Joe Coleman (painter)

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Joe Coleman at work in the Odditorium in Brooklyn Heights.

Joseph "Joe" Coleman Jr. (born November 22, 1955) is an American painter, illustrator and performance artist.

Early life[edit]

He was born in Norwalk, Connecticut to a World War II-veteran father and the daughter of a professional prizefighter.[1]


Coleman is best known for intricately detailed portraits of subjects both famous and infamous: artists, outlaws, serial killers, movies stars, friends, and family. He paints with a single-hair brush and uses a jewelers loupe; much of the detail is not visible to the naked eye. The majority of his portraits portray the central subject in the center of the canvas, lozenges containing biographical scenes and details from the subject's life ring the central image. Humorous imagery is often placed beside scenes of tragic family incidents.[2]

His work draws as much from Coleman's beginnings as a comic book artist as from historical precedents. His paintings are most often compared to those of Hieronymus Bosch, and his work has been exhibited alongside canvases by the Dutch master.[3]


In 2006, Coleman had a retrospective at New York's Jack Tilton Gallery entitled "Joe Coleman: 30 Paintings and a Selection from the Odditorium", curated by Steven Holmes. The following year he had one-man shows at two major European museums, in Paris at the Palais de Tokyo, and "Joe Coleman Internal Digging" at Berlin's K-W Institute.[4] In 2008, New York's Dickinson Gallery exhibited Coleman's work together with "Devotio Moderno: Joe Coleman/Northern Primitives" paintings by Hans Memling and other 15th century early Netherlandish painters.

In June 2014, reproductions of Coleman's work were displayed in Portland, Maine. The paintings were displayed in conjunction with the premiere of 'Serial Killers, Country Music and Pickled Punks', a one-hour docudrama staged play. The works in the exhibition were directly referenced within the play, which focused on his output from the 1990s and early 2000s.


Collectors of Coleman's paintings include Iggy Pop, Johnny Depp, Jim Jarmusch, Leonardo DiCaprio, D.B. Doghouse, H.R. Giger, and Adam and Flora Hanft

Subjects portrayed[edit]

Book Covers[edit]

Coleman's work has been featured on the covers of many books including:


His pranks — including appearing to blow himself up and medieval-style geek antics — have been documented in the Pranks! volume of RE/Search, along with the works of some of his contemporaries such as Boyd Rice.


Coleman is an avid enthusiast for weird, dark American culture and a serious collector of sideshow oddities. He's a patron of Johnny Fox's Freakatorium in New York City (where he lives) and was a supporter and good friend of the late rockabilly eccentric Hasil Adkins. He also acted in Black Hearts Bleed Red, a 1992 film adaptation of Flannery O'Connor's short story A Good Man Is Hard To Find, made by New York independent film director Jeri Cain Rossi, and also in Scarlet Diva, Asia Argento's 2003 film debut as director. He recently inducted a lock of hair from Daniel Genis, which was the basis for a Vice profile.[5]


  1. ^ Schechter, Harold (1997). ""Carny of the Gods", Original Sin: The Visionary Art of Joe Coleman, HECK Editions, 82.
  2. ^ "Outsider Art Sourcebook", ed. John Maizels, Raw Vision, Watford, 2009, p.60
  3. ^ Yau, John (1997), "Joe Coleman's Illuminations", Original Sin: The Visionary Art of Joe Coleman, HECK Editions, 13.
  4. ^ Catalogue information at KW Institute Archived 2016-09-23 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ Genis, Daniel. "Babies in Jars, Death Masks, and Ponytails: My Induction to the Odditorium". Retrieved 14 August 2015. 

External links[edit]