James Joyce at The Breed Show

The graphic artist's set of high-gloss paintings in a London group show reflect the inherent dichotomy between laughter and tragedy


Graphic artist James Joyce—not to be confused with the deceased Irish avant-garde writer—is well known for his bright and colorful—but always reductive—graphic and typographic artwork. He’s a regular contributor to publications such as the New York Times, Wallpaper*, The Guardian and Time, and his limited edition prints are highly prized by graphic art experts and enthusiasts around the world. However, two new works in a group show opening in London this week suggest the artist is embracing a new direction. Joyce is exhibiting at a show organized by Breed—the London-based artist agency that represents him—which is on display at British art collector and restaurateur Mark Hix’s The Cock’n’Bull Gallery (underneath his Tramshed restaurant) in Shoreditch.


Joyce and several other of Breed’s artists—including Kate Moross, Rose Stallard, Steven Wilson, Andy Gilmore and Stuart Semple—were invited to create an original work of art specially for the show. Highlights include Moross’ large hand-colored isometric pen artwork (detail shown above), a mirror-based piece by Revenge is Sweet and a beautiful half-tone gold print of an Amazon scene created by photographer Cat Garcia in collaboration with illustrator Jessica May Underwood.


However, it’s Joyce’s set of large, glossy, circular paintings—each with a 1.75 meter diameter, which occupy the far wall of the gallery as you walk in—that undoubtedly steal the show. The one on the left, called “Here For A Good Time, Not A Long Time” is bright yellow with three black shapes arranged at the bottom of the circle, as if brought there by gravity—and the shapes are the unmistakeable elements that are required to create an iconic “acid” face. The other painting is bright pink with an assortment of shapes assembled at the bottom: Two black crosses, a white sausage shape with a black line running through the middle of it and a large red dot. Entitled “Laugh, I Nearly Died,” the painting appears as a deconstructed clown’s face.


“For the show I wanted to make the paintings as large as possible, given the space allocated to me in the gallery,” Joyce tells Cool Hunting of the new works. “It’s the only wall that directly faces people walking in to the gallery, so I wanted the work to have impact.” As well as the bright colors and scale of the works, Joyce has used super high gloss paint to create them, adding to the works’ remarkable vibrancy.

“With other works I’ve done I’ve tended to use acrylics but with these I really wanted to have that glossy, almost toxic feel,” he says. Although each layer of paint took a full 24 hours to dry, Joyce is pleased with the result—so much so that he plans to create more work in a similar vein.

“I’ve definitely been trying to steer towards doing more original works, in addition to the editioned screen prints that I’ve been doing for a few years now,” he says. “I’ve found that I’ve been getting more and more opportunities to create fine art work and it’s something I want to continue to develop,” he continues. Joyce has actually been creating art objects for a while. In his first solo show in London’s Kemistry Gallery in 2008, he covered the walls with printed works but also created several free standing sculptural “Brick Cube” pieces.

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Then in 2010, he collaborated with CGI studio The 3D Agency to create a computer generated image showing a gallery space full of three-dimensional artworks of his own imagining in a work titled “Various sculpture concepts.” More recently, he hand-painted dollar signs all over a giant egg for The Great Egg Hunt, which was then exhibited in various cities across the UK as “Golden.” And just earlier this week a painted acrylic on canvas work of his, entitled “Oh No,” was exhibited at a charity art auction held at the RCA.

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“I guess I’ve always leaned towards creating objects in some way,” he says, “and with these pieces in particular, I see them working as series. These are the first ones, but I aim to create an ongoing series of the clown paintings. If you imagine rotating the image and the various elements falling into a new position—I really like the idea of that. Essentially these works are abstract, just a few simple shapes arranged in a circular panel, they aren’t really faces in a conventional sense but it’s interesting how the brain constructs the image for you.”


Joyce also talks about his love of creating tension in his work. Both these paintings are, on the surface, bright and seemingly joyful, but, he says, there’s a darker undercurrent, something that’s implied by his choice of titles. “The clown face is a motif I’ve used several times over the years and I find it an interesting one. Although I suppose the association is with comedy and laughter, there’s also the dark, sinister and tragic associations at the same time—I like that inherent dichotomy.” The same goes for the deconstructed “acid” face; it’s vibrant and fun but as the title suggests, nothing lasts forever.


Joyce’s works are available for purchase for £2,000 each. The Breed Show runs through 9 October 2013 at The Cock’n’Bull Gallery, 32 Rivington Street, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3LX. The full list of contributing artists includes Douglas Bowden, Kate Moross, Danny Sangra, Paula Castro, Rose Stallard, Jessica May Underwood, Natasha Law, Steven Wilson, James Joyce, Andy Gilmore, Revenge is Sweet, Masa, Stuart Semple, and Cat Garcia.

Photos of James Joyce in his studio by Leo Cackett; gallery images courtesy of Breed London; images of previous works courtesy of The 3D Agency and James Joyce