As the London artist James Joyce walks through Colette pointing to his new works, it’s impossible to ignore the frequency with which he uses 'like' in conversation – as both phrasal placeholder and expression of interest. Normally, this would go unnoticed, but the observation is amplified by the fact that his show here is called '100 Likes'.
Spread out through the Paris store and concentrated in the upper gallery, the exhibition includes his collapsed smiley faces – their dislodged features now widely recognised after Banksy showcased them at his Dismaland 'bemusement park' last year. Titled Perseverance in the Face of Absurdity, the grouping of silkscreen print artist proofs have been mounted above the cash desk, presumably with no irony intended. Forever Ends, a new all-black acrylic version on canvas, greets people en route to the lower-level cafe.
The Likes series, meanwhile, can be found upstairs, where the bold palette and graphic statements establish a vibrant presence within the retail space. In the gallery, the prints run from wall to wall in alternating seven colours such that they seem to psychedelically signal affirmation en masse. There’s a greyscale grouping, too, for those who prefer a little less tonal enthusiasm. Joyce has pushed the idea furthest with the canvas works, arranged to create a new statement. Here, you see likes, but you may also see a geometric pattern. You may even detect traces of Sol Lewitt, Frank Stella and, of course, Robert Indiana.
Indeed, Joyce does not deny that his Like concept picks up where Indiana’s Love left off, noting how, thanks largely to social media, we have traded one word for another. One the one hand, a cliché; on the other, an empty sentiment. As Joyce tells Wallpaper*, ‘Everyone likes everything virtually. [The word] has lost its meaning, or at least, its sincerity.’
But the intriguing aspect of his work is how he interprets a universal sign or symbol and then leaves it completely open to interpretation – spelling it out literally, yet not in meaning. For every person who views his reimagined acid house faces as funny, another will see them as existential. ‘You can look at it on a purely superficial level or you can read into it. But I like that about it – and I think that’s what gives art power, when it’s not pinned down, but you can read into it whatever you like,’ he says.
Colette’s Sarah Andelman liked Joyce’s stylised semiotics so much that she has rolled out a number of exclusive products: t-shirts with flocked features, a candle that smells faintly illicit, skateboards, postcards and pins. Asked whether he possesses a glass half-full or half-empty frame of mind, Joyce replies, 'I guess a bit of both and maybe that’s why I’ve got this duality of ideas – you can’t have one without the other.'
Incidentally, it seems his five-year-old son already has an appreciation for his father’s work – although whether at face value or perhaps as something deeper remains unclear. Says the artist with a smile, 'He loves it.'