Born Birrell Josef Mendelson on July 30, 1944, in Toronto, Canada, Mr. Joe, a self-taught guitarist since age eleven, grew up in Toronto and Maple, a rural community 20 miles north of Toronto. In 1966, Mr. Joe graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He studied neither art nor music, yet music paid the rent since 1964.
In 1975, Mendelson rescued some derelict paints from the garbage, and tried painting “just to see what it was like”. A distinct style soon evolved. That style is called naïve. Folk art. Outsider art.
Today Mendelson Joe’s paintings are internationally recognized as original, unique examples of contemporary Canadian art. His work is housed at the Art Bank (a government-owned art collection), the Portrait Gallery of Canada, and in numerous private and corporate collections worldwide. He has received several Canada Council grants, including Explorations Grants to develop both his literary talents as a playwright, as well as his performance art in video.
In 1980–81, the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris showcased Mendelson Joe in Pursuit of the Truth, a two-month solo exhibition. The year 1982 marked the beginning of Joe’s marathon self-commissioned series of portraits entitled Working Women. As he continued to focus on portraiture, Mendelson still pursued his pleasure, landscapes, especially blue snow winter scenes, some of which appear on his famous postcards. In 1986, Ten Years of Joe, Mendelson Joe’s first retrospective, was presented in Toronto. In 1987, he penned his first play; a farce-fable entitled A Kind Dog’s Life. Joe also donated a self-commissioned series of 30 paintings to the internationally renowned nuclear industry watchdog foundation Energy Probe. The money raised from this gift exceeded $30,000.
The year 1988 marked a rebirth for Joe’s four decade-long recording career. Canada’s Anthem Records released Joe’s LP, Born to Cuddle featuring Toronto’s highly acclaimed street-jazzers, The Shuffle Demons. Joe’s other focus for ‘88 was another self-commissioned series called The Meaning of Life; numerous and glorious renderings of the female breast. Artist/curator Derek Besant featured Joe’s latest series in Multi-Media Joe (The New Gallery, November 1988, Calgary), a one-man celebration of Mendelson Joe’s diverse output, which included paintings, poems, published letters to the editor, excerpts from his unpublished book Paint Is Drying, as well as his music and videos.
A full year of protest marked 1990. Joe vociferously attacked the Mulroney-proposed goods and services tax (GST) during his weekly Sunday protests in front of the Art Gallery of Ontario. He also continued his weekly demonstrations against further nuclear reactor expansion by Ontario Hydro. Of all his paintings from 1990, the one that matters the most to Joe is Empty Chairs, in memory of the fourteen women murdered in Montreal, on December 6, 1989.
In January 1991, Mendelson Joe completed another in his series of buttock-headed portraits of Canada’s contemptible Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. In a painting entitled Thumbs Up For The American Way, Joe depicted Mulroney proudly attired in desert fatigues — a sad omen of the slaughter to follow, in Canada’s first official war since 1945. The Canadian government-funded Canada Council Art Bank purchased one of Joe’s Where’s ‘Da Blood? paintings. Mr. Joe expanded his Working Women series, with over a dozen new subjects, including writer Margaret Atwood and winning motorcycle racer Marianne Fraser. Anthem Records released Joe’s umpteenth album, Addicted, as he put the finishing touches on yet another LP, Women Are The Only Hope. In June, Lake Galleries in Toronto presented The Gigantic Joe Festival, a huge exhibition (72 works) with weekly acoustic “Joe” concerts.
In 1992, the Canada Council awarded M. Joe a senior “A” grant to paint a series called Liars.
To offset the labour of Liars, Joe continued his decade-long commitment to Working Women. Numbering nearly 180 portraits, Joe’s newest subjects included a psychiatrist, a leather-worker, a private investigator, and high-profile women’s advocate/columnist Doris Anderson.
In 1993, Joe carried on with his Working Women, and included noted performing artists Daisy DeBolt and Jane Siberry. Naturally, Joe celebrated the departure of outgoing prime minister Mulroney (and Mrs. Mulroney), and painted the incoming self-declared pot smoker, Prime Minister Kim Campbell.
If there’s a portrait which stands out from 1993, it has to be Joe’s large self-portrait as Jew in the disturbing No Hoax Folks. In the same vein, but with the inspiration and guidance of activist-writer Lisa Cherniak, Joe created a beautiful painting to illustrate her slogan: “We are all one people; different faces from different places; but we are all one people.” With the name Artists Against Racism, Cherniak and Joe mounted a poster campaign to help youth challenge the rising virulent tide of racism. The campaign is ongoing.
