Join photographer Grace Pickering as she steps into the world of boundary breaking contemporary artist Joe Sweeney.
London-based gay artist Joe Sweeney’s work is undoubtedly a commentary on British culture: sardonic yet polite, brave yet unexacting, with references to tea, biscuits, fish and chips. Exploring what it means to grow up queer in the UK, his work is both incredibly universal, but deeply personal too. Living life with a stammer, Joe has been making art as a form of self-expression, and doing so has created a life-changing way for him to communicate to the outside world. “I Am Here”, one of his pieces declares: a statement so many of us, especially those who are Othered, feel like screeching from the rooftops some days.
Now living in a kitschy, maximalist Victorian house in Brixton, Joe has filled his home with his art, with personality spilling out of every orifice. In celebration of their longtime friendship and of Joe Sweeney’s unique art, documentary photographer Grace Pickering stepped foot inside to capture the artist in residence…
Tell us about this project with Grace?
Grace and I had been separated for 8 years by the Atlantic. We’ve known each other since we were 15 and I guess this is our creative homecoming together. It felt very special to be shot by such an old friend in the house we used to share together: this project focuses on what we love and how we express ourselves best, through photography and art.
How would you summarise your work?
I am an installation artist working primarily in sculpture light and moving image. I have a tendency to work in quite a morbid tone, but I guess I’m just fascinated by death and the concept of time. I want to create stillness through a feeling of isolation that drives my work, which aims at capturing a certain transience of life questioning meaning and worth in an ever-clamouring world. I’m seeking a sense of personal truth that cuts through the theatricality of life. My work has a distinctive sense of British humour about it that is part of my language and expression as an artist. Humour is a very important way of communicating for me, of slipping under the net to speak to people.
What do you hope people take away from your work?
I want them to experience a stillness that evokes a sense of personal power.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
From the gestural and candid; handwritten signs and the mundane traces of everyday life and communication.
How does your home influence you?
I’ve only ever worked from home; I think it’s seen in the stillness of my work. I’m also a big fan of hosting dinner parties, it’s almost become part of my practice. I really enjoy the connectivity of brining strangers together and seeing what happens.
How does the London creative scene inspire you?
It’s neither here nor there: it’s very old, very modern. It’s cold and concrete but also charming and endless. It’s definitely the creative hub of the world which I think is owed to the sense of reality it holds, the rain helps too.
What’s coming up next for you?
I am releasing a capsule collection of handmade ‘column’ tableware with Cob Gallery, Camden. It’s a celebration of my love for the ‘dinner party’ as I’ve previously mentioned, which will be available in November from Cobgallery.com. I’m also planning my next solo show for Spring 2024. In the meantime I’ve turned my expression to slogan t shirts which have become an important medium for me.