Joe Holbrook is a self-taught painter residing in London. His work feels hyper real not only because of his technique but also because of the subjects of his paintings; you usually see the objects of his art during nights out, whether you are out for a wild or calm one.
From wraps of coke to spilt kebabs to girls doing bumps, his ultra realistic oil on linen paintings bring an ultra realism to a side of nightlife that we all know but rarely see immortalised in such a way.
We sat down with him and talked to him about his work, his background and his inspirations.
WG: Tell us a bit about your background.
Joe Holbrook: Well, I grew up on a Hill between two villages called West Kingsdown, and Otford in a town called Sevenoaks, where my family had moved to from South London before I was born. It was a melting pot of gypsies, posh people, cockneys, and Kentish Hill billies. I could ride a horse by 7 years old, a motorbike by 10, and drive a car when I was 13. I’ve had a mixture of friends, from all walks of life, most good and some bad.
My immediate family have always been loyal and supportive of anything I put my hand to. I'm a very confrontational person and believe this has shaped my work and life. I feel it compulsory to document, I hate failure, computer games, and people who lie to profit. I love dogs, good pubs, my friends, and my family.
Describe yourself in five words.
I am an obnoxiously righteous, confrontational, loving, creative man.
How did you get interested in art?
My mother was an inspiration and then my teachers.
Your art has the same value of photography when it comes to being so raw. Why have you chosen painting over photography?
I’ve chosen painting over photography because I like to create with my hands it’s a skill that I enjoy, and feel that I am good at. It also calms me mentally, which is the most important for my health and happiness.
I'm not a photographer, I work from photographs that I take of course, but that's merely inspiration and guidance.
You have quite a distinctive style, did you dedicate time in order to cultivate it or did it just come naturally?
I dedicated time to improve my natural ability. I'm in limbo as to whether that's a good, or a bad thing.
The transition of your life has been pretty interesting from hanging around with Irish travellers to being a massive part in the London and Amsterdam art scene, do you think the link was through graffiti?
Yeh I'm certain of that, first I tried to hang around with different groups behaving myself when I turned 17, but then I met a mate who wrote in those groups of people, he roped me back into graff, in fact taught me how to paint with tins and all about the scene. That then led me to meet my best friends who started Fuck Old People, and I have clicked with them like no other, we are still tight as you like, but now I'm also friends with all the people we beefed with! During this period I got nicked and had to do community service for painting trains, I couldn't go to uni as I had court so decided to start painting portraits and do an expo for my 21st as my Dad gave me a talking too, telling me if I'm not going to stop doing art in which ever form then I better make it financially worth while.
I already knew I could paint with brushes after my sixth form teacher forced me to try it, I'm forever grateful for the time she put aside for me, forcing me understand what I had. And well it hasn't stopped since that expo. I was taken out to Amsterdam for a show and ended up staying for 5 years. Graffiti took place out there also and I made friends in that scene, some of those boys are like my brothers. Graffiti has literally made my life now, it's everything, that's why I feel so strongly about it, whether I'm active or not. Its the reason for so many of the paths I've gone down, there all good in the end, even the bad ones lead to good! Graffiti teaches you actions speak louder then words.
What was the fashion and style scene like in Kent around the early 2000’s and what kind of clubs and parties was everyone going to?
Well at the time we would have a dress code in the day of Clima fits, or those doggie hats, Hackett or Nicholson polos (collar up!) with a Schott hoodie over the top, the string had to be tied up, and zip undone, marker in your hood also nicked from Lorrimers. I also had a gold figaro chain. Keeper rings, or sovereigns where also a must! Keepers made you a bit more reckoned with, or a big old knot ring. Bottoms were trackies pin tucked, with your socks on show either Whinnie the pooh, or Tigger socks from the Walt Disney store in Bluewater. We used to catch the bus there and bomb the absolute shit out of it, I'd sit on peoples laps whist getting my reaches. It was my first experience of group, or gang intimidation. Looking back we were the reason the term chav was created.
