Psycho Renaissance Presents: Joe Coleman

Posted by graham On November - 29 - 20105,570 views

Howdy, boys and girls! Welcome to the first installment of Psycho Renaissance, where every couple of weeks (or until I get shitcanned), I’ll be profiling artists who have a special moxie, a certain chutzpah, that can only be described as “psychobilly”. These folks are lean, mean, and crazy as hell so check ‘em out!

And so, without further ado, Psycho Renaissance presents:

Joe Coleman

Joe Coleman’s first paying fan was Ladybird Johnson. When he was just a boy, the American First Lady bought a painting he had done, a portrait of garbage, and included it in a children’s art collection as part of an anti-littering campaign. Coleman has been examining human detritus ever since.

Frequently working in portraiture, his subjects are deviants on the fringe of society: Murderers, serial killers, carnival freaks, and rock ‘n’ roll musicians. He has painted biographical works of historical and cultural figures ranging from P.T Barnum to Jayne Mansfield, Ed Gein to Hasil Adkins. Sometimes he even turns the brush on himself. Each one is a tribute to the darkest corners of our souls, to the humor and pathos intrinsic in everything we do, and to the spirit of rebellion that, for better or worse, will never die.

Hasil Adkins

His stories are structured like crazed stained glass church windows, like the ones he saw everyday as a boy in Catholic school. His subjects are often placed in the center of the painting surrounded by pivotal scenes from their lives and the people they loved and/or hated. Worked into the borders and spaces between is text containing quotations, narration, or imagined internal monologue. No matter who his subject happens to be, they are always treated with dignity, even a kind of reverence.

To achieve the detail in his paintings, Coleman uses a brush made of a single hair, and wears a jeweler’s loupe. As a result there is detail in his work that is impossible to see with the naked eye. Each painting usually takes about three months to create. These days though, he’s taking his time. His latest, an enormous self-portrait entitled A Doorway to Joe, took three years.

Jayne Mansfield

In summing up his career Coleman has said, “I’m really only painting myself, as I’m focusing on aspects of these individual’s lives that I can identify with. I’m confronting my own fears and demons, and trying to put them inside frames and borders where they can be studied and controlled. …I’m not into bettering the world or telling anyone what to think.”.

Further Reading:

If you wanna learn more about Joe and his process visit his official website at:

There is also an excellent interview with Mr. Coleman (the one I stole the quote from!) by writer Jan Brunn over at:

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