An in-depth look and interview, with our favorite artist of the month
Joan Seed is fascinated with human ﬂaws. Flaws are a gateway to authenticity. In staging vintage printed material, her quest for authenticity invariably leads her to irony.
Joan’s advertising years have left an indelible mark all over her work. For 30 years, as a creative in the industry, her job was to sell dreams. She worked in print media creating concepts for clients in retail, travel and banking. In advertising, selling dreams in magazines is close to scenography in that the images are extensively staged.
When Joan creates a collage, she tries to imagine the canvas as a small theater stage. The scenes are set with elements from old printed material.
The people, or actors occupying the stage, are harvested out of printed material from another era – usually mid century. To some extent, they are used like puppets or dolls once the stage is set. In fact, one could say Joan is playing with dolls, and sometimes the dolls get out of hand.
Above – Brooklyn Bridge Bather
The retro collage summons a dialogue between the past and the present. When images that circulated five decades ago are resurrected, they inevitably show how they’ve held up through time. Values change – truths reveal lies – in some cases, the images almost come across as prophecies. Like the silent message in taro cards or a Voynich Manuscript of sorts, the past foretells the future.
“As an artist, I sometimes get the impression that an image is actually speaking to me. I can almost hear the voice of the woman in the cigarette ad telling me to unmask her client.” ~ Joan Seed
Above – That Time I Was Conceived/ Below – Family Eating Monster
The collages are tableaux that have a story. Recognizing recontextualized familiar symbols can be destabilizing. Every symbol the eye picks up is desperately trying to tell you a story. The colours have a story to tell also. But interpretations are as individual and unique as the spectator. It’s a spectatorship of journey, not destination. Symbols form a language, created by humans, that keeps us connected. The heavy use of symbolic images in advertising speaks volumes.
They say hindsight is 20/20 but do we even pay attention once it’s history? “My research into 60s printed media is a bit of an archeological dig. I discover clues about the time of my parents.” The 60s were a time of promise. The American Dream seemed within reach. Looking at advertising from that era makes us nostalgic of the afluence enjoyed by the middle class. As a product of a 60s household, Joan wants to set the record straight. Under the polished facade of the suburban home lies a truth begging to be revealed. The suburbs are an exercise in conformity. Uniformity and conformity can create the impression of connection with others. Yet conformity can also foster homophobia, racism and many other forms of discrimination.
Above – Generation X «discover it in the store»
Johnson’s Asbestos shows how trust can be gained by advertisers with the use of appealing images. For decades, asbestos made its way into baby powder causing ovarian cancer. All the while, Johnson ignored warnings. The Johnson conglomerate now faces more than 13,000 talc-related lawsuits nationwide. The man from Glad makes a suitable model for the blind robotic chemist. Clorox owns Glad Bags.
Joan is a Gen Xer with a history of post traumatic stress disorder. Waking up every morning for years after having multiple nightmares does not put one in the mood to depict Disney World. Humour is her saving force. Every setback in her life has strengthened her sense of humour. She is, by all accounts, a true survivor.
Above – Johnson’s Asbestos
She has made art her distillery. In goes the anxiety and out comes a product of her imagination. It is a bittersweet nectar. Many of her Instagram followers are survivors as well. They understand the process of freeing the mind by trading fear for inspiration.
JOAN SEED.COM • E-COMMERCE
Joan Seed has an ecommerce of quality streetwear and accessories. T-shirts, sweatshirts, leggings, swimsuits, tank tops, shopping bags, hats, back packs, mugs, cell phone covers, pillows, beach towels and prints can be shipped everywhere on the planet. Sales have been made to over 70 cities across 7 continents, satisfaction guaranteed.
The collages explore optical illusions aﬀorded by the use of tinted photography. Glitches and distortions derived from the old printing press add textures to varying degrees. There’s a certain quest to take what’s ugly or unfortunate and make it pretty. Beauty emanates from things that are deeply ﬂawed.
Joan has a love/hate relationship with life. Over the years, she has come to realize that knowledge is a blessing- but also a curse. Staying positive requires a strategy in this age of Black Mirror. A creative expression of death is one of the most soul searching forms of art throughout history. Joan contemplates her own death everyday and feels like everybody should.
Above -Resting Place
That allows an individual to savour life and every passing moment. Death can be positive when it is the passing of something that was bad. “I love going to funerals of people I used to hate” reads one fortune cookie. When death leads to renewal and rebirth, it’s like turning a page or even ending a painful chapter. Joan has had plenty of painful chapters in her life.
