London illustrator Joe Cruz’s vivid works deal in re-purposed photography and mixed materials to convey themes of unity, acceptance and respect. Vivid, expressive, and referential, Cruz's work is steeped in the traditions of expressionism and the post-modern art of the remix. Taking cues from Die Brücke, the Dresden expressionist group from the turn of the 20th century, and the Pop Art movement, Cruz’s work weaves vibrant colors and bold, abstracted forms that render subjects into almost primitive depictions.
The found elements of Cruz’s work, culled from a variety of sources (record sleeves, fashion photoshoots, historical photos) lend the textures of xeroxed zine images. In a sense his practice is something of a research project. He digs through the archives of our collective memory, seeking out cultural artifacts and rendering them new. We talked to Cruz about the evolution of his practice and where it's headed next.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
I was born in North London, my family is pretty mixed, as each of my four grandparents are different nationalities, which include English, French, Spanish and Austrian.
You’ve mentioned you’re quite a fan of lunch. What did you have for lunch today?
I had some leftovers from when I saw my nan this week, she made a lamb stew, tartiflette and cabbage. Was tasty, very rich.
Did you always know you wanted to become an artist? What’s the first thing you can ever remember creating?
Yes, always. I cannot remember the first thing I made but as I child I was constantly drawing, cutting, making. I still have sketchbooks of cartoon characters, logos and football idols. I also always made my other nan a birthday card every year, she has kept all of them, it is a really nice thing to look back on.
Your work deals with appropriating and repurposing existing images— do you feel like there’s a line between a work of art that remixes an existing piece and a work of art that’s generated purely on its own? Does it matter?
That is a big question, you're asking me what is art and that is always open to interpretation but for me I don't think it matters. Many artists steal and remix, whether it be an idea, technique or a physical object.
Your process involves an element of research— seeking out new images etc. How do you decide which images to use in your work? Do you try to keep them tied to their historical or cultural context or do you try to find images that hold meaning outside of their original context?
Usually I have an idea or theme that I want to identity. When I have this concept, I start searching and wait until it evokes something instinctively within me. I then focus and examine the way the images are constructed, looking at composition and form to see if there's something I can work with.
Your work seems to follow in the vein of Die Brücke and other German expressionists in its use of colour and form with the particularly modern addition of found photography. Are there any particular artists that have been influential to you over the years?
The German expressionists was the first artistic movement I connected with at a young age, in particular Max Beckmann and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Andy Warhol, John Baldessari and Gerhard Ritcher have been undoubtedly strongs influences in shaping my aesthetic too. I truly love a variety of different work, contemporary and old masters. In particular painters such as Caravaggio, Vermeer, Picasso, Matisse, Velázquez but also primitve, tribal and folk art.
Is there a particular philosophy or worldview that ties your work together?
Love and Unity.
You’re known for your striking color palettes, have you always been drawn to vivid colors?
No, not necessarily vivid colour but all colour, it's so powerful and has so many meanings. For me when using found imagery as a canvas I can use the narrative of the original work and take it in a completely different direction by using one colour.
Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
Fiercely believe in yourself, do what you want and what feels right. Don't follow.
What’s the last great thing you read?
A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown. It was a truly touching story of abuse, addiction and the human spirit.
Do you have any goals for 2017? What’s next?
To do more large scale works, both painting and paste ups, and I want to travel more.