Bo Joseph: Archetypes and Anomalies

Bo Joseph, Strata: Rebellion, 2006, acrylic, tempera and wax collage on panel
55 x 40 inches. Courtesy of Bo Joseph and Sears Peyton Gallery

Bo Joseph regards art as a means to reconcile diverse and esoteric ideologies, mythologies, and cultures. Like music, visual art may move us without employing a specific language as prerequisite; its effect on us is immediate. In his work, Joseph maximizes this potential as he explores physical and metaphysical inter-dependencies, and how we define and attain knowledge with its inherent presumptions and misconceptions. 

Joseph’s analysis begins by mining archetypal forms from reproductions in books or auction catalogues. He makes stencils and outline drawings of objects he views as distillations of cultural wisdom, such as African tribal sculpture. The results are abstracted silhouettes, which Joseph then assembles into more complex conglomerates. Geological structures come to mind, as the eye travels the vast array of archetypal symbols and intertwined contours that organically float within Joseph’s picture plane. His compositions are dense with information and reveal a palette often rooted in earth tones, deep blues, and the occasional bright hue accent. The shifting dialogue of negative and positive space plays a key role, as Joseph uses the stencils to either add form when being applied to the surface, or to leave voids when used as resists.

In order to explore these relationships thoroughly, Joseph has developed a unique personalized process. The image is continuously put at risk by a sequence of actions, such as sanding, scraping, rinsing, staining, or the washing off of previously applied structures. Layer by layer, Joseph extracts new information and slowly peels his subject to the core. Through these material and formal confrontations, he encourages the occurrence of anomalies, further abstracting the symbolic artifacts, stripping off any presumed meaning. At the end, the original cultural context has been withdrawn and the hybridized imagery opens itself to new interpretations. The unfolding imagery that persists in spite of these chancy techniques attains pertinent status. In other words, by subjecting the archetypes to anomalies, Joseph creates the potential for new archetypal forms, for a new level of meaning. 

By investigating his subject of interest and translating it into a language devoid of traditionally descriptive attributes, such as naturalistic rendition, size, or volume, Joseph questions its true essence. What do we see in something about which we assume that we know more than we do? And more importantly: Are there attributes that remain even if an object is disguised and put into new contexts? In Joseph’s case, the archetypes he uses have had a past ceremonial significance that today often has become unknown or remains speculative. However, despite all abstraction and transformation into a new visual vocabulary, Joseph’s hybrids continue to convey a certain air of nobility and importance. There is something that transcends, a powerful essence that persists even if assimilated into a symphonic palimpsest of forms. 

Joseph does not intend to specify an object’s meaning. Instead, he examines how an object becomes imbued with meaning, how it is perceived, and how, by looking at the relationships and not the parts, we can attain a heightened grasp on the “weave of reality.” In this context, abstraction serves as both distiller and catalyst. It serves to convey an unusual clarity of thought and though inspired by reality, it hovers above literal bounds. In Joseph’s case, abstraction provides the option to observe life without taking away from its all-encompassing mystery. In his highly personalized take, Joseph aims at “coaxing [us] into a labyrinthian recognition of our contemporary interdependence—cultural, economic, creative, and ethical.”

Home