Landscapes. M. Joe’s obsession with Canadian landscape is without boundary. Joe produced another series of magnificent “Joe-scapes,” which he donated to help nuclear watchdog Energy Probe fund their court battle against Canada’s bogus Nuclear Liability Act.
1994: Joe celebrated his fiftieth birthday, and 30 years as a professional musician. He also exited the lower bowels of downtown east Parkdale after 18 years at the self-founded Ossington Institute of Fine Art and Music. Prior to his exit, Mendelson produced several more Working Women portraits, including Québec rebel-scholar Dr. Esther Delisle and Catholic women’s advocate Joanna Manning.
The year 1995 started with Joe’s The Mulroney Years: A Tribute, a month-long exhibition documenting Mulroney’s pathetic legacy, at Toronto’s Lake Galleries. With the approach of spring, Mayor Barbara Hall presented Mendelson Joe with the City of Toronto’s William P. Hubbard Award for promoting racial harmony. Canadian Art, Canada’s premier national visual arts publication recognized Joe’s seminal presence with a tidy feature depicting Joe’s portrait of Mulroney as a desert warrior (buttock-headed) in Thumbs Up For The American Way.
Meanwhile, Joe augmented Working Women with philanthropist M. Joan Chalmers, pop star Alannah Myles, TV broadcaster Hana Gartner, ACTRA union president Sandi Ross, and outspoken broadcaster/author Irshad Manji.
1996: The Joseph D. Carrier Gallery of Toronto played host to Joe’s first major showing (100 works) of his Working Women series of portraits. Encouraged by the turnout for Working Women, Joe forged forth creating numerous new portraits, culminating with Burlesque entertainer/activist Katherine Goldberg and Toronto’s good mayor, Barbara Hall.
CBC Television’s Adrienne Clarkson Presents re-aired world-class figure skating team Gary Beacom and Gia Gaudat performing to Joe’s song ‘Think I’m Losing My Marbles.
Joe commenced work on an anthemic laudation to motherhood and the universality of the female breast, with 24 Nipples. Toronto Sun writer Linda Fox volunteered to model, and documented the experience in a feature article.
From day one back in 1975 when Joe discovered that painting was “no different from making music”, the big man (Mr. Joe is over six feet tall at 225 lbs.) has often depicted himself. The year 1997 marked Joe’s portrayal of himself as a blue canine. He also painted Art Gallery of Ontario curator Matthew Teitelbaum and numerous Working Women candidates, some of whom include film maker Gail Singer, lawyer Susan Eng, TV talk show host Jane Hawtin, and Joe’s hero, Dr. Rosalie Bertell. On a final musical note, Mendelson Joe completed his umpteenth album, Humans Bug Me, and began Brushes in Spoiled Bratland.
1998: With Liberal prime minister Chrétien continuing his Mulroney-based dismantlement-of-Canada program (term number two), Mendelson Joe countered the degradation with two more depictions of Canada’s jocular (“I like pepper on my steak”) leader. Probably the most disturbing works of ’98 were Joe’s blunt renderings Sleepingbag Man and the no less depressing picture of smogbound Toronto, Have A Nice Death, the latter spawning the song of the same name, which is included in Mendelson Joe’s twenty-fourth album.
1999. As some humans prepared anxiously for what was termed Y2K (a non-event), Joe documented a pitchman’s posterboy, “The Great One”, hockey player Wayne Gretsky, in all his commercial endorsement badges. To vent his ever-growing rage over the demoralizing mismanagement of Ontario under Ralph Klein-clone Mike Harris, Joe portrayed Harris as Glib Fascist. Finally, Mendelson Joe completed his 24th album of songs entitled Everyone Needs A Pimp, which, like the dynamic range of his paintings, goes from the sublime to the bizarre.
Year 2000 marked Mendelson Joe’s exit from Smogmopolis (Joe’s term for Toronto). Residing west of Algonquin Park, the content of Joe’s painting became the drama of seasonal change in the semi-north. Trees. Sky. Moose. Moonlight. Nevertheless, Joe’s preoccupation (and unabashed disgust) with Canada’s politicians fostered portraits of Ontario Finance Minister Ernie “Paving the Future” Eves, as well as federal Opposition leader, avowed homophobe and religious zealot, Stockwell Day.
