Joan Cornellà: “My work is like a slap in the face.”

One of the first Joan Cornellà comics I can remember starts with a pink sports car speeding towards a baby in a pram carelessly left in the road. A panicked mother looks on with her own baby in a pram. Quick thinking she pushes her pram into the road and knocks the first one out of the way. The sports car crashes into her child. In the last square the woman has a sinister smile on her face – a smile that has become a familiar trope of the Barcelona-based cartoonist and illustrator.

Joan said: “I guess the smile is relatable to the hypocrisy and falseness of human beings. It’s like showing your better face to your boss even if your house is burning down with your kids inside.” Joan’s work satirises the sinister and macabre side of humanity through unsettling scenarios. 

“I think there’s a big problem with political correctness. It’s a form of authority and self-repression and doesn’t allow us to express ourselves freely. It’s a modern form of censorship. Someone will be always be offended by something – you can’t please everyone.”

‘I would say they don’t know what irony is’

The fine art graduate said his work is an attempt to overcome taboos and bigotry. “There are some people that think my work is racist but I would say the opposite. I would say they don’t know what irony is. If I want my work to be open to different interpretations it’s because I don’t like people telling others what’s wrong or right. What I’d like is for people to think for themselves and be more critical.”

It was the pretentiousness of the art world that drove Joan into comics. But his early artistic influences included Paul McCarthy and David Shrigley. Later on he was drawn to the work of cartoonists like Charles Addams and Robert Crumb. “I tried to copy his [Robert Crumb] style during the early years and after that I tried to bury his influence – but I still think you can see some details in my comics.”

Louis CK, Bill Hicks, and George Carlin are amongst his comic inspirations as well as British comedians like Ricky Gervais, Peter Serafinowicz and Spike Milligan. “The first time I watched Monty Python’s Flying Circus it blew my mind.” Joan maintains that he never sets out to shock people. “Someone said my work is like a slap in the face. Francis Bacon said that his paintings should go directly to your nervous system. I would like to think my work was the same. After that, you can try and analyse it rationally if you like.”

‘I guess you are suggesting that my grandmother raped me when I was a kid’

The 36-year-old doesn’t think his work is a reflection of him as a person. “I don’t think this is necessarily contradictory, comedy is hyperbolic, it’s fiction. During my day I’m not cutting people’s arms off or shooting minorities in the head. Comedy can be cathartic and it lets us laugh about our own miseries.”

Asked to explain the recurring themes of sex, violence and occasional decapitation in his work Joan said: “I guess you are suggesting that my grandmother raped me when I was a kid. I guess it’s normal in some sense because you have to have some connection between me and my work. Everybody does. But I prefer to think that my work talks about how fucked up humankind is.” Despite his illustrations death isn’t something he thinks about, if anything his work acts as an outlet to downplay it. He added: “It’s like saying aloud that we are nothing. It’s a way to exorcise tragedy.”

Joan’s first solo show in London will be exhibiting over 17 days at Hoxton Arches. The exhibition will include new canvas paintings and limited edition illustrations. Joan will also be signing copies of his new book.

Joan Cornellà: A London solo exhibition. Opens Friday, September 15.

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