McClain Gallery is pleased to announce Bo Joseph’s fourth solo exhibition with us: Holding Spaces, including new works on paper from two bodies of work, a wall relief and a Corten steel sculpture. Joseph mines ever deeper as he finds novel ways to re-contextualize cultural icons and navigate the interdependence and interconnectedness between diverse worldviews and belief systems. The artist will be in attendance at the opening reception.
This exhibition takes its title from the primary series of works on paper in the exhibition, Holding Spaces. In this new series, Joseph transcribes, abstracts, and merges imagery from photographs of interiors he appropriates from online sources, many of which depict collections of tribal art or decor that leverages the energy and aesthetic of tribal art, whether authentic ritual objects or “fakes” made specifically for trade. Some of these sourced images capture celebrated collections such as those of Helena Rubenstein, Peggy Guggenheim, and Wifredo Lam. The term “holding space” can be read as both an action and a place: a method of reserving and cordoning off a safe space for emotions and ideas, and a location in which things are admired, coveted, secured, or detained. Joseph states, “since much of the imagery in my work is of cultural objects that have come into purview because of societal friction points, conflict, and outright plunder throughout history, and many of those objects are “held” in public and private collections, I adapted the term as a means of opening discussion and conflict resolution around issues of cultural appropriation, authorship, artistic autonomy, and visual sovereignty.”
These dense and colorful oil pastel, tempera, and acrylic works on paper are distinguished by a complex and labor-intensive process. Joseph deconstructs the appropriated imagery by transcribing and layering simplified line drawings onto a patchwork of multiple sheets of paper. These sheets are then subjected to a barrage of chancy techniques like coating, scraping, and rinsing, before they are reassembled. The result is an anomalous, tattered yet enriched translation of what began as a simplistic "wireframe" image. Joseph then establishes spatial and compositional hierarchies and densities by filling in negative spaces with radiating lines and edging various networks and clusters of forms with halos of colors. Thus, Joseph visually strips cultural icons of their normal reference points, reining in relationships between parts rather and allowing fragments and “absences” to define each other and the spaces between them.
A second and complimentary series of untitled works on paper in the exhibition weaves layered imagery from a wider range of intuitively sourced imagery, recycled and repurposed from within Joseph’s studio archives. In these monochromatic works, Joseph employs a resist technique similar to batiking, in which water-soluble tempera line drawings of co-opted imagery are coated with acrylic washes and then rinsed to reveal a “negative” of the initial forms. As with the Holding Spaces series, material behavior at the edge of Joseph’s control result in allusive fields of chance unions and evocative interconnections.
In the work Catching Ghosts: Arbitrator of Absents, Joseph revisits his series of wall reliefs that decontextualize similar source material into objects that feel aged, auratic, totemic. These graphic sculptures, in a technique developed by the artist, achieve their rich patina from casein, a medium made with milk protein with 11th-century origins. Joseph cites Louise Bourgeois and Joseph Beuys as profound influences not only on form and color choices, but also on the use of recontextualization to extract the charge from found sources.
A new foray into outdoor sculpture takes shape in Joseph’s Snarchetypes: David, a Corten steel work based on a form originally assembled from foam core scraps rummaged in his studio. Durable and permanent while still embracing the corrosive and weathering effects of entropy, Corten steel is a material consistent with the same character Joseph finds in his other chosen mediums. This work is a comment on the pitfalls of appropriating archetypal sources, such as Tribal masks and Modernist themes, how they can bristle and be uncooperative or provocative. The steel sculpture also refers to how prickly it can be to work with archetypes in the shadows of artists like David Smith, who built on and referenced archetypes himself, and became one in his own right. Venturing into the shadows of these sources as Joseph does is to deliberately tread into a minefield of ethics and meaning. This work further extends the discussion of trickster archetypes in mythology.
Joseph makes no claim of knowing how an issue as large as colonialism and its socio-political inheritances may or may not, one day, be resolved. But as a maker who admires and respects ritual objects and cultural production outside of his own, a position not uncommon to artists everywhere, his earnest charge into the fray of potentially hazardous conceptual wander is an attempt to usurp the usurper, giving voice to the many issues that lie at the heart of a complex world created by our forebears. Joseph acknowledges the legacies with which we must grapple but declines to perpetuate the violence they have unleashed for too long. The result leads to a reading of the work that is colorful, nuanced, urgent.
BO JOSEPH (b. 1969, California) lives and works in New York. Joseph received his BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1992 and has received awards and honors such as the Basil H. Alkazzi Award as well as fellowships in painting from Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center and the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. He has been a visiting artist/lecturer at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth and the Rhode Island School of Design where he also taught drawing. His work can be found in museums nationally and abroad including Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri; and Guilin Art Museum, China. Joseph’s work has been the subject of recent solo exhibitions at Lee Eugean Gallery in Seoul, South Korea (2017), Sears Peyton Gallery in New York (2016) and McClain Gallery in Houston (2012, 2015, 2020, 2023). Joseph’s sculptural work was included in McClain Gallery’s 2018 exhibition re:construction and their 2019 Dallas Art Fair Booth.