The artists that inspire Joshua Raffell are Paul McCarthy, Georges Bataille, Vitto Acconci, Nathalie Djuberg, Delaine Le Bas, Annette Messager, Key Hiraga, Francis Alys and Hans Bellmer.
“I want to create work that I believe to be exciting and provocative. I borrow influences from artists who inspire me. Creating sculptures, drawings and paintings that reflect the debauchery and underbelly of society, I’m interested in seeing what lies beneath”.
By building, breaking down and remaking, Raffell allows each medium, to influence the other. Making it difficult to make a definite distinction between a preparatory drawing and a sculpture. The decisions and ideas evolve and change through the process of making. Paintings, drawings and sculptures which all share an integral space within the process of a finished product. Albeit momentarily as the works are broken down and mended in an endless circle. This interaction allows freedom for him to be able to work between the different mediums.
This state of flux allows the work to become unique as the work starts off by being a bibliography of himself and the difficult aspects of childhood and adulthood dealing with aspects of acceptance of being a gay man and more complex elements of dealing with adult emotions from sexual abuse as a young boy. The work aims to go beyond the self to a wider concept of otherness. A term coined by Sue Golding in ‘the eight technologies of otherness’. In other words making the work less subjective and more objective allowing for a wider contextualization of the work and making it more accessible to a wider audience.
Raffell suggests that we have, in many ways, lost our way and no longer know what it means to be human. We have suppressed and altered our natural urges evolving into the robots and ever-progressive human computers. We have lost the ability of individual thinking. At the same time, Raffell is quite fearless in dealing with concepts in which individual thinking is nonsensical idea; humans are but what John Gray describes as a plague of bacteria that is heading towards the destruction of everything around us. Something like a giant ant’s nest of activity with, just maybe, something calling the shots at the centre. To redeem this world of no or lost decision making, then the act of wanking is probably the closest thing we come to actually pleasing ourselves.
Through this very act the works may be considered shameful, naughty and over the top with the constant use of erotic body parts in particular the phallus and the theme of masturbation, used not only to make the work more accessible to a wider audience (rather than gay erotica) but also to break down the white male hierarchy which is still prevalent in the progressive modern world. One, which still dictates and marginalizes minority or less powerful groups. Mary Douglas describes the alpha male in ‘Purity and Danger’ as the one who labels and discriminates; who inflicts shame to create a social order and to marginalize and push out those who may be considered different and pose a threat to their dominate position.
Masturbation is chosen specifically for the act of humiliation at being caught, the shame of showing or discussing. It is significantly different from sex, a socially acceptable that causes at worse a giggle or an expression at shock when brought into the open. Masturbation by contrast is always suggestive of shame, embarrassment and privacy, whether the act is private or public.
This seemingly innocent, patchwork puppet-like figures encourage even further interaction from the viewer by featuring a projecting handle or pulley to crank or windup the work. This inviting quality engages the viewer to take part in and to become an integral part of the work making us re-think sexual taboo and the things that may otherwise cause us disgust or that are used to make us feel shame.
Toilet graffiti, from public toilets are taken from idyllic seaside towns and villages from around England, they offer a glimpse into the underbelly of a community where dark sexual depravity and debauchery would otherwise cause shock, the messages of sexual graphic material leave us wondering how genuine the tales that they tell really are, from a 15 year old boy who likes to be hard fucked by hairy Daddies to a more sedate and shocking message of someone who wants to fit in but feels its time to die!
The work is openly gay in nature. It is a celebration of the journey to freedom for gay people and a remembrance of the loss for many individuals who simply were. The work could be interpreted as political as Raffell take’s a stand against homophobia and prejudice, and without a hint of paranoia he remains prepared for a backlash from those who wallow in their hatred. All this is enveloped in an emotion of joy, release and humour at the colour, pattern and sexual delight of the work.
He wants to test, and tease, both the audience and himself to face up to their inner shame. He takes these ideas and then re-configures these erotic sculptures, in doing so he takes the ideas of shameful acts and places them in a very public setting. To be judged and physically played with by its audience.
“At my most polemical I refuse to be drawn by other peoples shame or their inner world conflicts”.