Toronto book publisher ECW Press published Joe’s spoken biography titled
Alien: The Strange Life and Times of Mendelson Joe, featuring a colourful array of Joe paintings, selected song lyrics and revealing interviews with some of Joe’s peers.
Though 2001 will be known by the numerals “9/11” and America’s subsequent response, Mendelson Joe painted more than blood; he painted World War III. America’s democracy quickly devolved into hypocrisy.
Once again, Joe chronicled three-term prime minister Jean Chrétien as corporate figurehead mocking democracy. Ontario’s public television station TVO sent master-journalist Steve Paikin north to conduct a feature interview with Joe for Canada’s best news magazine, Studio 2. Featured in Mr. Paikin’s piece were new landscapes of Muskoka, new Working Women portraits and the aforementioned rendering Prime Minister Chrétien.
2002. Nothing rocks a life like face-to-face confrontation with one’s mortality.
Mendelson Joe survived emergency surgery and painted the experience right down to the incision. As is his nature, Joe soldiered on painting many more women for his twenty-year series culminating with a portrait of Canada’s first female astronaut, Dr. Roberta Bondar.
2003. Twenty-one years after he began painting his self-commissioned series of portraits celebrating women, M. Joe closed the show (so to speak) by portraying Canada’s heroic women’s advocate, the woman known as Jane Doe. The series numbers over 300 works.
Mendelson Joe continued painting landscapes to document the beauty of his neighbourhood in the woods near the hamlet of Sprucedale, east of Parry Sound, Ontario. “The beauty heals me,” says Joe.
2004. The so-called war on terrorism led M. Joe back to yet another depiction of U.S. leader George. W. Bush as ever-unnatural, ill spoken brat-bully clad in bunny-sleepers.
Twenty-two years after commencing his self-commissioned series of portraits of Working Women, ECW Press of Toronto published the book incorporating fifty colourful images of women of diverse vocations. Among Joe’s portraits from 2004, his depiction of federal Liberal MP Carolyn Parrish and pop singer Hawksley Workman are standouts.
2005 marked the accelerating decline of democracy in America under the guise of the so-called “war on terror” (translate: war on truth in pursuit of global dominance through petroleum ownership). For Joe, his new portraits of boob-at-large George W. “Mission Accomplished” Bush bespoke life under an ominous neighbourly presence. When will they invade us? We have oil and water.
But there were portraits of sane, decent folk, including several of Joe’s artistic colleagues (Scott Merritt, Friendly Rich, Beverley Hawksley, Jessica Holmes, Maja Bannerman), as well as that of courageous Toronto physician, whistle-blower Nancy Olivieri.
M. Joe’s third book, Joe’s Toronto, by ECW Press, was launched in October. With forward by Toronto Star architecture critic Christopher Hume, Joe’s Toronto documents fifty faces of men, women and children dating back to his difficult days residing in a storefront on lower Ossington Avenue.
Music. Out of nowhere, EMI Canada released a compilation Best Blues Album Ever, Vol. II, featuring Joe’s song Mainline from the 1969 classic Stink LP recorded by McKenna Mendelson Mainline in Soho, London.
2006. Joe wasted no time when he immortalized newly minted Conservative PM Stephen Harper as The Fastest Hypocrite in the West.
If Joe enjoyed a highlight in 2006, it was when English Canada’s satirical TV star Rick Mercer visited. Joe portrayed Mercer as well as exhibiting a selection of political portraits for the camera. Among other subjects, Joe painted blues musician Morgan Davis, magazine illustrator Anita Kunz, music promoter Harvey Glatt, and sundry figments of the Joe imagination, including Pope Ratzinger, movie star anti-Semite Mel Gibson and, for posterity, another depiction of Homer Simpson-like bellicose boob George W. Bush.
The crowning glory in the painting department was the completion of Joe’s book documenting the ongoing challenge of coping with the local (adjacent) beaver infestation. Look for Joe Versus Beaver in the future.
“Being self-taught in all my media of expression, I’m still an open door of possibility. And, it’s still a thrill to music myself; it’s still an amazement to paint a dream, an idea or the muse of beauty. And, the ballpoint pen affords me access to almost anyone, whether they like it or not!”
2007. M. Joe thought he had seen the last of the much-loathed oleaginous baritone from Baie Comeau, three-term PM Brian Mulroney.
Serving as consultant to current Reform-Alliance-Conservative PM Harper, Mr. Mulroney was finally outed for receiving several cash payments from arms dealer/Air Bus pimp Karlheinz Schreiber. The stench of Mulroney and his declaration to appear “with bells on” before a public inquiry (for which he publicly advocated) inspired yet another depiction from the imagination of self-appointed political historian Joe. Mulroney with bells on indeedy.
