1993 “SIE” Electrical Drawing
1994 “IHU” Piece inspired from earlier electrical drawings
1995 “SMK” Piece
1996 Joker Piece
1999 “Joke” Piece
2003 Seak Joker Daim
2004 Joke Canvas
2010 Joker wall from San Francisco Collaboration
2011 Old English
2011 Tilt Shift
2011 UC Back
2011 UC Front
2012 Tivist Print
We wanted to do a feature on Joker and thought the best way to approach it would be to start at the beginning of his first abstract ideas and progress from there. Joker has been painting graffiti traditionally for almost 25 years. Although this feature will start in 1993 and focus on of his move into more abstract forms of graffiti, there is no doubt that Joker is skilled in all aspects of traditional graffiti as well. Joker is a talented artist who’s traditional style and hand styles till this day will stand up to most. A master of all styles from his tag to his minimal canvases Joker was able to bridge the gap from graffiti towards abstract.
When you think about graffiti you might say that it has been around for 40+ years now. Starting from the simple tags to intricate murals on subways most of us know the history about graffiti. What we sometimes don’t know is the history and evolution of our important artists who have pushed the artform forward. Most would say the first abstract graffiti artist was Futura and you might be right, but there were others after him who took things in new directions. Joker’s influence on the letter form was felt largely in the nineties as many artists were turned onto abstract ideas and concepts in through his work or from Transcend. He had formed Transcend in 1990 “Transcend was started by Joker (from Washington DC) and Carl123 (from Manchester, UK) back in the early part of 1990. The idea was to start an artist collective whose sole purpose was to constantly evolve, and break personal ground. Originality was most important but the pursuit of constant progression was also important in reaching our goals.” Transcend was also a new concept to graffiti that was based on a collective of artists vs the normal crew format. Even back then he was thinking differently and effectively setting up a strong core of talented artists who would also venture into abstract.
This brings us to a breakthrough he and Raevyn TWS had in 1993. In his words “So back in ’93-’94 Raevyn TWS and I used to meet pretty regularly and spend a few hours sketching new ideas. Well, trying to come up with new ideas. We were constantly looking at outside sources for inspiration and the more obscure seemed to deliver better results. This is a good example of one of those inspirations…
Raevyn showed up with a bunch of vintage electrical engineering books that had a ton of electrical maps, outlining how to lay out wires, connections, switches… all that. Raevyn saw letters in these maps. I saw a bunch of lines and switches but I respected his thought process so I gave it a shot. I actually gave it a lot of shots but this is the only drawing I have that shows the process.
The piece was going to say SIEU but I never made it to the U. So in this image it just says SIE. The bolder lines make up the shape of the letters and the rest of the lines are the “fill-in”. Completely abstract, in the idea, but it did inspire me to use some of what we working with in a few paintings.”
The electrical drawings and this concept to break away from traditional forms such as arrows, bars, connections, 3d and many other elements was a key step in the process of removing old forms and replacing them with new ones. In this case he was using electrical circuitry to build letters. As you can see in the IHU pieces above this allowed Joker to take another step forward and start to work in a more abstract manner. This concept was key in his progression, as he was able to effectively build new forms to build letters with throughout the past 2 decades. Staying true to one of the principles of graffiti his abstract pieces were always letter based. Joker was able to move forward from a drawing exercise to a wall that would change his aesthetic for the next decade leading him on a road of progressively abstract work.
Just after this move into abstract Joker took influences from architecture, type and was able to build a unique style. It was always Joker’s ability to keep pushing new ideas and concepts in his pieces that set him apart and led to his fast paced progression. When many others might have been painting traditionally, Joker kept on this new path. The only rule that I can see in Joker’s work was that is was always letter based. Even pieces you think to yourself cant say something, if you ask Joker he will point out the letters. Upside down, falling, backwards, forward Joker built compositions with letters. His ability to create a picture as a whole is one of this strengths, meaning graffiti sometimes focuses on each individual letters connection to its immediate letter. Joker turned this idea upside down and instead of focusing on connections or a flow of his letters, instead he brought the whole wall or drawing into focus creating a complete painting. Not a complete piece. The letter forms still connected and flowed but instead of seeing a piece you saw a picture. People that might not understand graffiti would be able to see the painting aspect of his work, just as much as a graffiti artist would be able to see his letters. This is one of many important concepts Joker was able to establish.
His work hit a new direction around 2000 as he moved into a more geometric period of his work. Staying true to his previous paintings he still made pieces with letters, and still was able to paint the bigger picture. It was this ability that lead to his easy transition into painting works on canvas. A master of space, or negative space Joker composes paintings with the best of them. The paintings on the walls were already paintings, just not on a canvas. It was about this time that Joker would really come into his own and create some of the most forward thinking graffiti. In 2000 pre-streetart and coming off the popular nineties internet era of graffiti Joker was a common name among writers. His style had influenced many artists in the nineties. This is evident if you pick up any book from the late nineties many artists had been experimented with abstract ideas and flipped them into their own arsenal. I think this is one of the major reasons why Joker’s work changed so drastically in 2000. In order to keep his identity that was being slowly taken from him by other artists Joker had to do something new to keep one step ahead. Its hard to imagine that was almost 12 years ago. It would seem that only recently has Joker’s work started to be seen for what it is.
This brings us to 2012 and Joker is back. Joker painted an important wall in 2010. A collaboration with Kofie, Remi Rough, Kema, Poesia, and Codak brought him out of semi retirement, and also was a lynchpin to the start of Graffuturism. He then went on to create more art and will be exhibiting next month in London for the Futurism 2.0 show. He also recently released a limited edition screenprint “Tivist” this month that brings us up to date with his current direction. If I know Joker he will be coming out with something big soon, another paradigm shift that will I am sure leave us all trying to catch up. If you want to see more of Joker’s exceptional work check out his flickr.