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Joe Warrior-Walker talks Tradition, Memory and Instagram

We spoke to Joe about how his childhood has shaped his practice, breaking the mould of being pigeonholed and the impact of Instagram.

'Sugar Beets' (2020), oil & acrylic on canvas, 76x101cm

Joe Warrior-Walker's contemplative paintings explore a youthful naivety through a personal reflection on childhood experience. Spending his childhood between India and Cornwall, his practice transforms a recollection of glimpses into familiar memories and spaces into abstracted ideas of place. His visceral manipulation of vivid colour is fundamental to each painting, with harmonious tones of blues and yellows creating a canopy of atmospheric nostalgia over each piece. Joe's intuitive process develops paintings that shift in their mode of representation and hang in the balance of reality and abstraction.

Hi Joe, thanks for answering some questions for us! Your paintings are beautiful and we'd love to know a bit more about your practice. Firstly, you've previously mentioned that travelling across India as a child was a significant part of your life, has this affected how you create your paintings?

Yes definitely. I’m half Indian from my Mums side. She runs a business in Cornwall selling Indian textiles and jewellery. When I was growing up I would travel each year with my Mum and Dad to India, to buy stock for the business. We’d be away for up to 6 months at a time. So it was a significant part of my upbringing. When I moved to London to study Fine Art at Chelsea, I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as an ‘Indian’ or ‘Cornish’ artist. I felt there was something overly traditional about the cultural and artistic history linked to my heritage. Particularly being a painter from St Ives interested in representing landscape. However the imagery I was interested in, continued to draw from my childhood experiences. I kept returning to the palm tree as a motif for my work, and my colour palette was always closer to the bright pigments of India. It took me some time to really embrace this. My work is fundamentally about an exploration of landscape, and in particular my personal memory of place. Growing up in St Ives with parents who are both practising artists, I was immersed in the history of the St Ives School of painters. This movement in painting, alongside my time in India has had a significant impact on my work.

'Checkmate' (2020), oil & acrylic on canvas, 76x101cm

How do you incorporate mixed media into your paintings and what inspires you to do so? 

I have always tried to incorporate many different medias into my work. I like paintings that shift in their mode of representation. At foundation level I was screen-printing photographic imagery onto canvas. That developed into collaging inkjet prints. I was making short films and using video stills as the starting point for the paintings. Over the years the figurative elements have become more abstracted, but the way in which I cut and paste sections of the composition remains the same. I try to create a tactile surface that has a physicality to it. More recently I have been collaging fabric into the work.

Has your practice changed because of the current need to self-isolate? Do you think your paintings have changed being away from your studio?

I am fortunate in the fact that my studio is very close to where I live. I'm able to access it without being in contact with anyone else. I've always been someone that works a lot in the studio, most of my spare time goes into painting. It’s been interesting suddenly being in a position where I am not required to do anything, and potentially could be in my studio all day everyday. However I'm probably spending about the same amount of time as I normally would making my work. I find this comforting to know that in spite of what I have previously thought, my usual routine does allow me ample studio time.

'Restless Native' (2020), oil, acrylic and fabric on canvas, 64x98cm

In terms of your painting process, are there any things in particular that you do to start off a painting? How intuitive is your process? 

My process is very intuitive. At the moment I have been starting each canvas with a coloured ground. I'll aim for a painting to be warm or cool, and then begin by drawing a rough composition with oil pastel. I tend not to work in sketchbooks; I figure things out on the canvas. Often I will paint the entire picture out with a thin layer of white, which allows me to see evidence of the previous layers. I can then start to develop the sections that are working well, and lose the areas that aren't.

How do you decide the tones in the colour palette for each painting?

Sometimes I try to control my colour palette. I aim to create a dark painting or a blue painting. But inevitably throughout the process the colours will change many times, and I definitely have a certain palette and key that many of the works end up moving toward. That's one of the challenges I'm currently working through. Trying to use colours I normally wouldn't, and limiting myself to a variation of one colour.

'Tidal' (2019), mixed media on board, 61x91cm

Are there any artists who are inspiring your practice currently? 

There are so many. Prior to Instagram I would generally get my inspiration from books filled with late career artists, who are already as established as they'll ever be. Instagram has opened up a whole world of artists at every stage, making work right now. It's the best way to keep your finger on the pulse and discover new people. Recently I've been loving the work of Francisco Mendes Moreira, Ina Gerken, Kes Richardson, Tal R, Max Wade, Clement Mancini and Daniel Jensen. That's just a few, I mean I could honestly go on for hours listing artists I'm currently looking at. Not to mention all the artists I've met through the Bristol scene that are making brilliant work.

To find more on Joe check out his instagram @joe_warrior_walker or visit his website


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