Joe Turpin: Tate's ''Portraying a nation''? you cannot call it that and only sho

Joe Turpin is a South African/British visual artist, now based in Johannesburg

It seems to me that pop art, street art and expressionism are integral parts of what you do. Can you tell us more about the inspiration and concerns behind your art practice?

Those three movements have been recent inspirations for me. I used to like the way the works of artists in these kinds of practises was visually striking and carried messages behind them. I felt it was a great way to reach people and get my concerns across in a meaningful way. But those movements themselves, and therefore my concerns with them, are always evolving and changing. I’ve always been interested in and studied world history, so I always let it inform my work one way or another. It’s important to me as it provides method and reasoning as to why things are the way they appear to be in the present, and why it’s artistically important to engage with them.

Do you think the art scene in London and Johannesburg share any similarities?

Yes there are similarities and there are also differences. However I don’t think there is necessarily one ‘scene’ in either city. Both towns use more and more alternative spaces to show work and so there is a lot more than the contemporary gallery or museum culture of art, art making and art showing. Of course it is very commercial in both places too, which is both a positive and a negative aspect. Artists need to make that living but I believe the monetization of everything can also stifle the art and it’s platforms in different ways. The gentrification in both cities is very similar and very real, it has given rise to some art and studio spaces in these ‘regenerated’ areas but there is always an underbelly to that, which is taken for granted in both Johannesburg and London.


You recently sent an open letter to Tate Liverpool about the content of their Portraying a Nation: Germany 1919 – 1933’ exhibition. You argued that the list of artists shown is too limited/reductive and seems at odds with Tate’s aim to try to put to the forefront previously marginalized artists and art movements, as the exhibition failed to feature female and Jewish artists. Can you tell us a bit more about this? Was your letter acknowledged?

Yes I was disappointed when I first read the synopsis of that show. It was the first time I was ever really moved to write something. Basically my main issue with the exhibition was the title. You simply cannot call a show that when only showing the work of just two artists that fall into the same demographic, especially at such a politically and socially fragile time in world history as the Weimer Republic was. The show itself I’m sure was finely executed but a different name should have been given. It is a distortion of what was really happening in that time and unfortunate that it should happen at an institution that is at the forefront, and ultimately may decide, of what goes down in museum exhibition history. I sent the letter to various publications or platforms and I’ve heard back from a few. Some say it is great but not really the kind of thing they publish. I haven’t heard back from many but I’m not expecting too. It’s online, on my Tumblr page, if anybody wants to read it.


Can you tell us a bit about your process. How do you develop your paintings? Do you work from photographs, use stencils or do you prefer to use your memories/feelings in a more ‘free’ and organic way? Or is it a combination of both?

It’s a complete combination of all the above and more. I always start with a kind of spark. It could be a photograph, film still, something I’ve read or seen. My feelings, research and the physical making collectively make up the process, I usually have the image pre-conceived entirely in my head before I begin and then it’s just about the best way to realise that image.


What are your plans for the future? What’s next for your practice?

I’m trying to move into making work that is more reflective of my personal history, and also take it off the canvas. Not completely off the canvas but I want to keep trying to add different elements into

the work, be they structural or textual, and see how they can further inform my work. I’m excited for the work I’m about to make, I think it will take my practice into a new direction and open up more possibilities of how I can produce the work that I feel I have to make. My methodology will keep changing and for now I think it’s important for me to avoid being ‘stuck’ in the simple paint on canvas trajectory, because I can always come back to that.


Joe's next show is the 2017 Tsai-mo Art festival in Taichung City, Taiwan in September 2017. You can see more of Joe's work on: facebook: /ArtJoeTurpin; twitter: @joeturpinjoey; instagram: @joegturpin and tumblr: