drives you?

A constant state of problem-solving and feeling like a beginner when making things. If I feel like I’m getting ‘good’ at something, I sort of lose interest. I want the art to feel honest and my greatest hope is that it inspires the viewer.