Tam Joseph: I Know What I See, 2023 

Published by Four Corners Books (https://www.fourcornersbooks.co.uk/books/tam-joseph/)

From the book's publicity:

Tam Joseph: I Know What I See

With an introduction by Eddie Chambers

Bringing together paintings and sculptures from over 40 years, this is the first volume to provide an extensive survey of the work of Tam Joseph (b. 1947)

Joseph's work is wide ranging and moves between different styles and approaches. But while his art takes him in many directions - it is grounded in a sensibility which revels in the connections between things, as well as the creative possibilities of human perception.

Some paintings reflect on his own history and the history of injustices faced by African Caribbean people in Britain. Other images draw from diverse sources such as cinema, music and sport, as well as the natural world, and the history of painting itself. Whether his subject is landscape, portrait or history, Joseph employs his deep knowledge of paintings of the past to create work which invites viewers to consider these genres afresh.

Eddie Chambers' insightful essay explores how Joseph's independent spirit and boundless imagination offer a thrilling survey of a lifetime's creative expression.


Extracts from Chambers' text as follows:

For complicated though by now well-rehearsed reasons, the work of artists of colour, including of course Black artists, tends to be read with a distinct racial certainty. Rather than being read with the openness and the presumption of social, raced, or ethnic disinterest with which the work of white artists is predominantly read, Black artists’ practices are most often read as explicitly embodying prescriptive readings that amount to a certain burden of representation. Of course, these pathologies are most frequently at work in the ways in which the figurative practices of Black artists are read. Painted or sculpted images of Black people cannot simply be read as art, but must instead, invariably, be read as black art, or Black Art. The art world simply does not know how to engage with Black artists whose work embodies copious amounts of artistic freedom or artistic license in its subject matter and the ways in which that subject matter is presented. There can be no more compelling and self-evident an example of this than the remarkable practice of Tam Joseph.

Joseph has come to be admired for what are widely regarded as several signature works that, not coincidentally, embody explicit, raced, social narratives. The artistic innovation and originality of such works are invariably overlooked in favour of readings that both originate as well as end up, in the realm of the socio-political. Prime examples of such works are UK School Report, 1984, Spirit of the Carnival, 1984, and The Sky at Night, 1985. By way of marked contrast, we recognize that the works of Joseph that have tended to gain far less traction, attention, column inches and institutional interest are the works that either eschew overt socio-political readings or are more explicitly located in the realm of artistic innovation or experimentation. As noted by Celeste-Marie Bernier, Joseph ‘has maintained a lifelong commitment to “experimenting with paint” and “working out ideas”’. And yet, in appreciating the span of Joseph’s remarkable practice – reflective of literally a lifetime of art making – we might be obliged to accept that the previously mentioned examples of his work from the mid 1980s are indeed particularly penetrating, acerbic, and deserving of much of the attention they have received. (In recent years, Spirit of the Carnival, after being exhibited far and wide, including a component of Caribbean: Art at the Crossroads of the World, at the Queens Museum of Art in 2012, made its way into the collection of Wolverhampton Art Gallery. And The Sky at Night, to my mind one of Joseph’s finest paintings, made its way into the Tate collection.)

… In engaging with Joseph’s work, we should or must recognise an uncommon and brilliant intellectual originality that informs his artistic independence. We can reach for countless examples, but a recent one I’m minded elaborating on is his Handmade Map of the World, 2013. Those of us fortunate to have seen this extraordinary work may well have done so when it was installed on a billboard on the walkway leading to and from a popular area of grassland adjacent to the University of Edinburgh. That iteration was part of Edinburgh Art Festival in 2020. Certainly, in encountering the work, Handmade Map of the World offers no end of provocative points for our consideration. We are perhaps involuntarily used to seeing the world not as geographic entity but more as a political construction, comprising nation states with permanently fixed borders that have acquired a particular certainty. But of course, nation states, where they have existed, have evolved over time, and furthermore, much of the world existed without deference to the nation state until the entrenchment of colonialism.

… For all its playfulness and absurdity, Handmade Map of the World may well offer more than a nod to contemporary geopolitics. After all, China, as mentioned, becomes the United States of America, (and the United States of America becomes China). The two most powerful nations in the world trading places. Joseph similarly points to other speculative factors in his reordering of the world, factors such as migration, and nations rising or falling in the pecking order of the league of nations. This was indeed a product born of fertile artistic imaginings that was as sobering as it was amusing. As logical as it was illogical.