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Humor and art glow in ASU graduate student's ‘Dad Joke…’ exhibit

Bates combines neon and puns to create an exhibit that is engaging both intellectually and aesthetically

Dad Jokes Exhibit
ASU senior global studies Meghan Meuchner takes a selfie at Joseph Bates's "Dad Jokes" exhibit at the Harry Wood Gallery in Tempe, Arizona, on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018.

Cliche one-liners take a bright and humorous turn with "Dad Joke…," an exhibit showing at the Harry Wood Gallery until Feb. 23 by art graduate student Joseph Bates. 

The exhibit features neon signs crafted to radiate the brand of dry humor known as "dad jokes." Looking at the puns illuminated in an aesthetically pleasing manner seems like a lighthearted concept, but Bates said he hopes viewers look at it as a reflection of relationships and interpersonal communication.

Jonathan Wright, who is also an art graduate student and is Bates’s technical assistant, said he appreciates "Dad Joke…" and its not-so-serious vibe.

“I interpret it as fun,” he said. “It’s not necessarily making fun of art, but it is less serious."

The idea behind this concept stemmed from Bates’ childhood — growing up, he was often in a hospital bed with allergies and asthma attacks. He found comfort in jokes from his elders. 

“Humor has been a major part of my way of living,” Bates said. “Some of my darkest hours, I kind of feel like medicine worked to a certain extent — it’s that reassuring comedy side of older people telling me jokes and things like that that made me feel better." 

Art really makes you look. #asu #asuschoolofart #neon #herberger #madeyoulook #art

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Neon has had an emergence in the art community over the last 50 years. Bates, whose degree emphasis is on neon, hopes to use the brightness of the medium as a way to make his message both figuratively and literally stand out.

Bates said when he talks about working with neon, most people assume that he makes neon signs but his art goes much deeper than whether an establishment is open or closed.

“I try to take the neon from a typical wall structure or a signage,” Bates said. "I try to take it out of that realm and put it in another context."

Bates produced this exhibit in the ASU Grant Street Studios. The building houses over 60 studios for art students, creating a relaxing open space for artists to critique one another, he said.

While this studio space mostly holds graduate students, Bates said he appreciates when undergraduates come in and give feedback on his work.

“They sometimes see things that graduates don’t see, it’s like they have fresh eyes," Bates said

On top of working toward his degree, Bates also teaches classes in the School of Art, and after graduating he hopes to open up his own neon shop. 

Art professor James White, who mentored Bates and helped shape his perspective on art, said Bates has a unique artistic vision, and ‘Dad Joke...’ is a product of his provocative humor and perspective. 

“It may be lighthearted where you’re coming from, it may be frightening where you’re coming from, depending on your past relationships," White said.

White, who has been teaching art for 45 years, oversaw the making of this exhibit as Bates’ faculty advisor. He noted Bates’ art as something to be interpreted differently by everyone, as the phrases within the exhibit cause viewers to look back on memories and past interactions. 

“The kind of art that you see with (Bates), it’s going to be questions, it may not give you answers” he said. “You hear or see something, it may not be exactly what (Bates) intends, but that mixes with your life experiences."

Reach the reporter at and follow @meganbarbera_ on Twitter. 

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