As much as M. Joe continued this labour of contempt (depicting folks such as former RCMP Commissioner Zaccardelli and former U.S. Attorney General Gonzales) Joe portrayed several decent neighbours and a few heroes too! The list of those who’ve sat for Joe-portraits numbers in the many hundreds. And, when it comes to numbers, M. Joe’s musical masterpiece Everyone Needs a Pimp CD was released on Toronto boutique label Pacemaker. Hear/see Joe on YOU TUBE and MY SPACE.
2008. M. Joe’s fourth book of disclosive portraits Joe’s Politicians (ECW Press) punctuated what Joe describes as the year when a vortex of international events converged: unregulated greed, America’s bogus war on terror, global asphyxiationalism and the never-ending scourge of hate. In Joe’s Politicians, politicians are depicted as only Joe could imagine. Mendelson Joe is a unique graphic historian; an outsider’s truth-tellings in vibrant colour.
Despite the confluence of events resulting in a global economic meltdown, Joe found healing in his annual revisitations to sky, water, trees and portraiture. Peers such a singer Bruce Cockburn and master radio interviewer Eleanor Wachtel visited and sat for Joe.
2009. Joe’s daily pennings to Canada’s most mean-spirited Prime Minister continued. He also broke new ground with the pen producing his first plunge into fiction. The novella Family Embolism offers up reason to praise mummyhood and hope despite a bleak world where ambitious liars sustain futile wars and unbridled consumption.
“We the people must lobby impotent politicians to address global asphixiationalism if we care about our children’s future” sayeth senior Joe. On that note, M. Joe celebrated official senior citizen status with a new musical CD, LIVE AT SIXTY-FIVE due out Valentines Day 2010. Joe closed the decade with portraits of his heroines Maude Barlow and Judy Rebick. “I’m a hoper and I’m a coper; I still believe women are the only hope”.
2010. As the lie known as The American Dream continued to implode, the so-called great recession (in truth, The Second Great Depression) spread like a virus unabated. Meanwhile, the antidote WIKILEAKS aired our nasty laundry. M. Joe’s focus on the big picture continued as governments, our neo-fascist government specifically, stood in a paralytic lockstep called denial regarding Mother Nature’s escalating rage (drought, flooding, fire, nemesis) in response to human behaviour, in truth, misbehaviour. M. Joe addressed our status in the apocalypse both on canvas as well in song. Joe’s label OLD BOLD RECORDS released his SPOILED BRATLAND CD which speaks directly to our poor choices and our greatest resource, apathy! Probably Joe’s most potent portrait shows smiler, former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair in his role as born-again Christian promoting a bloodstained memoir. Not nice.
2011, Joe’s role as Cassandra bore dire fruit when Japan went kaboom March 11. Fukushima’s nuclear reactors melted down for months following Mother Nature’s big event (tsunami). M. Joe depicted a doomed nuclear plant worker.
Less than two months later, Canada’s first neo-fascist dictator Stephen Harper divided, conquered and obtained his dream majority while Canadians snoozed. Joe portrayed Harper as Dictator, but, he also depicted new Opposition Leader Jack Layton! Light began to shine when young Senate page Brigette DePape interrupted the so-called “throne speech” with her perfectly timed protest STOP HARPER! Joe celebrated Mademoiselle DePape’s bold protest, a painting of triumph, hope, and vision.
Joe says: “Canadians allowed megalosaur Harper to hijack our democracy. Harper is a symptom (our nemesis) for snoozing. Canadian apathy is not a resource to be proud of. Foodbanks outnumber chartered banks. Women are the only hope.”
2012. While Canadians begin to question the calm daddy-tone assuredness of Canada’s glib authoritarian Prime Minister, artist/activist M. Joe soldiered on in pursuit of his truth through song and painting. Though most of Joe’s portraits focused on neighbours, he did extend his palette to include America’s pariah Bradley Manning. Joe saw Manning as a hero.
In response to Canada’s deceptive dictator Stephen Harper, M. Joe recorded and released a new CD, CANUCKIAN featuring the blistering dance tune DEEMO CRASSY thereby outing Harper as the defecator-on-democracy.
ECW Press issued Joe’s first book of landscapes, JOE’S ONTARIO after three previous volumes of portraits. Co-incidentally Joe’s first novel went on sale via the internet as an e-book; FAMILY EMBOLISM has sexual content (buyer beware).
