Joey Wolf’s creative process is simple and discretely nostalgic: he spends the majority of his time sitting in his Los Angeles studio – where he also happens to live with his girlfriend, Ava – drinking, smoking, and recapturing on canvas or paper the small bits of time he spends with old friends and Ava.
People, he says, are his primary influence, and if you look closely through his work, you’ll notice a cast of characters unfold. If you ask him why he paints what he paints, or how he picks his subjects, he’ll give a straightforward answer: he paints what he knows. Those subjects are either his friends or Ava, and the moments he captures are from the life he leads on the rare occasions that he leaves his studio.
I don’t, however, want to suggest that Joey goes out from his studio into the world solely to gather material for his paintings; it’s more like he stays in his studio to spend time with the world.
It seems worth mentioning here that in many of his paintings, the figures are lifesize, and, as a result, his studio almost feels like a social environment.
Joey’s studio becomes whatever place or scene he happens to be focused on in his work at a given time, yet the specific places and moments he depicts are not arbitrary, and this becomes clear when you start noticing the continuity of the subjects in his paintings; the thread of friendship and connectivity runs through nearly all of his work.
In Joey’s large and semi-realistic oil paintings, his presence and expression is felt in the thick, almost sculptural application of paint on the canvas. If you know Joey and his work, you might agree that it can otherwise feel like a stretch to imagine him in or near the suburban and highly manufactured scenes he often captures, but this is largely because it is hard to imagine Joey being anywhere other than exactly where he is, which is usually in his studio. The paintings are full of wonderful contradictions: they feel grand and modest; natural and artificial; simple and very complex. Indeed, Joey is a painter who will indulge equally in the blades of grass on the lawn, the squinty expression of a friend deep in conversation in the shallow-end of the pool, the chest hair of a peripheral man, and the Solo Cups his friends use for beer pong.
Joey’s watercolors speak a similar language as his oil paintings – old friends gathered for some occasion – but on a different frequency. While in his oil paintings the viewer can feel the expression in the heaviness of the paint that seems to be dripping off the canvas, in his watercolors, the expression is felt in the lightness, which in many cases is mostly strongly revealed in the places where Joey doesn’t apply any paint at all. It seems fitting that for many of his watercolors, he has turned his attention to natural landscapes that he can approach with a gentle, though still high contrast palette.
Again, the contradictions: the light in the paintings is warm and welcoming, yet you still feel like you need sunglasses to look at them. But maybe that’s just the mood he sets. If he can transport himself from his concrete, windowless studio to the beach in Hawaii with his old friends, it’s no surprise that he can do the same for the viewer.