(Joshua McPhee’s art appears on the cover of the Winter 2016 edition of The Public Eye magazine.)
Joshua MacPhee, our Winter 2016 cover artist, didn’t go to a traditional art school to learn his craft, but rather what he calls “the punk rock school of art,” where he became part of a politicized sub-culture and learned to work in a wide variety of media, from illustration and print production to T-shirt making and street art. A 42-year-old from Massachusetts now living in Brooklyn, New York, MacPhee is a member of the Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative, a group of 30 artists from 16 cities in three countries, as well as Interference Archive, an all-volunteer run archive, library, exhibition and event space in Brooklyn, which focuses on the cultural production of social movements.
Social justice issues are a mainstay of MacPhee’s current print work, which he sees as an opportunity “to process and interpret my experience living under this intense regime of neoliberal capitalism.” An early politicizing moment was the start of the 1991 Gulf War, when he was required to register for Selective Service in order to apply for college financial aid. (“There was no draft, of course, but the idea that I could get yanked out of my life in order to fight in a war halfway across the world for reasons that made no sense to me was illuminating, especially since the key factor was my need for financial assistance,” he said.) But he also frequently works in a collaborative and curatorial role, bringing together different artists on common projects. Among his favorite is an 18-year-old-andcounting poster series, “Celebrate People’s History,” in which he has curated a series of more than 100 DIY-style political posters that emphasize principles of democracy, inclusion and group participation in the writing and interpretation of history.
“It’s rare today that a political poster is celebratory, and when it is, it almost always focuses on a small canon of male individuals: MLK, Ghandi, Che, or Mandela,” said MacPhee. “Rather than create another exclusive set of heroes, I’ve generated a diverse set of posters that bring to life successful moments in the history of social justice struggles…The posters tell stories from the subjective position of the artists, and are often the stories of underdogs, those written out of history.” “For me making art is part of a practice of trying to change the world for the better,” said MacPhee. “Sometimes that’s simply constructing an image, sometimes it’s building a big social project that engages directly with lots of participants, sometimes it’s not making art at all, but just going on a demonstration, giving a little money to an organization doing important work, or using the platform art can provide to discuss important issues often not aired in the public sphere.”