It’s a typical Joan Cornellà comic. Six brightly colored panels of smiling, mid-century Americans slowly rolling out their sociopathy. Writing for Vulture.com, Abraham Riesman situates Cornellà’s work alongside Goya’s Saturn Devouring his Son and guro manga — comic snuff. But Cornellà’s work isn’t meant to disgust or titillate. It’s just jokes, bro.
SmSh snuck into Joan Cornellà's Solo Show for a preview peek before the opening. Was waiting for one of these workers to fall over and get impaled on the other one or something.
Cornellà, 36, has authored three books now — Mox Nox, Zonzo and Sot — in what’s become his trademark style. There’s a subreddit dedicated to him, and he has his own reference page on website you’ve never visited Know Your Meme. He doesn’t have a gallery representing him, just a Facebook page, started a few years back, that’s closing in on 5 million followers. Having moved out of his old apartment and studio in Barcelona, Cornellà is traveling Asia exhibiting his work. His Shanghai solo show opens at M50 Art Space Saturday, June 10.
SmSh: What’s your obsession with negativity and bad taste?
Joan Cornellà: The best humor for me is dark humor. It’s not that I’m trying to upset people or confront people. But conflict is in there — and in reality too.
SmSh: There’s a lot of joy in it. You can say the same about the violence in Hieronymus Bosch paintings. Or the Peter Jackson movie Bad Taste. Or, do you know The Eric André Show? He got a ‘PA’ to dip his dick in Sopranos actor Steve Schirripa’s pasta sauce.
JC: Yeah, I love that guy. I like bad taste, but it depends on the way you treat it. I don’t do things in bad taste just for the sake of it. If I have to compare my work to him, my own is more quiet. His is visceral. It goes right to your gut. I try to work with little details.
It’s more subtle — or I hope it is.
SmSh: Sometimes it is subtle. But when a guy is behind a car, water-skiing on asphalt, his legs ground down to bloody stumps, that’s pretty visceral. But of course, he’s smiling. In your work there’s always some disjunction.
JC: It’s about contrasts. You have the smile, the bright colors. A friend said my work is like someone slapping you in the face. In that sense it can be visceral.
SmSh: Color seems pretty important to these sucker punches you throw. You don’t even use black outlines.
JC: My first comics were black and white with a lot of details, totally different stuff. Someone said to me, oh man, your work is so dark, it’s so depressing. So at some point I was experimenting for Facebook and I decided to do this just for the fun of it, to see if it would work or not, and if you erase the black color, it’s like Cezanne. He couldn’t add black. I don’t know why.
What you get is less aggressive.
SmSh: Another part of the set up is that your comics look like they have some kind of educational function, like they’re teaching us how to behave on the metro or something.
JC: Some people working for airlines asked me to do this kind of work for them. One of them was KLM, and Air Italia. I didn’t know how to feel about that. I didn’t say anything because at first I thought it was a joke.
SmSh: There are cartoonists who double down on distaste — R Crumb can draw something totally misanthropic or self-loathing and the style just adds to that, with spit and sweat and body hair and wavy erection heat lines. Is he someone that influenced you?
JC: Oh, of course. Robert Crumb and Daniel Clowes were my greatest influences. Both are underground comic book artists from the United States. And on the other hand there’s two cartoonists from Belgium who are amazing — Brecht Vandenbroucke and Herr Seeze, who drew Cowboy Henk.
SmSh: Who’s the tampon bear that appears in your comics? He usually seems to show up to staunch a wound.
JC: He looks like a mascot in an advertisement. Some bear who is always friendly, you love him, you want to hug him. The smile is the thing Hollywood uses to sell us anything.
SmSh: Another recurring motif in your work is the selfie stick as a gun. You think it’s something like that apocryphal tribal belief that taking a photo steals part of someone’s soul? Or at least that selfies steal part of our dignity?
JC: It’s like a neurosis. I can’t understand people. It’s like being surrounded by aliens. Why do you need to do that constantly?
SmSh: Are you saying to selfie-takers, “Kill yourself”?
JC:: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Bill Hicks has a sketch where he asks do you work in marketing or advertising? He waits for the reaction and he says, “kill yourself”.
If you’re losing your dignity for selfies you should kill yourself.
[Ed’s Note: And THAT’S the pull quote.]
SmSh: What’s the photo policy for your exhibition? Can people take pics?
JC: Of course! Hong Kong was crazy. I had this selfie stick sculpture I did and everyone surrounded it taking photos. I don’t know how to feel about it. In the beginning I thought it was funny. It’s ironic. You don’t need to do that. Do you understand anything?
But if people don’t understand the work it’s my fault too.
SmSh: A lot of people are used as a means in your comics. A father serves as an extension cord for his daughter’s radio, being electrocuted in the process. Do you see that sort of behavior a lot around you?
JC: We act through interests. We use people. Here it’s humor, but for me I can see that all the time, every day, and we don’t act shocked or anything. But we should be. It’s something disgusting.
Joan Cornellà Solo Show runs 11am-7pm from June 10-25 at M50 Art Space, 50 Moganshan Road, Building 6, Room 104. Tickets cost 50rmb.