Nowadays we often read how artists aim to encourage more personal and emotional response among viewers. I don’t know about you but in my case it happens less frequently than I would assume by press releases and artist statements. One recent discovery and the impression it made on me, however, intrigues me still.

Joseph Loughborough, The Absurd

Joseph Loughborough, The Absurd

I first encountered the works of Joseph Loughborough a year ago at his show in Antwerp. Physically raw and distorted, his sitters had something of Egon Schiele’s aesthetics. But this was only an impression upon first glance. Loughborough’s dismantling of the human face and body suggested more. The prevailing tension and uneasiness of the portrayed inevitably lead me to view the drawings through an existentialist lens. I knew I had to learn more about this artist.

Born in 1981, Joseph Loughborough spent his formative years exploring the derelict boatyards and creeks of Portsmouth, on the south coast of the UK. After graduating from Portsmouth University he pursued interests in art, philosophy and skateboarding culture, living in London and Paris, before finally settling down in Berlin. He is known for his intense charcoal drawings which depict people taken over by the existential fear. His work is often described as dark, though the artist himself has never looked at it this way. Loughborough’s intention has always been to create revealing art, expressing in particular the absurdity of the human condition.

For Loughborough, the human form is a vehicle to explore existential ideas introduced by Kierkegaard and Camus. According to the existentialists, the world is no longer hospitable to our human desire for meaning. Convinced that art has the power of revelation, Joseph Loughborough focuses on this uneasy existence of the individual in such an environment, especially the feelings it causes inside the person. Driven by all sorts of desires and feelings, including those confined by society, one does not feel comfortable any more, either within his or her inner self, nor in relation to the world. Each of Loughborough’s drawings thus becomes “a personification of latent hopes and emotions wait in vain to be realized.” Hence the tension, which Loughborough conjures up through expressive strokes and brutally distorted forms. What passes inside one’s head is what the artist seeks to discover. He does this by tearing off the flesh and dismantling the face of the figure almost to a grotesque. The things we hide intrigue him the most.

Attempting to reach to the core of man’s sentiment about his own existence, Loughborough almost goes beyond representation and steps into abstraction. Despite the obvious grotesque and perversion, the portraits are agonizingly beautiful and mesmerizing. For Camus, one of the prominent twentieth century existentialists Loughborough so often reads, this is the very definition of art who views it as “an activity which exalts and denies simultaneously.” Between these two extremes, affirmation and negation, Joseph Loughborough creates his distinctive art with no specific conclusions offered. It’s up to the viewers to find answers while empathizing with his tragic figures. To sum up, only when one can identify with art, that is, when art is genuine, that much-talked about personal exchange can be achieved.

© Image Courtesy of Joseph Loughborough