The latest exhibition to grace the walls of London’s Opera Gallery is aptly titled. Ways of Seeing, which runs until Friday November 8 (all prices on request), is a 30-strong showing of British artist Joe Black’s extraordinary images, which, depending where the viewer stands, can be seen either as a whole or as a complex mosaic of small parts.
Black (who prefers the title “image maker” to artist) creates his work from thousands of mass-made objects, ranging from ball bearings and plastic pins to chess pieces and, in the case of the show’s title piece Ways of Seeing (Blue) (first picture), handmade badges. “I will stick anything down,” he says. However, the power of his work comes from the relationship between the object and the picture it creates, so his choice of material is always carefully considered.
Shoot to Kill (second picture), for example, is a picture of President Obama made up of over 11,000 hand-painted black-and-white storm troopers. “This portrait makes reference to the order to kill Osama Bin Laden,” Black says. “The stark black-and-white soldiers indicate the ethos of good and evil, right or wrong that is embedded in America’s dealings with eastern nations.”
Similarly, his portrait of Russian astronaut Valentina Tereshkova, Does my Bum Look Big in This? (third picture, one of 15 new works showing here), made from 12,702 Lego bricks and 5,000 black-lacquer acrylic flowers, makes us question traditional gender roles.
Black is a modern pop artist creating playful yet thought-provoking images, but his way of working also makes him a traditional craftsman. As Jean-David Malat, director and curator of Opera Gallery London, says, “Not a single person who sees one of his works can remain indifferent to his intricate, meticulous technique and the perfection that lies within each of his artworks.”
Black’s reputation has been steadily growing over the past decade. His admirers include Bono, Noel Gallagher and Russell Brand, and a recent sale at Christie’s South Kensington saw Made in China, a portrait of Chairman Mao made up of 5,500 toy soldiers, fetch almost £50,000. This exhibition, his first solo show, looks set to establish him firmly at the forefront of Britain’s contemporary-art scene.