Brooklyn-based artist Joe Bloch (www.creativebloch.com) creates vivid, highly-textured acrylic paintings that capture the raw psychoses of contemporary urban life on canvas. Although the work has an impressive artistic legacy from the Impressionist and Expressionist Eras, Bloch updates Van Gogh’s methods for the 21st century. His work depicts a jumble of slices of contemporary urban life through a somewhat macabre lens. In this way, Bloch addresses some of the same social concerns of the Expressionists, primarily the effect of industrialization and urbanization. In many of his works, huge towers spew noxious fumes into the air, corrupting skies that should have been blue. The specter of death becomes much more prominent as skulls infiltrate the industrial landscape of all of his works to contribute to the fatalistic and perhaps nihilistic tone of the pieces.
The paintings are highly textured, with prominent brush strokes reminiscent of the works of Monet and the Impressionists in terms of methods. However, the powerful lines and colors of the paintings also channel certain elements of the Expressionists of the 20th century. The urban landscapes depicted in the paintings are vaguely surrealist. The thick outlining and use of vivid colors creates heightened versions of familiar places and things, making them to be unfamiliar, caricatures of themselves. In this way, Bloch channels the Expressionists in creating a very specific emotional and psychological response rather than depicting the physical reality of Brooklyn. The work encourages you to confront uncomfortable feelings that would otherwise be swept under the rug; these works have no obligation or intention of being “pretty” or “pleasing”. Furthermore, the exclusion of identifiable figures allows the works transcend ethnicities and genders to create a purely visceral psychological response, much in the same way that Munch’s work does.
Ultimately though, the critique of machines, technology and the city may be rooted in the 21st century ideology of Post-Modernism. The blimps, factories and tanks are certainly not the protagonists in these stories. While there is no visual mention of a possible solution to this urban condition, the critique itself intrinsically opposes the Modernist movement that predominated the decades following the World Wars.
Bloch’s work is gritty and emotional, depicting Brooklyn as the modern industrial dystopia. Bloch creates the haunting narrative of the city with many machines but no people. Although not literal representation of New York, the images are powerful, raw and thought-provoking. But just because the images do not coincide with the literal reality of the city, that does not make them inherently misleading-in fact, they may be more honest than we know.
Tiffany K. Chan, Harvard University
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