SFAU #9: Digital Painting, 22×26″ @300 dpi. 3/11/018.

The latest one surprised even me. when I conceived this series I didn’t imagine this image would crop up. I find that this image seems very familiar, and not just because it looks really a lot like me in an old lady who is very upset. I feel like I’ve seen it before, but can’t figure out where. But it isn’t derivative of anything. It’s the result of a somewhat convoluted process (OK, very convoluted).

I like to say, “the proof is in the painting”, to mean that everything you need to know about a painting is right in front of your eyes. For me, an image has intrinsic worth, and I don’t care who made it, how much is sold for, or what the art world thinks of it. I’m my own judge and connoisseur.  That said, I do find people like my art a lot more if I explain it to them. So, let me do that with this one a bit.

First, some might think the app I’m using — FaceApp — does all the work. Uh, no. This is easier to show than explain. Below you will see what the App created (after I F’d around with it a lot, and fed the image through it a few times), and then the final result.

The first thing you might notice is that I put the ear back in. And look how I improved the hair. I do that in the Photoshop phase. Incidentally, hair is the hardest part for me and I’ve struggled with it on each image, but I’m getting better at it. I have a few tricks up my sleeve at this point. The one on the left is hideous, while my final version is still scary but not necessarily out of a horror movie.

By the way there are a lot of people with a lot better PhotoShop skills than I have. It’s their day job. There are also better portrait painters. It’s my blend that’s wicked. There’s also a strong conceptual element here, and links to the history of portraiture and self-portraiture in Western art. And of course it relates to stuff like Cindy Sherman’s self-portraits. It’s a whole can of worms.

And then I want you to appreciate that the image the App creates using it’s neural network is extremely degraded, even if you start off with a high quality photo. Below I show one of the eyes zoomed in. The left is what the app created, and the right is my version.

Now you can see why it’s essential to do a digital painting. Otherwise you only have a funny image to share on social media, but you can’t print it out large scale at magazine cover resolution. I’ve developed my digital painting technique over many years. My method isn’t far from what other digital painters might do, but I developed it on my own through experimentation. I don’t use some “oil paint” filter. I craft it very carefully and every stroke matters.

Here’s the other eye:

And there are some people who refuse to acknowledge that digital painting is painting. I have a painting background and don’t make that distinction. For me it’s all about the image. I don’t care how it’s made. I don’t conceive of art as a thing on the wall that you look at, but a vision. I’m only interested in the manifestation of visual imagination. The idea that art is a “thing” is kinda’ dumb when you think about music. You can’t hold it. Once it makes it into your mind it’s immaterial. In any case these can be printed out at hi rez.

Also, if I were to paint these with physical paints, uuuuh, I’d still be on #1. F that!

Here’s the whole series so far, and then I’ll share a few ideas about the content.

The technology really allows for a miracle. I don’t think an artist has ever been able to depict his or herself seemingly accurately across decades, and even genders, and as multiple people. I had to snap this up!  Sure, Rembrandt painted himself a bunch of different ages as he grew older. Yes. I’m not trying to compete with Rembrandt. He painted himself. Here, I can paint me as other people, in which case my identity is the invisible link between them. In any case, even if a great artist like Rembrandt painted himself not as he really was, it was a pain in the ass to do it. You couldn’t knock them out like I am.

This kind of technology can be intimidating, and there’s a desire to dismiss it out of hand. That was my fist reaction when I was introduced to PhotoShop as an undergraduate. I’d already learned to draw and paint, and now, quite obviously to me, there was something new and  threatening. I didn’t want to learn to use the program, to have to start over.

When confronted with a brilliant new technology (ex., phenomenal digital sculpture software like Zbrush or Blender) I can either disparage people who use it, and stick to my guns, or can I can adapt and use it myself. And then once you start to use this or that program or app, well, it quickly become a new game that you have to master.

Something about the content here. What attracted me to produce this series is that the images the neural network creates are uncanny. There’s something creepy and fascinating about seeing oneself as another person in another life. For example, I now have a pretty damned good idea what I’ll look like when I get old (if I make it that far), or if I were a girl.

The people seem real, and yet none of them exist. And yet, the 9 portraits so far somehow convey more of my essence (so to speak) than if I used 9 pictures that look just like me. Another curious thing is how not just my general facial configuration is carried into these new people, so is my expression.

To put it about as simply as possible, it’s not about just seeing all the different ways I can make myself look (like collecting trophies). I might pretend it’s that shallow because I think there’s a lot more sticky, and even scary stuff in there. I mean, this old woman is kinda’ scary, and the next one is even more scary for me. There’s thinking about aging and death and all that. There’s psychological and unconscious stuff kicking around in there. Uuuuuh, I think it’s a bit deeper than it might seem at first. It’s a collaboration with AI, which is a sort of alien intelligence. That alone is weird, and I think it comes through. And the females make me feel vulnerable. I was least comfortable sharing those. I’m fine with the ugly old me.

I think they each capture a bit of my spirit, and when I’m working on them and when I look at them it’s as if it’s me looking out through their eyes. It’s hard not to empathize with them. But more than that, it’s hard to distance myself from them.

I’m also interested in what’s going on with color, coming up with strategies for new varieties, and how they look together. Oddly, they have something in common with Monet’s haystacks. But as I said in the beginning, I’d hope the images convey the substance.

Now, it doesn’t matter if anyone gives a hoot about who I am or not. While the series certainly raises the question of who the hell I am, it asks who anyone is. It also answers it (shhhhhhh).

That’s enough for now.

~ Until next time (and I’ve got another unusual come coming up next!)

5 replies on “New Art: Selfies From Alternate Universes #9

  1. It’s great though. It has drama and tension. Maybe something got to this mean woman and she’s getting all defensive, revealing her vulnerability in the process. I like the cropping too, it forces us to deal with her expression and not search for a scapegoat in the background.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I’m glad someone sees the drama. This one’s my favorite so far, partly just because I somehow managed to pull it off with more obvious skill than the others. But it’s also the first, uh, unattractive female (the other older lady is kinda’ cute in her way).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think it’s my favorite too! There’s something completely unexpected about an unattractive woman, like you put it. That’s why they always give an Oscar to any actress who spoils her appearance and shows her ugly side.

        Liked by 1 person

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