As James Joyce’s exhibition 100 Likes opens in Paris, he talks to Robert Shore about trying to create a new—and possibly quite ironic—icon for the internet generation and his starring role in Banksy’s ‘Dismaland’.
In the project, you’re riffing on Robert Indiana’s famous ‘LOVE’ print, which became a symbol of the late Sixties/early Seventies ‘Love generation’. What first gave you the idea of updating the flower-power logo for the Facebook ‘Like’ generation?
I have a long list of words in a notebook under the inventive title of ‘Art Ideas’ where I add words of interest almost daily and then sometime later I revisit some of them and wonder what the hell I was thinking about. Other times, though, it can spark an idea which I start to explore further. The word ‘Like’ in isolation struck me initially because of its elevated status within social media platforms. It’s such an overused word now it’s almost lost its meaning or at least its sincerity.
I began to play with the letterforms and then conceptually made the association with Robert Indiana somewhere in the process. ‘Like’ could be considered a defining word of today’s internet generation in a similar way to ‘love’ in the 60s. But I wasn’t interested in directly appropriating Indiana’s work; I wanted to create something new that would stand on its own, a new icon or ‘logo’, as you put it.
Once I was happy with the letterforms and colour combinations I began making multiple Like paintings and grouping them in varying numbers and naming them accordingly.
You’ve made 100 ‘Likes’ for the show. Were they all hand-made? What is your working method for producing the paintings?
Yes, I’ve painted a number of large Like paintings for this show. They’re acrylic paint on canvas and the biggest painting measures three metres across. I’ve grouped them in different numbers but the installation in the main gallery space has the largest grouping together of 85 Likes all hung in a grid. These are hand-screenprinted.
Have you ever ‘Liked’ anything online?
I’m on Twitter and Instagram, so yes I have, although I’m not a huge social media kind of person. It’s partly my frustration with it, my often bewilderment at it, and the complete absurdity of it that led me to make these art pieces, which are in their own way completely absurd.
There’s also work on sale at Colette from your contributions to ‘Dismaland’, the Banksy ‘Bemusement Park’. Did you attend?
I went to both the opening night of Dismaland and the closing party and thought it was great. It was interesting to see contemporary art in this context. I think Banksy created a level playing field for the varying fame of the artists involved: Ed Hall, a pensioner who’s spent his life making trade-union banners from his shed, in the same show as Damien Hirst and Jenny Holzer.
The editioned screenprint I did of the collapsed yellow face sold out on the opening night of Dismaland but I have a small number of artist’s proofs of it that I’m showing in store at Colette which will be for sale. In addition to the art we’ve also done a number of James Joyce x Colette products incorporating some of the artworks on show.
How did it feel when your rotating and collapsing smiley face, ‘Perseverance in the Face of Absurdity’, became the signature image for Dismaland?
When I got off the train at Weston-super-Mare to go to the closing party there were large crowds of people walking back towards the station having just been to the show and almost everyone it seemed was carrying the programme with my image on the cover. That felt good. For one of my works to represent an art show as culturally significant as Dismaland was great. Over 150,000 people came to the show and thousands more have seen it online and through social media around the world, so it’s been good for me and now the collapsed-face piece has a life of its own.
‘100 Likes’ runs at Colette in Paris from 2–27 February