This Pop Culture Artist Turned His Frames Into Extensions of His Imagination

This Pop Culture Artist Turned His Frames Into Extensions of His Imagination
A frame of toys for the movie Toys. (Photo: Gallery 1988/JoKa)
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Subjectivity is one of the best things about art, but there are a few undeniable objective facts about it too. One is that no matter how good or bad a piece of art is, the right frame will only make it better. That’s a truth the artist who goes by JoKa is bringing to his new solo show at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles this week.

When Gallery 1988 asked JoKa to do a solo show there was no definitive direction, just the sentiment that a few of his previous pieces which had frames almost as intricate as the paintings themselves could be a good hook. And so he went from there. “[The] overall aim was to make some really cohesive and clever pieces that skirted the edge of fan-art, but hopefully didn’t come off as too kitschy,” the artist told Gizmodo over email.

Madonna in Dick Tracy. (Photo: Gallery 1988/JoKa) Madonna in Dick Tracy. (Photo: Gallery 1988/JoKa)

But just knowing the medium for a solo art show isn’t enough — JoKa had to narrow it down. “I was definitely hung up on which direction to go for a little bit,” he said. “I knew the pieces had to lean heavy on the themed frame route so that was how I first started thinking of pieces, but then later decided on sticking with movies that I really enjoyed and connected to when I was growing up [in the ‘90s], and feel are a little underrepresented in the fan-art/movie-art realms.”

Each painting was done with acrylic using brushwork for the clothes and backgrounds and pointillism for the main subjects. The frames, as you can see, were hand-made with various materials.

Christopher Walken in Batman Returns. (Photo: Gallery 1988/JoKa) Christopher Walken in Batman Returns. (Photo: Gallery 1988/JoKa)

These pieces, and eight others for films like Tombstone, Eyes Wide Shut, Twins, and Fargo, will be available at noon PST this Friday at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles. You’ll be able to see them in person, or buy them and see them on the gallery’s website at that time. The show remains on display through May 8.

Roger Rabbit and Bob Hoskins in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (The answer in this case? JoKa.) (Photo: Gallery 1988/JoKa) Roger Rabbit and Bob Hoskins in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (The answer in this case? JoKa.) (Photo: Gallery 1988/JoKa)

JoKa told us he had a long list of titles he was considering for the show but decided to go a little less mainstream if possible so that each piece could really mean something to a particular viewer. “I like the idea of focusing on slightly more obscure movies as well, hoping that it elicits a viewing from someone that may be unfamiliar,” he said. “Toys left a big impact on me when I saw it in the theatres as a kid; such a surreal movie, and so weird to me at that age. That was one of the earliest paintings I did for this show, but the last frame to complete as that one was really a scavenger hunt puzzle to figure out.”

That Toys piece — based on the cult 1992 Barry Levinson film starring Robin Williams and Joan Cusack about a toy company making war toys — was probably the most challenging for the artist.

Robin Williams in Toys. (Photo: Gallery 1988/JoKa) Robin Williams in Toys. (Photo: Gallery 1988/JoKa)

“I knew I wanted to make it out of toy pieces, but didn’t know exactly what kind until I’d stumbled upon them,” he said. “I was asking people for their kids’ toys, but didn’t want any kind of action figures or name brands that would be recognisable. I wound up making many trips to dollar stores over the course of the months working on the show, buying up any that I thought I could break apart and use little bits of. I had conceived it being much more built up and pieced together, but in the end had to stick with the varying Lego sizes to make sure it maintained some structural stability, with a handful of other toy-part flourishes. Had a handful of issues with gluing plastics on that one as well. Ugh!”

Here’s a time-lapse of its creation:

JoKa admits that balancing the focus between the painting and frame was also a challenge. “Keeping the frames balanced and not having them take away from the painting, but making sure they complimented, was paramount,” he said. “The first few pieces were a bit ‘simpler,’ as least in my head, and then as I went along I was coming up with more elaborate ideas I wanted to try, each one having some aspect of constructing that I hadn’t tried before.”

Lots of that involved faux-fabricating materials, such as bricks, and even multiple trips to the bank to get pennies for the Ghost piece.

Patrick Swayze in Ghost (Photo: Gallery 1988/JoKa) Patrick Swayze in Ghost (Photo: Gallery 1988/JoKa)

“It was the worst time to decorate a frame in pennies, as it was mid-pandemic and all the banks were only dealing them out in small quantities, so I had to make multiple trips,” he said. “It’s got a whopping five dollars worth!”

So expect to pay at least $6 if you’re interested in that piece — which, like all the others, goes on sale 5 a.m. AEST on April 24 at the Gallery 1988 site.