Joe Wardwell, If You Got the Money Honey, 2021. Acrylic on canvas, 54 × 72 inches (137.2 × 182.9 cm). Gift of Mathieu O. Gaulin ©️ Joe Wardwell
Boston-based Joe Wardwell draws on the rich resources of music, landscape, and American culture in his colorful paintings. Combining layers of painted acrylic images and texts in vivid, chromatic hues, his work highlights counterculture narratives in American cultural memory and their relationship to nationalism, history, identity, and place. If You Got the Money Honey is from a cycle of paintings made by Wardwell in 2020 and 2021 in response to multiple intersecting crises of health, race, economics, and politics, and displays his signature layering of landscape and text. The artist’s first cityscape, this painting presents a view toward downtown Boston from Wardwell’s studio, located in Humphreys Street Studios in Dorchester’s Upham’s Corner. At the time, the studio building was threatened to be demolished by developers until Wardwell and other residents joined together to campaign against the sale of the building, ultimately reaching a unique partnership with the City of Boston and funders. Over this colorful skyline, the artist layers a series of texts. The largest text—lyrics from a Guns N’ Roses song—gives the work its title and points to the relationship between wealth and access, mounting an ironic charge against Boston’s increasingly unaffordable housing. For the smaller texts, Wardwell sourced quotations from cultural figures with ties to Massachusetts, including Malcolm X, Buckminster Fuller, and Donna Summer, screen printing these striking lines (“Integrity is the essence of everything successful,” and “Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it”) onto the painting. Through this matrix of text and landscape, Wardwell embeds multiple histories and evokes the collective and polyphonic voice of an urban environment.