Mob Funeral was meant to show certain aspects of funerals rites in the Italian mafia community. The collage combines a vintage tomato paste ad and a journalism photo of an actual mafia funeral from the 60s. The peaceful expression on the face of the archetypical Italian mamma reﬂects total indiﬀerence as the casket is being carried out of the church. Her bat wings suggest that she is far from innocent and that complicity can sometimes take the form of denial or silence (in the kitchen).
Above – Family Outing/ Below – Mob Funeral
Cocktail Casualty features a man being pulled out of a party on a stretcher with an oxygen tube. In the background, over a dozen party-goers carry on as if nothing extraordinary was happening. On some level there’s a lot to laugh about if you overlook death just like everybody else in the scene. In the centre of the composition, staring back at the spectator, proudly stands a woman, wearing an evening gown and a diamond necklace. She seems completely unfazed by the incident and intent on bringing the spotlight onto herself rather than the dying man. The scene shows a side of humanity devoid of compassion. If it were to take place in 2019, everybody at the party would be on their phones but it was more interesting for the artist to create that scene in another realm. It was made deliberately foreign enough to bring the spectator into a diﬀerent perspective. As much as we don’t like to admit it, humans sometimes lack compassion leaving fallen fellow humans ignored and isolated. One is inclined to think that the victim in the scene succumbed to alcohol abuse. Addiction is often triggered by feeling disconnected to the world around us. A profound sense of disconnection can lead to suicide. That point is made clear with the absence of anyone at the party caring about the man on the stretcher.
Above – Cocktail Casualty «discover it in the store» / Below – Paid Vacation
Is anything more important than the future of our planet? In 2019 Joan worked on a collection dealing with Global Warming. In the Tomorrow collage, the statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building are swept away by what seems to be a tsunami. Joan loves New York and this is an expression of one of her nightmares. New York would, in fact, be ﬂooded if the polar ice caps melted completely. That should take 30 years according to some scientific estimates.
Above – Tomorrow/ Below – Evolution «discover it in the store»
Evolution depicts a gas pump being injected in a person’s head. At first glance, the gas pump looks like a revolver. Is it suicide or murder? All we know is that it is death by over consumption of fossil fuels.
With over 2000 likes on Instagram, the most memorable collage in the Global Warming theme is Warming Filter.
In Warming Filter, The palette varies from dark forest greens to aquas, sages, celadons and emerald greens. These colours are reminiscent of paintings by Courbet and Renoir depicting seashores.
Below – Warming Filter «discover it in the store»
Atmosphere in Warming Filter
There’s an overall feeling of peace similar the atmosphere of a cottage, near a lake, at twilight. In this serene setting, one can see the Statue of Liberty emerging from the water. The notion of calm in the midst of catastrophe is a metaphor of human complacency in the face of impending doom.
The woman on the right hand side is a perfect illustration of complacency turning into self-induced numbness. She holds one dry martini and has a second one ready. It’s happy hour and she has quite a thirst to quench. She stares fondly almost nostalgically at Miss Liberty. Perhaps she is reminiscing about “the good old days” when the statue stood high above everything around it.
I’m not suggesting Manhattan would become cottage country after the polar ice caps melt away. But by engaging in the peacefulness of this image, you find yourself ignoring the alarm signal of Miss Liberty drowning. Indeed, humanity has been ignoring many alarming signals and its lack of initiative can be compared to self-induced numbness. Unable to sacrifce certain pleasures in order to protect the planet we share, the world as we know it will inevitably
change. Happy hour is almost over.
Standing there seamlessly integrated in the composition, the statue becomes a symbol of nature reclaiming culture. Her torch no-longer ﬂaming, looks like a chimney after the fire has been extinguished. In this transformed world, the butterﬂy appears to be the only surviving symbol of freedom and liberty.
The Girl in the Row Boat
At the top of the image, a girl in a row boat holds ﬂowers in her hand extended downwards. Eerily, she looks like she is laying ﬂowers on a grave as she grieves the state of the planet she has inherited.
The reﬂection in the water, like the reﬂection in a mirror, reminds us of our self-absorbed culture. Although human beings are the only species capable of self reﬂection, our egos can easily distract us from reality.
