The world of Joel Rea‘s art is vast and overwhelming, in both scope and meaning. Where does the dream stop, and the real begin? Who knows, as Joel stitches the two together so seamlessly, ice clad rocks, starry and cloud filled skies alluding to a harsh nature, an untamed world foreign to humans. Tigers, powerful and scary to a lone human. And in the middle of it all, men and women, clad in the trappings of modern society, out of place in the real, at home in the surreal. Check out his interview for more more more and existential exploration to boot!
What does it mean to you to be a ‘Contemporary Surrealist Painter’?
To me it means utilising technology and other modern resources to create my paintings.
There is a lot of water, ice, rock, sand, and sky in your work. What do these elements mean to you? What importance does the natural world have for you? How does your work depict your perception of the world? These are harsh element you have chosen, or at least that is the social comprehension tied to them. What emotional context do they have for you? What response do you hope they will illicit in the viewer?
I feel I’ve been making my work in a state of automatic reaction to my life’s journey. Throughout my life I’ve spent a lot of pleasure time in and around the ocean, but in the last few years a new fear has surrounded it. Whether it be of sharks or drowning, water both beautiful and deadly is occurring frequently in my paintings. Through nature I understand myself and our world more clearly. In explaining my use of other ambiguous subjects like tigers or tsunami waves in my work, I employ a sublime feeling, a pleasure in beautifully depicting an overpowering or vast malignant object of great magnitude, one that could destroy the observer. Above all the most dominant theme I see in my own work is definitely duality, both internal and external, a simultaneous adoration of all life whilst also deconstructing it’s apparent perfection.
Humans and Tigers populate much of your newer work. Why these two? Both are apex predators, and though we as humans have may a personal fear tigers, in the greater context of the planet, our species is a greater threat to their existence than vice versa, and will always be. What is your relationship with tigers? How would you describe their spirit, how do you frame them in your mind? How does that align with their depiction in your art?
The Tigers featured in the painting live about 30 mins drive from my house at a theme park, I go and watch them feeling excitement, terror, and also some sadness. The humans in my paintings give the viewer accessibility and also provide reference to my use of amplified scale. I’ve always seen Tigers as the most beautiful animal in the world, so it was quite simple to start painting them. Tigers are powerful and wild, their appearance is fantasy-like but tigers also are manipulated by humans for their own needs, and it’s those themes I discuss in my paintings and in a idealistic way I try to correct the world in my paintings.
Your work is incredibly dramatic and vibrant. What part of you does it come from? How is your belief system, and the way you interact with and move through the world reflected in what you put on the canvas?
The natural world is my greatest inspiration, it’s complexity and infinite detail really blows my mind. My personal ideology is to acknowledge my place as merely an organism sharing this planet, I portray myself navigating Earth as one of its most complex animals, the human, and within this rich narrative I have endless material to explore.
Your art, without humans, would seem a dream world, beautiful and natural, if dangerous and extreme. You’ve chosen to insert humans, and clothed often in suits, the human characters in your pieces stick out as though their not meant to be, as though this is a dream they’ve stumbled into. Why? What is their importance? And why so stark a contrast?
The stark contrast is my interpretation of reality, humans aren’t improving the planet, instead we’re harming it. If Aliens existed and were watching our planet from a far, human civilisation would appear to them as mould on a piece of bread. We are an infection, driven by complex, selfish needs. The man in the business suit represents this conquest of domination and yearning for materialistic power.
Are you an existentialist? What media, or experiences, do you draw from in your work? Do you dream of escaping into your own paintings ever? Do you draw a world of fantasy? Of fear? Something else?
I’m trying to confront people with beautiful truth, the meaninglessness of the life’s pursuits and the overlooked glory of our planet which is constantly taken for granted, so in that way yes I am an existentialist.
What are you working on at the moment? Can you describe the piece from an emotional perspective, without any visual components?
Emotionally I’m attempting to re-orientate the viewers perspective and reveal the flaws of society’s focus. Our foolish adoration of wealth, materialism, and celebrity, whilst we simultaneously annihilate our natural world, the real magic of this planet.
Do you dream often? Why do you think we forget our dreams so quickly?
I dream a lot, and some times base paintings on my reoccurring dreams. I don’t know why we forget dreams, perhaps because dreams aren’t real?