Look Inside an Infernal Machine
is a self-styled carnival Geek, blowing himself up with explosives after biting
the heads of mice during his courtship with performance art under the moniker
of Professor Momboozo. He has even tried his hand at rock stardom with a few
friends, recording a 7 inch called JE+ ILL and Joe Coleman released
by Sympathy For the Record Industry in 1993.
His philosophy is simple- we are living in a time of Death and he is the Christ/Anti-Christ documenting these days with his paintings. His art work has adorned book covers, comics,records, and Hollywood movie posters. This fall, a documentary of his life will explode across the big screen. The aptly titled Rest In Pieces will expose Joe and his work to the wider audience it deserves. Whether the crowd can handle it or not remains to be seen. Those who cant wait for the film should go out and buy a copy of Adam Parfreys Cosmic Retribution, an entire book dedicated to the man and his art.
Do you consider yourself a misanthrope?
That would be accurate as far as I see the Human race. But, when I do decide to trust someone, Im totally there for them and Ill do anything that it takes to stand by them even if its going to cost me. Im a tribal person. I see people as individuals. I dont believe in the United States. I dont believe in Mankind. I dont believe in the white rice. I dont believe in the Black race. I only believe in the people that I let into my tribe. And, those people are the family. My family. Its not necessarily blood. But these are the people that I will defend to the death. I dont give a fuck about anybody but me and my family. This couple spent a year saving up enough money to buy one of my painting and that meant a lot to me. I also had a millionaire buy one of my paintings, But to me these people are no different. I dont judge. When you show me that youre untrustworthy, Ill cut you off from the tribe. Until then, you show me that I can understand you and you can be part of my tribe. But the tribe has to be small. Not like the United States- thats something I cant understand. That means nothing to me.
When was the first time you decided to blow yourself up in your performance art?
Fire- an explosion, is passion. That has to do with my relationship with my mother. She and I had this thing going that had nothing to do with my father. When the performances stopped was when she died. When I put my mother to rest was the very last performance. There was no reason to do it after that. The performance was taboo. Like having sex with your mother is taboo. What is the price to pay? What are you going to have to do to atone for that? It doesnt mean just me. But how are you going to make the Universe okay?
So has Professor Momboozo been laid to rest?
Yes. Separate the
word. Mom- my mother. And Boozo- my old man. Thats what they use
to call him. He died before my mother. So, Professor Momboozo is dead.
So I cant do that any more.
Its intuitive. Almost like whatever comes up at the time. Right now, Im working on Albert Hicks. Its not even like a conceived idea. When I finish one painting, theres something internal that tells to me what to paint the next time. Its not in my brain. Its in my heart. I cant paint more than one subject at a time. I research it- I go to the library, or bookstore, or do a book search. I go through my own collection of books which is pretty extensive. I research the subject without any preconceived composition. Once I start, I keep painting until the whole surface is covered and then thats it. I cant even do research on another painting until I completely finish the one Ive started.
The macabre is often a big element in your work.
Yeah. I only paint the things that bother me. That doesnt mean that Joe Coleman cant enjoy a sunset or a cup of coffee. But the thing is, why should I paint that? The stuff I feel like painting is stuff I have a problem with because I cant make sense of it. The painting orders it, clarifies it,borders it. It puts boundaries on something that is so overwhelming and disturbing to me.
If you had to pick a single painting as a favorite, from the moment you started the research until you finished the piece, which one would it be?
Probably the painting that went the closest to what I was trying to get at was "Mommy, Daddy".As a painter, I never achieve what Im after. Its a constant struggle. Im never going to get there but I keep trying harder every time. Thats the whole point.
That sounds similar to the Process Church of the Final Judgment.
Yes. Accept that I dont buy into their stuff. At the same time, I dont want any followers. When I say that Im Jesus Christ, it doesnt mean that I want you to follow me. I am Jesus but Im only my Jesus. Not yours.
|Do you collect anything?
I collect human heads in formaldehyde. Ive got the penis of George Baskem- the convicted Nigger rapist. Ive got Albert Fishs letter that he wrote to the mother of his last victim who he had eaten the letter. My house rivals any pathology museum that you are going to come across but thats what makes me comfortable. I collect Aurora monster models. I like play sets. Ive got Ben Hurr which has lots of gladiators. Ive got a Civil War set, Fort Apache, Ewa gema, and Guadacanal. But most collectors disdain what I do - I like to cut off their heads and painting blood on them. I dont care about them as a collectors item. Theres something there thats a catharsis for me. All this stuff is for me. To use a comparison with someone from popular culture, I much like Gomez Adams from the Adams Family. But its because I get off on it.
I understand a person has to get on a waiting list to purchase one of your paintings.
Yes. I cant paint them fast enough. Right now, there are twelve people on the list. But its not like Robert Williams he talks about a list of hundreds. I dont know if thats real or not but I like having twelve. Theyve given me deposits. I paint whatever I feel like and, if they want it, thats fine. If not, it goes to the next person on the list.
Has living in Brooklyn affected your work?
Not at all. If I was living in New Orleans, you could look out the window and see a Joe Coleman painting. You could go to Europe, or Italy, or Japan, any major city youre going to see a Joe Coleman painting.
What direction is society going in?
Right now, I think its very much like the Rome Empire during the fall. But the thing is that I feel its a privilege to be alive right now. I think that I was produced at this time because people like me are necessary to record that part of live. The fact that all of my pathology is necessary because nature wants a voice for death. When the locust come and clean out the field, sometimes that goods. Nature made me this way. Gacy and Lucas cant really do it. They can only play around with the game. Nature produced me to articulate it and be the voice of society.
Why do you think serial killers have become popular icons in our culture?
If you think back in the 1800s, Jesse James and Karl Younger embodied a certain type of anti-hero because they took what no one else had. Then in the early 1900s, people like John Dillenger, Bonnie and Clyde, and Baby Face Nelson did the same thing- they took money from the banks but they were kind of like Robin Hoods. The whole culture could identify with them. But in the 1990s, its the end of the century. Were on the verge of apocalypse. Dillenger, Jesse James, and Carl Younger are kind of quaint. They dont embody this time. But who does? Albert Fish, Ed Gein, and Jeffrey Dahmer - what is it about them that really defines are culture? They kind of embody that old feeling of revenge. But what do they want revenge against? They dont want money. They want revenge for being born and thats what we identify with. Thats the bottom line. A revenge against the world.
first published in EsoTerra #7, Spring/Summer 1997