Live, Laugh, Ponder Orb

Traditional printmaking techniques require a lot of equipment, and even the more kitchen table friendly approaches require a decent amount of space. During lockdown my bedroom was probably 2.5 x 3 meters, which isn’t the smallest room, but with my queens sized bed, left just enough room for a desk, and a tv unit. So over lockdown, to keep my practice alive, I decided to step back into painting. With the little space remaining in my room I set up me easel, a camera, and started streaming.

There are still some videos up online from that period, you can see one here!

This was something I had wanted to do for a while, to start streaming my practice online. For a while it was fulfilling, eventually though the reality of regularly streaming became stressful. To put yourself on display while creating is incredibly vulnerable, and I am a person who does not do well with being observed. Strange then that I had this desire to be a streamer, I often wonder why I felt that drive, maybe social reasons, or that it felt very cutting edge. I think ultimately the allure of streaming was that it was simple, just set up an easel, a camera, and go. Pretty quickly I came to understand that without connections or a lot of luck, It was going to be a slow grind. Which is fine! But as I wasn’t enjoying the process, and with the crushing nature of the pandemic, I knew it wouldn’t last.

Despite this pessimism, I keep finding myself drawn back into the world of streaming! I tried different setups, methods, and mediums. Creating unique playlists of documentaries to play while I worked on my Halls of Galleria project, playing different styles of music and approaching DJs so I could use their mixes, even recording my lava lamp to make the stream look funkier, and leaning super hard into the viewer interaction side of streaming. After all this I have become pretty comfortable on stream, and my opinions of internet content creation have become a lot less dogmatic.

My twitch stream is still up, and you can see some recent videos on the channel, unfortunately due to music copyright strikes a lot of videos aren’t available.

So this year in my class expanded field painting, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to revisit streaming. The class talked about what defines a painting, and the extent to which we can call something a painting. Initially the answer might seems simple, but there are grey areas, like if you send instructions on how to paint a mural to a gallery, and then someone else paints it on the wall. You could say the painting was made by whoever physically put the paint on the wall, but you could also claim that the idea of the painting is the painting, and the physical presentation is just a representation of the real painting (the instructions). This idea of where is the practice, especially as it pertains to digital representations has been at the center of my research this year, and really since the beginning of lockdown. Many of my works never leave my room, but digital representations of them leave my house and travel all over the world through digital recreations. So what is my practice? the physical artworks or the documentation?

I finished two paintings on stream this semester, both quite different.

This is the first, and I can only really describe it as a slump buster. A lot of what drove this painting was fighting the nerves of facing a blank canvas, of having to plan ahead, and other anxieties that inhibit a practice. The figure was sourced from a game I had been obsessively playing for the last month called Elden Ring, the game has a really nice lighting system, and allows you to create custom models. I thought this idea of using video games screenshots as image references tied into my themes of digital worlds and their effect on art, but also was a great way to bring my hobbies and interests into my art. I really enjoy the muddy yucky green and yellow of the computer, I really wat to revisit this composition but to give the figure more context.

The work was a more literal representation of some of the feelings that festered over lockdown. I found myself abusing gaming as a way to get through it, but this characterization was problematic. Something I worked on through lockdown was not demonizing my actions. As a recovered alcoholic, It’s easy for me to look at all leisure through the lens of an addict. I think over the course of lockdown I managed to create a better relationship with my downtime and my hobbies. I’m not sure if the image speaks to this externally, but this is what I think looking back on it.

The second work I completed was an homage to Botticelli.

This painting was the main focus for my work in this class, and was the starting point for a few derivations. But first I’ll talk about the actual painting.

Visually the work is inspired by a series I completed a few years ago called Reflektor, where I screen printed on rainbow reflective adhesive vinyl. Instead of working directly on the vinyl though, with this project I would work around it. To help the vinyl stick to the surface I decided to work on MDF, I thought this would be a flatter more stable surface to help the adhesive stay put. After plotting out the image in pencil, I used an annoying method of tracing on several pieces of paper to get the shape of the face and hands cut out of the vinyl, then with great care adhered the vinyl. In plotting out the work I left some room to deviate from the original, I didn’t want to add in the rondel of the source image, and instead wanted something that spoke to the digital / cosmic aesthetic that the vinyl brought to the image. I decided to use a great squids eye, though some have said it looks like a portable speaker? This was in an attempt to reference the loosely defined cosmic horror genre. I’ve listened to a lot of discourse around what defines work in this genre, and how to place it. Sometimes I think it gets boiled down to big monster scary, with Cthulhu being somewhat of a poster child for the genre, but this great video by HBomberguy helped me reimagine how I thought about it. Instead of something large and externally threatening a subject, I instead contextualize the themes as a familiar made unfamiliar. I want people to see the work and think “I know this, and I understand the components, but the whole is unfamiliar to me.”

Similar to Reflektor this work was heavily documented, both through Instagram and streaming on Twitch. I also tried several times to illicit interaction with an audience, going back to replacing the rondel, I actually asked people on Instagram to decide what goes there. While I didn’t use any of their suggestions, it was definitely fun, and was sure to acknowledge that i was going to go my own direction with it.

This time I also wanted to incorporate TikTok, mainly because it being a more popular app means more eyes, but the culture is also more cutting edge at the moment. The app and community it holds hasn’t had time to homogenize or stagnate like Instagram or Facebook have in recent years.

TikTok posted on YouTube in a WordPress post 🥴

This was the first time I had posted something like this, my goals with these TikToks, and what I had come to understand, is what the algorithm rewards are videos that are very immediate and real. I tried to put enough effort into the so they conveyed value, but to also not overthink the execution as there are extreme diminishing returns on effort invested. I wanted to be present with the work, but still alow the work to take the center stage. My approach was to visually only show the painting, but to have y voice present, even if what I’m saying was not important to the content of the painting. To allow the work to engage on it’s own level, and for me to engage on another level, separately but in unison.

That about wraps up the process of painting and documenting, but there’s another portion to this project, and it’s been a theme across my practice this year, and that’s iteration. Specifically through a website built to create HTML based artworks, and through the creation of QR code stickers.

This is the webpage that the QR codes lead too! or check it out below!

I wanted to work with recreating the piece in an online space. I achieved this through a use of transparency, animation, and images created by AI. The transparency and the animation are obvious I feel, to recreate the reflective vinyl. I wanted to achieve an effect that gave a similar feeling but with a low computing cost, I tried at all points to keep image resolution low to aid this. The last factor though, the AI images, was something that I felt could help bring through the ideas of familiar / unfamiliar. The speed at which AI are progressing is astounding, and in many ways are the real life manifestation of a cosmic horror. Something so familiar to us, but so different. We as humans can conjure images in our minds from any prompt, the more talented among us could even render these as images in the real world. But to see a machine do it in a matter of seconds is equal parts impressive and horrifying. The horror for me comes in the errors in computing when the AI tries to understand what a face is and how it works, as the way things are going some would have us put our lives in their hands, and I sure hope at that point the understand what I am.

A static screenshot, if you visit the page it has some slight animation!

That’s about all I have for this project!

If you’ve enjoyed this project you should find me at your local social media thingy!

Cheers,
Jake