Joe Sheehan (1976) studied contemporary jewellery at Unitec in the mid1990s, and since then has worked in carving studios throughout New Zealand and visited nephrite-jade deposits around the world.
Joe's jade and pounamu pieces explore the contemporary relevance and position of greenstone carving, with his recent work looking at the commercialisation of the jade industry and the limitations it places on jade's potential as a medium for relevant art practise. Joe plays with social and cultural contexts and questions the way we see things, making pounamu and jade objects that speak first about their object status and second about their material.
His work has included traditional forms of jewellery such as a necklace made from several hundred precision-cut discs of Russian Nephrite, as well as meticulously rendered ballpoint pens, sunglasses, AA batteries, a working lightbulb, and a pounamu cassette tape which plays a recording of the river where the stone was found.
Joe writes: "I feel privileged to work with greenstone. It is so deeply embedded in the fabric of our history that I think almost everyone in Aotearoa has some feeling for it. It's this significance which offers a unique opportunity to play and reflect on our culture as a whole."
"I am trying to shift my work away from something that looks like it has been slowly worn away by a hand rubbing with stone on the edge of the river, into something that acknowledges the industrial nature of the process and the industry. This interests me because of the changes I am seeing in the tourism industry as well as the craft/art world. It seems to speak of the way that both our country and our idea of identity is developing."
In November 2006 Joe was one of the inaugural recipients of the NZ Arts Foundation's New Generation Awards. These awards, of $25,000 each, are presented every two years to five artists who have demonstrated excellence in the early stages of their careers. In 2008 Joe was invited to represent New Zealand in the 28th Sao Paulo Bienal in Brazil. In 2010 he received an Antarctica Fellowship.