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Get To Know Joe Garvey, The Brooklyn Artist Reinventing Your Favorite Iconography

His references range from ‘90s hip-hop to David Foster Wallace.

Photographer Mary Kang
November 07, 2016
Get To Know Joe Garvey, The Brooklyn Artist Reinventing Your Favorite Iconography

Life in New York is one of hustle, and it’s crucial that your apparel supports you through any journey. In the second of a three part series, The FADER teams up with footwear brand KEEN to profile residents of the five boroughs that thrive on the pace of the fastest-moving city in the world.

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33-year-old artist Joe Garvey makes art that you can feel. When we spoke on the phone in October, he was at his Williamsburg studio where he creates texture-filled mixed media works out of materials like cinder blocks, sand, and reflective scrap metal. Garvey’s work is imbued with a nostalgic energy that thrusts you back in time via the subtlest of details. In our conversation, he described how he looks to connect the objects he encounters in the outside world — like road signs, discarded sporting equipment, and construction items — to his own memories, looking for a connective, nostalgic, thread that viewers can collectively share. “It’s sort of like ready-made Earth art, if you wanted to call it something,” he tells me.

Garvey’s focus on nostalgia manifests itself in a number of ways in his work. There are familiar logos, like Spalding’s iconic overstretched font, embossed on a screen print, a poster with “Puff Daddy & The Mona Lisa” printed in gothic text, or a visual mash-up of The Simpsons's title sequence and designer Raf Simons. Influenced by his upbringing in the art-centric city of Saint Paul, MN, Garvey’s work draws to mind pop art painters like Andy Warhol, whose tongue-in-cheek form of criticism can be seen in some of Garvey’s more playful creations. One piece, titled "infinite infinite jest," features David Foster Wallace’s signature book sealed shut, never to be read by anyone.

Get To Know Joe Garvey, The Brooklyn Artist Reinventing Your Favorite Iconography
Get To Know Joe Garvey, The Brooklyn Artist Reinventing Your Favorite Iconography

How did you get interested in making art?

I grew up in Saint Paul, and we have really good museums there like the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Museum Of Art. I remember as a young kid going and seeing like, Chuck Close paintings, and being amazed at the fact that they were paintings and not photos. At the same time there’s also the fact that I grew up skateboarding, which is sort of an art cliche, but it’s true that a lot of the culture around skateboarding is visually engaged with board graphic, videos, and photos, stuff like that. I don’t think much of that is necessarily present in my work now, but I think it definitely laid the groundwork, just being exposed to such a visual culture.

Get To Know Joe Garvey, The Brooklyn Artist Reinventing Your Favorite Iconography
Get To Know Joe Garvey, The Brooklyn Artist Reinventing Your Favorite Iconography
Get To Know Joe Garvey, The Brooklyn Artist Reinventing Your Favorite Iconography

How do you come across the non-traditional elements of your pieces?

Anywhere. Being on a road trip and seeing a cool road sign that’s a unique color can set something off in my brain like, I can use this texture or aesthetic in a sculpture or painting. I’d say I get most of my inspiration from seeing things in the real world and then bringing them back into the studio in my own way. It’s always really interesting to see what meaning or feeling I can evoke with something that.

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What are some of your favorite skateboarding videos?

I love the Krooked Kronichles videos from 2006. All the titles are done by Gonz [Mark Gonzales] and it has one of the better soundtracks of the modern skate era, in my opinion.

Get To Know Joe Garvey, The Brooklyn Artist Reinventing Your Favorite Iconography
Get To Know Joe Garvey, The Brooklyn Artist Reinventing Your Favorite Iconography

Who are some artists who have inspired your work?

I think of artists like Warhol or Richard Prince, and how they’d taking something that’s already out in the world and turn it into something else. For me, if I see something out in the world and it connects to something from my art, or even a generally nostalgic feeling, that’s super important to me. So what I’m always interested in with my work is seeing what these elements bring about in other people.

Get To Know Joe Garvey, The Brooklyn Artist Reinventing Your Favorite Iconography
Get To Know Joe Garvey, The Brooklyn Artist Reinventing Your Favorite Iconography

Why is it important for your lifestyle to have versatile and hard wearing footwear?

I like wearing functional things so obviously, a hard-wearing boot is a very important part of my wardrobe. The Citizen KEEN boot fulfills that purpose — it just makes sense for me for my footwear to work both in the studio and out in the world. I want my shoes to have a dual function, so I can essentially not change when going from the studio to hiking outside, which I ultimately do a lot. In the same way that I sort of like art that functions on a lot of different levels, I like clothes and footwear that can serve multiple purposes.

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Get To Know Joe Garvey, The Brooklyn Artist Reinventing Your Favorite Iconography
Get To Know Joe Garvey, The Brooklyn Artist Reinventing Your Favorite Iconography

What do you hope people come away with after viewing your art?

I’ll see a piece that’s really nostalgic and has the power to sort of bring me back to something from years ago, or even a few weeks prior. And that feeling is something that’s almost super physical for me. So if I can make work that someone has a similarly physical response to, that’s really interesting to me. Being able to make something that sits on a wall and have it evoke something almost tangible in the viewer is really interesting.

Get To Know Joe Garvey, The Brooklyn Artist Reinventing Your Favorite Iconography
Get To Know Joe Garvey, The Brooklyn Artist Reinventing Your Favorite Iconography