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Joe Machine
Joe Machine
Birth name Joseph Stokes
Born 6 April 1973 (1973-04-06)
Chatham, Kent, England
Nationality British
Field Painting
Training No formal training
Movement Stuckism
Works My Grandfather Will Fight You, Sea Shanty

Joe Machine (born Joseph Stokes,[1] April 6, 1973) is an English artist, poet and writer. He is a founding member of the Stuckists art group.[2] His work is "raw and autobiographical".[3]



Joe Machine was born in Chatham, Kent, and comes from a Romany background on the Isle of Sheppey. When he was six years old his teacher forbid him to draw a picture of the Incredible Hulk, so he stabbed her with a compass.[2] Two years later he saw Diana Dors who waved to him from a window in the Ritz hotel in Piccadilly. He fell in love with her, and she has been an icon in his later work.[2]

Joe Machine. Diana Dors with an Axe

His early life was marked by petty crime. In 1988 he was sent to Alston House Approved School, Rochester, for the theft of scrap material, and the following year to Dover Borstal for young offenders, after burgling a greengrocers in Leysdown (Isle of Sheppey).[2] He spent time on the dole and running the family business of an amusement arcade in Leysdown, as well as breeding Rottweiler dogs and working as a bouncer in South London night clubs.[2]

He started painting around 1988 and has not had any formal college art training. He has described creativity as the way out of the background in which he felt trapped: "Painting and writing have been far better for me than any of the mistakes I made in stealing and fighting."[2]

Since 1998 he has been having psychotherapy to deal with violence and sex problems. He has said, "The violence and the stealing and the aggressive manipulation in sex — these things have been done because actually I'm quite a frightened little fucker inside — it's a byproduct of my vulnerability."[2]

In 1999 he was one of the 12 original founder members of the Stuckists, an anti-conceptual art group co-founded by Billy Childish and Charles Thomson. His painting Diana Dors With an Axe was used on the front cover of the first book on the group, The Stuckists, and also to promote the show The Real Turner Prize Show in Shoreditch in 2000.

Joe Machine. Sea Shanty.

Machine has exhibited widely with the Stuckists, most notably in their first national museum exhibition, at the Walker Art Gallery for the 2004 Liverpool Biennial. The exhibition, titled The Stuckists Punk Victorian, was a definitive showing of the Stuckist oeuvre, and Machine was one of the "featured artists".[4] Reviewing the Walker show, Mark Lawson commented, referring to Machine's painting, Sea Shanty:

Although they set themselves against conceptual art, they're certainly not standing up for conventional painting. These are very bold and explicit images, particularly a painting over to my left, in which a sailor is taking another sailor from behind... is probably about as far as we can go in describing it. And that is an image, which is very bold, very explicit, and could lead to protests and complaints.[5][6]
Joe Machine (third from left) in a protest at the Saatchi Gallery, 2005.

In January 2005, he took part in a Stuckist protest at the launch of the Triumph of Painting show at the Saatchi Gallery in London, and displayed a placard, "Stuckism in 1999 is Saatchi in 2005".[7] In December that year he was part of the Stuckist protest outside the Turner Prize at Tate Britain to draw attention to the Tate's purchase of its trustee Chris Ofili's work The Upper Room and demand the resignation of Tate Director, Sir Nicholas Serota.[8][9]

Machine was one of the ten leading Stuckist artists to show in the Go West at Spectrum London gallery in October 2006,[10] where six of his paintings sold in advance of the show opening.[11]

Machine commented on the Stuckists: "some of the paintings are not all that marvellous ... But everyone's painting and getting involved".[12] Billy Childish owns a Machine painting of a woman slashing her wrists, which he describes as "quite disturbing".[13]

Machine sang with the "junk" group, The Dirty Numbers, and has published six poetry books.[1]

In 2003 he married Charlotte Gavin,[2] who has exhibited her work in Stuckist shows.


Joe Machine. My Grandfather Will Fight You.

His work is strongly autobiographical and often draws on life experiences of sex and violence. He works with a limited range of mostly five colors (initially due to poverty), and has cited his grandfather, who used to paint, as a major influence.[2]

Recurrent images are emaciated women, sailors and bloodshed. He has shown fighting dogs (one lying dead) and a sailor having his throat slit . Other images are Ute Lemper, and Diana Dors with an axe and also with a sub-machine gun. My Grandfather Will Fight You depicts a gaunt older man with clenched fists and blood-spattered shirt. It was painted on two old wooden boards which he nailed together (the join can be seen halfway up the painting). He has commented on this work:

"My grandfather was a Romany boxer, but sometimes fought bare-knuckle, which his own father did for a living. I loved my grandfather, although I was aware that other people were frightened of him. He always treated me with a great deal of love. It’s left me between two worlds – love and violence. It was definitely an emotive painting: I felt he was looking at me. In some ways he wouldn’t have been very happy about it, because he was a very private man. What I study more than anything else is the human shadow. The need to paint something until you’ve shown as much of it as you can."[2]


  • The Real Turner Prize[1]


Notes and references

  1. ^ a b c Buckman, David (2006), Dictionary of Artists in Britain since 1945, p.1018, Art Dictionaries, Bristol, 2006, ISBN 095326095-X
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Milner, Frank ed. (2004), The Stuckists Punk Victorian, p.90, National Museums Liverpool, ISBN 1-902700-27-9
  3. ^ "Go West", The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 29 March 2008. Click to frame 8.
  4. ^ "The Stuckists Punk Victorian", Walker Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool. Retrieved 29 March 2008.
  5. ^ Lawson, Mark. "Liverpool Biennial", BBC Radio 4 Front Row, 17 September 2004. Retrieved 29 March 2008.
  6. ^ "Joe Machine: Biography", Retrieved 29 March 2008.
  7. ^ "Triumph of Painting", Retrieved 6 April 2008.
  8. ^ "Turner Prize demo", Retrieved 6 April 2008.
  9. ^ "Shed Wins $58,000 Art Prize", The Sydney Morning Herald, 6 December 2005. Retrieved 6 April 2008.
  10. ^ "Go West", The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 29 March 2008.
  11. ^ Gleadell, Colin. "Market news: Roger Hilton's child-like drawings, 'stuckist' paintings and Edward Seago", The Daily Telegraph, 3 October 2006. Retrieved 29 March 2008.
  12. ^ O'Keeffe, Alice. "How ageing art punks got stuck into Tate's Serota", The Observer, 11 December 2005. Retrieved 29 March 2008.
  13. ^ Kinnes, Sally. "What's over Your Mantelpiece?", The Sunday Times, 3 December 2006. Retrieved 29 March 2008.

Further reading

  • Evans, Katherine ed.(2000), "The Stuckists", Victoria Press, ISBN 0-907165-27-3

External links

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