Below – Mule Cronicles
The lighter side of Joan’s work can be grouped in what are called Fortune Cookies. They are actually made using one consistent recipe: a retro image and a text, in 2 diﬀerent fonts. The Fortune Cookies chronicle every aspect of urban life behind the scenes. Well disguised wisdom emerges. The idea is to convey a joke or an ironic statement by using an innocuous sentence and perverting its meaning. With a simple text edit, the meaning is changed. Hundreds of memes have been created with the same recipe. As a creative way to illustrate a disjointed reality, it has made people laugh all over the globe. The language may seem colourful perhaps even crude. In Joan’s world, all words are allowed. An entire group of Fortune Cookies falls in a category called Mule Chronicles. These memes explore mind boggling ways in which people try to make fast money by smuggling substances. Most are fictional and all are hilariously dark. They often make people realize they’re not having such a bad day after all. In an age of airport hyper security, the goal was to diﬀuse the anxiety of going through security.
There is no denying that sex is also a gateway to authenticity. Joan is sex positive. Her positive take on sex is meant to empower women sexually. Gay men also resonate very well with her brand of humour. Her memes are usually a reﬂection of life in the city – again with disillusionment as a common denominator.
Eroticism is also an important component in the collages. From a darker perspective, sexual exploitation is expressed in various collages. The Hitchhiker, Happy Spring.
Catastrophes, disasters and scandals are some of the basic building blocks of what makes the news. They fuel the work of Joan Seed who likes to show us where we are and how we got there. Human beings rarely show their authentic selves. Peeling away the layers, removing the retouching and appreciating the ﬂaws gives the artist insight. With the passing of years – decades – masks fall oﬀ and a certain truth is revealed about the human condition. Human connection transcends space and time. Everything we see is warped by how we feel about our personal experience on this planet.
Above – Demonic Child / Below – UFO «discover it in the store»
STAR MELTDOWN (depicted above – «discover it in the store»
There’s always more than meets the eye. As it peels and melts away, this battered star is stripped of its meaning, revealing an underlying red star. That red star is Russian power. My desire is to illustrate how disintegration reveals what lurks under the national facade.
Interview with Artist Joan Seed.
Can you tell us what initiated this artwork and what inspired you?
Drawing goop, drips, peeling and melting matter is a beautiful challenge for me. I love the idea of capturing the process of nature reclaiming culture over a period of time. While some parts of the drawing look deﬂated and sagging, the red dripping can also be perceived as blood. I’ve even had some people comment that the white dripping was evocative of semen. Talk about porn culture! I love hearing all kinds of interpretations. Each interpretation is unique. You know you’ve created art when you see you’ve touched people at the core of what makes them unique.
What can you tell us about the symbolism in this image?
I made this artwork in direct reference to the Mueller investigation into Russian collusion. In a way, I was trying to illustrate the limited life cycle of Trump’s legitimacy. The porn culture reference makes complete sense when one refers to Trump. Ironically, I view his involvement with Stormy Daniels as his only contribution to American culture. I have always been anti-Trump. I could have drawn a caricature of him but I vowed to never replicate his likeness in any way. Instead I’m inclined to do everything I can to unsee him. I’d rather concentrate on depicting the eﬀect he has had on society and on the institutions Americans hold dear. I wish America integrity and vision for the 2020 election. 20/20 vision for 2020.
It may seem trivial, but why did you illustrate dripping rather than use an actual photo of dripping?
I opted for a line rendering of the dripping to add irony to the image. A felt marker drawing is always an interpretation. A line drawing carries information that the eye reads like words on a white page. I wanted to emphasize the fact that this image was derived from observation and that it is a concept. Dripping and melting are the opposite of growing and evolving. I think we get a better sense of that due to the way the image is treated.
In your image, you want us to see not one but two stars. Can you explain that to me?
Yes, there are in fact 2 stars superimposed in this image. One in the foreground and one in the background. The white star surrounded by blue and red is a symbol of the American ﬂag and the free world. However, one can clearly see a red star peaking out. There is a sharp, red, pointed tip that sticks out like a dagger dripping with blood. That star was intended as a symbol of Russia. It is a reference to the five towers of the Moscow Kremlin that are topped with pentagonal red stars.
The blood was meant to symbolize Russia’s involvement namely in the Syrian Civil War, the Venezuelan crisis and North Korea. Supplying nuclear weapons to support oppression and conﬂict is only the tip of the red bloody star.
What has the reaction been so far?
I’ve had a very positive reaction to this image. Friends of mine who wore this on a t-shirt have reported getting many inquisitive looks. People are naturally drawn to the artwork and try to understand what it means. Stars are not supposed to melt.
JOAN SEED • INSTAGRAM
For a comprehensive look at Joan Seed’s art, the best place to look is Instagram.
Over 1240 publications give the full scope of the work including the collages, the Fortune Cookies and the merchandise derived from the art.
An exhibition of Joan’s collages will be held at De La Foye Design Studio in Chicago
on December 14th.
Below – That Time We Made America Great Again