Joshua Searle is an exciting up-and-coming young artist who we are thrilled to present as our upcoming Artist in Focus with his series, PLAY. Based on the Mornington Peninsula, Searle draws upon his Colombian heritage to inform this collection, influenced by his own experiences and critical observations.
In the lead up to this series exhibiting in the gallery from from 16 – 26 February, we caught up with Searle to learn more about the practice behind his work and the layers of socio-political commentary that feature throughout. And join us for live ‘In Conversation’ with Searle, hosted by Modern Times co-director Amy Malin on Tuesday 21 February. This free ticketed event will begin at 5:30!
Your series PLAY draws together a dynamic array of found objects, with contrasting textures and shapes that interplay with the painted surface. What draws you to these discarded objects and what do you enjoy most about working with them?
The found objects originally started with two kind of general ideas. One was more of an environmental and economical idea, coming from a sustainability standpoint. I was seeing so much waste and it was really getting to me, so I wanted to try and utilise it all. A lot of these wasted objects are actually really beautiful materials. I was saying just the other day for example, if you look at a metal signs and think about it, the metal has been mined, dug up, melted and shipped, all to make this one object. So much work has gone into creating these things, and then when they’re finished with people discard them to never be used again.
To answer the second part of the question, which is more the conceptual side of what I was thinking. When I was growing up, similar to most people coming form a migrant background in Australia, you see so many people migrate here and I think that’s what makes Australia, Australia. They’re normally taking on jobs that typical Australians don’t want to do, and these jobs make our country function. So the idea for me was to take waste products, and show from what can be made form them; a similar perspective or take on how immigrants make the best of any situation in a new country.
What I enjoy most about working with found objects is the challenge. It’s one thing to work on uniform canvas all the time, and knowing how it’s going to react. It’s interesting to play around and see what mediums work best with the found object. It’s always a bit of a challenge and I really like that part. You never quite know how things will react until you do it.
Your work is peppered with politically charged themes and motifs. Could you please share what lies behind these depictions and the message you wish to communicate?
Yes, most of my work is quite highly political. I see a lot of artists focus more so on aesthetics, but I like having something to say. I think the way I grew up and what my kind of understanding is, is to always voice your opinions. It was always something that I wanted to do. If people are listening, I want to talk about the things I find important. I tend to approach it all with a tactic called the ‘velvet hammer’. You have a really strong idea or context around something, and you cover it with velvet to make it beautiful and easier to engage with. I read this somewhere so I can’t coin it as my term!
Your works impact on a number of levels – through composition, content and your unmissable and refreshingly vibrant palette. How do you think your use of colour helps you communicate with your audience?
Having these really kind of political and strong ideas behind the paintings that are incredibly dark and can be a lot to take in, I like to make these things beautiful, and I like using vibrant colours to do so. Vibrant colours are something I’ve always been attracted to. You can be staring at something quite serious, but with the colour and the texture there it makes you feel as though you’re looking at two different paintings. I think for me as well I love to have that aspect of playfulness and colour. I’m the one who is in the headspace to create ideas that I want to share. Like you said, a lot of my messaging is political and can be tough so it’s nice to add that aspect of colour and play to it.
Some of your pieces are heavily layered, and we can’t help but find ourselves drawn to a new aspect with each glance, whilst others appear to have been swiftly and simply executed. Can you tell us a little more about your process? Do some of your works evolve over quite a long period of time?
That’s an interesting question because my practice has developed quite a lot in the last few years. Originally, there was a lot of painting things and evolving the ideas as the painting went along. I’d never quite know what it was going to be, I’d just slowly watch it evolve. In some of the more layered pieces, I’d come back and back and then leave them for a while. It was almost a collage of things that flowed really well together. Then I also have this other aspect to my work, that was more thought out. I’d already have the idea and want to do it quite swiftly as you said and quickly. I think that came down to the confidence in my own hand and work as it’s evolved. I would say my work has tended to move more towards this direction now. I think about things for a long time, and then try and execute them really quickly and passionately. I want to focus less on layering on more on minimalism and strong lines.