If you are new to this series all the images are based on recent photos of me after basically being fed through a neural network (which can change age, gender, etc.), then edited and painted using various programs. None of the people actually exist, and thus they are like self portraits from alternate universes.
This is the first one of these I’ve done this year, having moved on, and basically abandoned the project for the foreseeable future. Alas, one of my biggest strengths as an artist — which is also absolutely deadly in terms of marketing and success — is that I can’t (or don’t like to) stick to one thing for too long, and so I wanted a little break from my newer series.
Right now I’m at a point where I’m thinking about skipping around a bit and working on a mix of projects and series. I don’t like for my skills to attenuate, for example, at programs I’m not using.
I just remembered something I wanted to mention, which is quite natural to me but odd for the art world. I don’t imagine when I make something like this (or any of the images in this series) that somebody is going to want to buy it and hang it in their home. Sure, if some famous artist did it, well, people will put a can of artist’s shit by Piero Manzoni on the mantelpiece, but not a self-portrait as someone else by an unknown artist. Even so-called conceptual artists like Koons or Hirst very consciously make commodities to sell under their brand name.
My attitude towards art is that it isn’t first something to hang on a wall as a decoration, which puts the artist in the equivalent position of a musician composing music for the elevator. It isn’t a salable object, nor an exhibit or whatever to be paid for by an institution, and is crafted for that purpose. It’s visual communication, and has a subtle philosophical take or import (which is why it’s so weird that conceptual art subordinates its inquiry to the perceived market). These images are intended to make a visual impression and foster a contemplation of sorts about the phenomenon of an individual person: what is sustained and continuous between all these different representations… It’s not just about who the hell I am, it’s about who the hell anyone is (and lots of other stuff besides)…
On to this piece. In case you didn’t know, which you probably didn’t, you can’t use Faceapp to change races. At one time, before I ever new it existed, you briefly could. However, the good social justice warriors SHUT IT DOWN as racist. It’s a mixed blessing for me, I guess. I would have loved to have experimented with that option, but now there’s less competition if I make a non-white version of myself.
I don’t know why people automatically assumed it was racist to see how you’d look as another race, because it could easily go the other way, in which case you might be better able to imagine it. The female versions I’ve made of myself have made me more aware of women’s perspectives, because it’s easier for me to envision being in their proverbial shoes. I think the AI gave people results they didn’t like, but it does that quite a lot, which anyone would know if they’d messed around with it enough. Maybe it did give a higher proportion of unflattering results if you changed races. I wouldn’t know without trying it, and even then I’d have to experiment quite a lot. It gives me a lot of ugly white people, but, well, one has to consider the original photos, too. In this instance, with a little work (I re-feed images through the AI, tweek them in PS, and feed them through again…) I thought the result was good, though it’s not the same process.
“Oh boy. Jesus Christ. Look at that hair. What’s wrong with you?!” ~ My girlfriend just came in and I showed her this pair. I thought artists were supposed to have crazy hair. OK, it’s not a flattering picture, but, hey, take it easy will ya’…? Note: it’s really hard to get a decent haircut in Thailand, unless you like looking like Slingblade.
This one is pretty much a digital pastel painting, and I didn’t paint over the AI-produced image (I don’t think that would work well for me anyway). I start off just blocking in the color and general shapes, then move to the more particulars, which I have to invent when it gets down to the finer details.
The app creates postage-stamp-sized images for sharing on social media, presumably on tiny smart phone screens, so the quality when you zoom in is utter crap. One has to recreate it to have any fidelity, or anything that can be printed.
You an see, above, that when zoomed in, the AI version is blurry and looks like garbage. Uuuuh, I do have my critics who like to chant about this series that, “the machine did it”. Nope. It’s like it says in the opening descriptive paragraph: it’s a collaboration with AI.
Here’s the image AI created (after a lot of tweaking), and my final piece:
Oh yeah, don’t think I just fed that crazy-haired pic of me through and got the guy above. Nope, here’s what I got (and the tiny size I got it in):
I made this preliminary set about a year ago. There are lots and lots more potential images I can work with. Then, a couple weeks ago I was looking through them and saw the guy above, and thought, “Hmmm, I think there’s something there, but it won’t work as is.” In fact, I don’t even remember the sequence of things I tried until I got the more usable image.
The final result isn’t perfect — I’m not a portrait artist (or wasn’t until recently) — but none of them are, and it leaves room for improvement. I can always go back and touch them up later, though I’m not sure how inclined I am to do that.
Here’s are a couple details:
A note on the wrinkles. OK, here’s a little secret of my technique. The AI didn’t produce any wrinkles, but they were in the original photo. So, I used the original photo to replicate the wrinkles, but with a different color palette.
I suppose I should comment on race, since, well, like I said in the beginning, Faceapp isn’t allowed to have a feature where you can change race. If the people who declared it automatically racist were to find out I tweaked out the pared down version [I found a glitch that happens to work for my particular visage, once in a blue moon] to do the same thing, they might wanna’ shut me down as a racist. Not that it would be worth anyone’s effort. [And even if the AI is considered somehow racist, I may have filtered that out.]
Lots of people like to say that all art is political. This isn’t intended as such, though anyone who sees everything through a political lens, or serving a political agenda, will see it as very political. I don’t make art within a ideological bubble. It’s about art, the visual experience, and things you can’t pin down or regurgitate in linguistic structure.
Back to the hot topic of race. I’ll just say that I think it’s ass-backwards to define a person by his or her body rather than by the mind, which is shapeless, colorless, gender-less, and which can’t be found by science. To judge a person by the body is as stupid as to judge the poker player by the hand dealt to him or her. It’s the player you’re after, not the game piece. And so, race is a set of circumstances among many other powerful ones (including the century one is born in) that a mind can find itself in.
Well, the two extremes of defining a person are by the unconscious physical body, or by the immaterial conscious mind. The reality is going to be in-between, though I think leaning much closer to the latter. So, to sum up, race is much less important than the color of your mind.
Here’s another curious thing. I shared this guy on Instagram, and only the people who already know who I am and/or know this series will know this is a self-portrait which this time is another race. Everyone else is just going to think it’s a black or mixed race man, and be none the wiser.
I would disabuse them of that misconception, except I didn’t want to use some click-bait title, like “Selfie Black”, and I didn’t want to explain a visual image. They can put the pieces together later.
But I wonder what if anything they think. Who is this man. What’s his job? Is he married? Does he have children? He looks a bit pensive, so what is he thinking about? What are his politics? Well, those are the sorts of things I wonder about, though perhaps more generally I wonder, “How is he?”
I intend this guy to be a part of a diptych with #32, but we’ll have to see if I can pull off #32, as there are a lot of complications, and I need to combine multiple images. I’m not sharing my whole process, which varies from piece to piece, but it can be damned convoluted. This one was a test of my figure drawing skills, and I’ve been working on them separately.
Stay tuned for #32, which should compliment this one nicely, and might be done within a couple weeks (I hope).
As always, please excuse my typos and such, as I have no editor, and my vision kinda’ sucks.
Here’s the whole series so far in a slide-show.
Or you can see them in a thumbnail gallery. Just click anywhere inside to go into the screen-show mode.
And if you like the (experimental) sort of art that I do, and you don’t want me to have to quit or put it on a back-burner, please consider chipping in so I can keep working until I drop. Through Patreon, you can give $1 (or more) per month to help keep me going (y’know, so I don’t have to put art back on the back-burner while I slog away at a full-time job). Ah, if only I could amass a few hundred dollars per month this way, I could focus entirely on my art and writing. See how it works here.
Or go directly to my account.
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