Speaking as outspoken philosopher, M. Joe states; “Our most abundant resource remains apathy; Harper loves fence-sitting spoiled brats deep in snoozerhood. We are a flaccid nation ruled by an neo-fascist dictator; he, Harper is our nemesis.
2013. Joe continues to defy his expectation he’d expire before age forty. 2013 marked what Joe affirms will be his last musical recording ART IS THE HEALER. Amongst his painterly output of sitters and non-sitters, his portrait of hero Edward Snowden sounds the clarion call of hope for a renewed democracy in America and victims of American aggression. Joe says: “The septic state of politics under Canada’s first fascist dictator Harper is a terrifying beacon that Canada is truly (as Joe prognosticated in ’98) a spoiled bratland. All we have now is the hope that youth and women engage with democracy while it struggles on life-support so Canadians might find their way back from this repressive republican replica administered by Harper”.
2014. Canada has lost its way. As victims of climate change denier Prime Minister Harper, Canadians snoozed while our first fascist dictator methodically dismantled Canada’s democracy (bogus omnibus bills) and waged unilateral war (without consulting Canadians) to wrap himself in the flag as diversion from a feculent legacy of lies and bribery (Duffy). The monster prevailed.
Joe’s never-ending series Megalosaur chronicling Harper’s perversion of Canada’s democracy continued with portraits of young Harperite Pierre Poilievre and senior sub-linguist, goon Julian Fantino.
After forty years learning how to paint (and fifty-nine years learning guitar), Joe has to be the champion of the self-taughter movement. And move he does.
2015. After almost a decade of darkness, M. Joe and millions of Canadians exited despair, victims of fascist feculator* Stephen J. Harper.
Joe’s dogged persistence as artist-activist finally resulted in a transformation for all which was reflected immediately in Joe’s visual output, in a word, rejoice!!
October 20, 2015 may as well be termed the end of a grinding depression at least for septuagenarian Joe. Newfound images erupted. Self-portraits of an old man in flight. Liberation! Lust!
With the dismissal of Harper and many of his obedient sycophants, ECW Press announced the publishing of Joe’s fourth book of portraits, JOE’S NEIGHBOURS in the spring of 2016. The renaissance resumes. Joe says: “Art is the healer. It’s what I know.”
2016. With the release of JOE’S NEIGHBOURS, the climate in Canada warmed to “Mr. Sunny Ways” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. But climate was to be the nemesis; Joe’s depiction of the firestorm in the tar sands, the conflagration at Fort Mac. And with that, came the rise of sociopath, proud “pussy groper” Donald J. Trump, America’s white-power icon. Ironically, Joe portrayed revolutionary humanist Pope Francis who defied all in the Catholic hierarchy.
2017. Donald Trump’s war on truth became a catalyst for Joe’s preoccupation with a need for an antidote to Trump’s nightmare presidency. Painting freaks like white-power acolyte Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway became the Joe version of the truth. The Antidote series began in earnest with yet another kind of portrait – Canadian hero-author Linda McQuaig! Joe’s last gasp of 2017 was to lead to his Antidote Series. Joe medicine-man was next.
M. Joe also extended his advocacy work on behalf of Dr. Ludmila Ilina, acting as an editor for her book (and legal advocate through aidwyc.org – Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted). The Art of Ludmila, was painted while she spent eight years in a Canadian federal penitentiary.
2018. Alert! Mendelson Joe hoper changed his suffix “hoper” to “persister” for 2018. Why? As philosopher at large, Joe regrets his longheld hope met up with the death of democracy both here in Ontario, Canada not to mention the debasement gripping America under sociopath, misogynist-liar Donald J. Trump, America’s rabid “so-called’ populist president. Both Trump and newly minted Ontario Premier Doug Ford are clear signs of a pathology called fascism. Sickness for all.
Joe says: “all art is political”. He also said decades back that “women are the only hope”. As painter of trees, water, women, beauty (yes), M. Joe marked 2018 with more depictions of the aforesaid Trump but, now, a series depicting thug Doug, ‘the predator’ Ford. Ugliness!!
The most optimistic portrait came in spring when journalist, Laura Robinson sat for persister, self-taughter senior Joe. “True journalism is the lifeblood of truth along with science” so said the poet Joet.
The picture ain’t pretty, witnesseth Adrienne Clarkson, The Big Spender© (a portrait by M. Joe).