The girls use to wear massive jewel encrusted dollies on the end of there chains, and Patric Cox wannabees, those D&G jeans with the light blue logos all over them where the absolute look, my girl Abbey rocked them hard. In the evening twice a month we would go to under 18s' Amadeus, in Rochester or Zen's in Dartford. My mate had a stolen Vauxhall Nova at the time so we would drive there, or I would drive my motorbike dressed in a high viz and work boots so I looked like a bloke coming home from his shift, yet we were 15. People wore a lot of that shit from boys base. Like Voi jeans and D&G belts, bit of Ted Baker maybe then Gucci loafers or Russel and Bromley's version, those fucking Ikon loafers if your parents wouldn't buy the others, christ they were rank. Aquascutum or Burberry pattern shirts or just any colour Ben Sherman.... I still rock the Ben Shermans 100%. Sometimes a hat - I used to have a woollen Aquascutum flat cap with my fringe gelled! Sweat dripping into my eyes mixed with Shockwaves! Oh and a fat gold hoop earring or a fake diamond was a real finisher. Fighting was a must, even bouncers got it, we were like a group of marmoset monkeys! And snogging for hours and hours until the lights came on wasn't weird. When there were foam parties you would all come out half blind with blood shot eyes from the chemicals they used!
Can you see a similarity in the way the younger generation may have taken certain elements from the chav Kent scene?
Yeah definitely but they're missing the details that made a chav look. Shockwaves hair gel or Bryrlcream, tigger socks, those laces with silver edging, figaro chains or a solid belcher, Joop!, Tommy Hilfigure, Boss, or Givenchy aftershave, a pack of either 10 Sovereign or Benson and Hedges GOLD, not the silver version. Lastly driving a moped Speedfight was the best, or being in the passenger of a Maroon Saxo with gold rims or a White Nova with a body kit. King of the chavs would own a Renault 5 or a Ford escort.
Was it hard leaving Kent and that life behind to become yourself and be an artist?
Yeah it was. My surroundings in Kent were quite narrow minded, and honestly my piers were racist and violent and that gets tiring and embarrassing...I got away with some things that I'm ashamed of and will never forget. I always wanted to go ahead with art and hang around in different scenes, but I was scared of what my friends thought and to not be cool. It was when my best friend died of a drug overdose when I was 16. That was the exact moment i decided to be me! Being yourself is cool and accepting everyone. Whatever they wear, or are into, race or religion. I hate people who pick on people for being them selves. I believe if you give an idiot a platform or voice, then idiots will believe that is a good person to look up to. So it is vital not to let idiots influence our future.
What’s the typical day of an artist such as yourself? What’s your daily routine?
I don’t have such a thing as ‘typical day’; each day tends to be different really. I get up, walk my dogs with my partner, get to my studio in Lewisham at 9.00am, and leave around 4.00-5.00pm. Get home; go to the pub and sometimes the gym or punch bag, but usually I go to the pub though...I love good people, and conversing. I dislike bullyboys, and posers, so the gym can be tough sometimes - on that note I do also hate exercise.
I then go home and cook dinner, probably a bit of entertainment or social media and sometimes I like to sketch. I accept social media is a very wicked power, and has the ability to turn the realist into "bench hoppers".
If I haven't drunk anything, in the winter I like to go for night walks, either along train tracks, or across motorways. I love the noises and the lights they energise and inspire me. In the summer evenings I like to go poaching, whether that's fishing, or shooting. I'm in touch with nature, the blood that's spilled from the lands bounty is no joke - it completes me as a human, and one day it will be me completing the cycle.
The weekend is a whole different story - it involves friends, loved ones, and barrels upon barrels of laughter, and of course loads of dogs.
What’s your favourite piece and why?
A painting of a swan in the Red light district of Amsterdam. It’s just beautiful and I love the contradiction of loyalty and dishonour that is being underlined.
Who or what you’d call your muse?
Well, not so much a person, but I'm currently fascinated by my own detest for violence and racism and am going with it. My latest work is very different to my past. At this moment I admire Jenny Saville, her ability to paint flesh is unmatched. Dead celebrities don’t interest me - and actors are professional liars.
What are you currently working on?
I am creating more work and I hope to have an exhibition by the end of this summer. Location to be confirmed, but I’d love to exhibit either in South East London or on the Kentish coast.
What’s the ultimate goal for your art?
To never stop, and for my work to reflect every chapter of my life.
Any words for any kids out there who wana be an artist or make it out of there home town.
DO IT! Make your path and stick to it, calve your own route. If you need money for a project get a job and save up to pay for that project. Do not wait or beg for handouts, fuck the middle man and the hype man. There is no short cuts just graft. When someone sees you're willing to pay, and graft, they will be willing to pay or graft for you! Keep your ideas to yourself until they are finished, that work in progress posts for 20 Instagram likes, it just means someone can get it out faster and take the glory. Trust me it hurts!
Written by: Nassia Matsa