New Work by Joey Brock
Opening April 11, 2020 at Ro2 Art, Dallas Texas (postponed TBD)
In Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 inaugural address he said; “we are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely, they will be, by the better angels of our nature”.
Joey Brock’s exhibition In America gives voice to the better angels of our nature at a moment when we find our nation riddled with nationalism, divisiveness, racism, homophobia, antisemitism and the increase in violence incited by a new tolerance for hate speak that is rotting from the head down.
The title of this exhibition is a direct reference to Robert Frank’s iconoclastic and revolutionary book of photographs The Americans, which seems more relevant now than ever. New Yorker Peter Schjeldahl wrote in 2019; “It may be impossible to convey to people who weren’t percipient in the early nineteen-sixties the profound, exulting shock that Robert Frank’s The Americans delivered to me, among many others, at the time of its release. The book, which was published in the United States in 1959, ranked with Dylan, Warhol, and Motown as a revelation something like a celestial visitation and something like being knocked off a cliff into a free fall so giddy as to obviate any fret about hard landings. The toughest part, from today’s perspective, was that the impact of Frank’s pictures had only passingly to do with their social, political, and otherwise thematic content, now so serviceable to this or that mode of critique. We were formalists then, and anti-formalists—not alternatively but both at once. Frank had exalted photographic form by shattering it against the stone of the wonderful and (oh, yeah) horrible real”.
The genesis of Brock’s work started two years ago with the launch of his One Portrait Project (www.one-portraitproject.art). The heart and soul of the project, and all of Brock’s work for that matter, is about self-acceptance, which is something he wrestled with for much of his childhood and into his early adult life. He started by photographing friends and strangers whose character and individuality were directly manifest in their physical appearance-- how they chose to present themselves consciously or sub-consciously to the outside world. He would then ask each individual two simple questions; have you ever been prejudiced? And, have you ever felt prejudice? These were recorded with the subjects’ permission.
The first 50 portraits feature people who range in age from 24 to 86 and cross all boundaries – those of race, religion, class, nationality, sexual preference and identity. The unifying thread is that of inclusiveness. He is giving voice to, and creating a narrative for, Americans not often heard.
Expressed through multiple applications such as video, light box installations, traditional photography and hand stitched collage-based photos, Brock’s One Portrait Project became a social practice that continues its site-specific iterations, which in turn creates dialogue within communities.
Great political art from Goya to Kara Walker would be mute if the power, strength and beauty of the work itself was not borne out of passion, conviction and the mastery of its maker. In the hands of an artist of lesser visual skill and commitment, Brock’s portraits would fall by the wayside. The most powerful aspect of his work joins the company of the aforementioned.
In the first series of portraits, for example Gillian Subject 1, Donnie Subject 14, and Angus Subject 27, we find austere, close cropped, black and white unflinchingly honest beauty with its closest historical precedent Richard Avedon’s body of photographs Into the West. I find it strange that Brock does not see himself as a photographer in the face of these stunningly beautiful portraits. Perhaps it is his reluctance to see himself as strictly a photographer, or his background as painter that has allowed him to expand his expression to multiple mediums, though I believe what drives him is his desire to touch, hold, and feel physically closer to his subjects.
In his stunning collage works, Brock takes the original photos and layers them, obscuring and accenting parts of faces and isolating features. With his use of stitches, he brings out the inherent otherness and uniqueness in each individual. These collages actualize the noble and hard-earned self-acceptance in each of us, and celebrate what makes us different, which in turn is what makes us beautiful and most human.
But Brock is no soft-headed progressive lamenting what is. The overwhelming masterwork of this exhibition is a huge self-portrait (think Christian Boltanski meets Greta Van Thunberg). It is a multi- gridded photo/sculpture installation on light stands, the electrical cords strewn on ground, serving as some silent nervous and circulatory system, straight from the heart to his mouth, his mouth opened wide as humanly possible –
the silent scream
the silent spring
a war cry of self-acceptance, anger and compassion for those without voice to those in power to reach for the better angels of our nature in us all.
I would like to commend gallerists Jordon Roth and Susan Roth Romans for their courage to show and support Brock’s work. Their vision helps bring his brilliant, important, and for some, controversial work to a greater audience. I commend them for believing in the power of art to make a difference.