A cemetery across the street from the house where Joe Coleman was born (in 1955 in Norwalk, Connecticut) provided the background for his complex and troubled childhood.
He was raised as an Irish Catholic by a violent, alcoholic father and a mother who was excommunicated from the church the year before he was born, and whose sexual energies were sometimes focused on her son. Unpredictable danger and the need to survive were the constant themes of his youth and continue to surface in Coleman's work today as expressions of what he calls "the holiness of violence and suffering." He began drawing at the age of eight, producing a series of sketches of burnings, stabbings, and the Stations of the Cross. In a rare moment of camaraderie, his father, an amateur painter of landscapes and nautical scenes, gave Joe a paint set but never approved of the horrific subject matter his son chose to depict. Before becoming a full-time artist, Coleman worked as a cab driver and briefly attended the School of Visual Arts but felt stifled by the limitations of classroom studio work. As "Professor Momboozo," Coleman has staged numerous performances intended primarily to shock onlookers, from "geeking" mice to setting off explosive charges mounted underneath his own clothing. To achieve the extreme detail in his outsider art paintings, Coleman often paints with the aid of a jeweler's goggles and a single hair paintbrush.
Extract from "The End is Near, Visions of Apocalypse Millennium and Utopia"