Joe Coleman was born in Norwalk, Connecticut. As a boy, he was labelled “emotionally disturbed,” owing to his pictures of bleeding saints. Known initially as a practical joker and performance artist who bit off the heads of mice, Coleman gate-crashed parties, only to detonate concealed explosives strapped to his body in front of shocked guests. Words such as “apocalyptic” and “visionary” are used to describe his distinctive works, painted with a tiny detail brush using a jeweller’s eyepiece. Coleman’s portraits often use an iconic central figure surrounded by graphic, detailed images, juxtaposed with text and illustrations. His works remain human-centred, with some exploring his childhood relationship with his parents, and others depicting representations of murderers, serial killers, sideshow freaks and society’s outcasts. His favoured themes include religion, sexuality, mythology and sin, with humourous imagery placed beside scenes of tragic family incidents. Coleman’s Brooklyn home portrays his obsession for the fantastic, incorporating his own museum of morbid objects, known as the “odditorium.” The imagery and metaphors of his art have been much analysed, helping to cement his reputation as a cult figure and iconic artist.

Caption: The Holy Saint Adolf, 1995, courtesy The Cartin Collection
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