Tam Joseph

Tam Joseph is in many ways a fiendishly enigmatic figure, never quite in step – indeed, most often, out of step - with the dominant trends and sensibilities of the British art world. By stubbornly refusing to be typecast (and refusing - with equal fortitude - to jump on any bandwagon that might be passing) Joseph has, possibly, ended up in the curious and unenviable position of having his work known by reputation, rather than by the quantity and frequency of his opportunities to exhibit. It is my belief however, that a number of works by Joseph - produced from the early 1980s through to the mid 1990s – merit him being accorded the status of one of the most important artists of his generation.

Joseph was born in Dominica, in the Caribbean, in 1947. He came to London at the age of eight, eventually going on to fractious, unsatisfactory periods of study at London art colleges in the late 1960s. He has though, since the beginning of the 1970s, maintained and developed his practice as a painter and sculptor, supplemented by periods of work as a graphic artist.

Joseph’s age is one of the most important reasons as to why he is very much his own man, his own painter. His age makes him, on the one hand, too young to be linked to major figures of Caribbean and African art who made London their home in the decades immediately following the end of World War Two. For example, Ronald Moody had been born in 1900, Aubrey Williams had been born in 1926, Frank Bowling had been born in 1936 and Uzo Egonu had been born in 1931. In time, these artists came to be respected as elder statesmen in the history of African, Asian and Caribbean Artists in Britain. (1), but Tam Joseph was too young to be included in their number. But Joseph’s age, on the other hand, also makes him too old to be properly linked to the fiery, boisterous young Black artists, typified by Keith Piper (born 1960) and Donald Rodney (born 1961) whose brand of ‘Black Art’ emerged in Britain in the early 1980s. Attempts have been made to link him to this 1980s ‘Black Art’ movement, but Joseph calmly distances himself and his work from such a neatly identifiable arena. He does this, not because he does not like or respect the art of this period, but because he would rather not be perceived and used solely as a social commentator or political representative of his race. Even the most cursory examination of his practice reveals much evidence that he draws his subject matter from wherever he chooses, and he executes his ideas in whatever medium seems appropriate to him.