Misfits of the Metaverse #3, by Eric Wayne, 1/2022.
Even I am struck by the beauty of this image when I see it fresh. The night I finished it I couldn’t go to sleep because I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. Well, of course I make art that appeals to me, and this is saying no more than a chef saying, “I couldn’t stop eating my own pizza”. It’s not so much immodest to mention it, as it is false modesty to pretend otherwise.
There are just weird things happening in this digital painting that are a delight if you are a connoisseur of modernist/contemporary, figurative, painterly paintings. Often I am more comfortable saying what is good about other people’s art, and promoting it, but merely putting mine out unprefaced for the world to judge on its own merits. However, when I do explain things, people often come to appreciate the work much better, even my own. So, I will draw attention to why I find this image so delectable.
First you need to know that it’s 100% a digital painting, and now that we are in the post NFT arrival, this is no longer a disqualifier of art that can be looked at seriously. Part of its appeal is that all the traditional sorts of painterly flourishes have been achieved digitally, and these are my own techniques. In fact, I used 4 different programs and my custom procedures and tweaking for each.
It’s in the details.
One of my favorite parts of this image is the shadow under the nose(s). Why? Not only does it link two connected noses seamlessly, it is an appealing rhythmic shape. But beyond that it is exaggerated into more or less one impasto swatch.
That effect is not at all easy to do digitally. It took a lot of experimentation, and some practice. The effect is that it is simultaneously opaque and reads as material, while it is also the ephemera of an immaterial shadow. It was very deliberate, so that the shadow is more material than the nose.
And then do notice the Impressionist brushwork on the nose. Each stroke is done individually, and to the degree it succeeds at evoking the brushwork of Manet or Gustave Caillebotte, it’s because of how much I’ve savored their application of paint and practiced recreating it digitally.
You can’t miss the paint on the surface of the image in the upper right.
This is a modernist device of acknowledging the picture plane. The “painting” is not only a window into an imaginary universe, but is also a flat painting and record of the artist’s process. This seeming physical paint is not a part of the perspective of the image, but sits on top. It is abstract, or non-representational, while also being an exercise in the pure love of smearing around viscous paint that is permanently not yet dry. And yet it meshes with the image overall because it works in terms of the composition, rhythm, and color scheme. The background is swept horizontally as with a squeegee, which gives it motion, like looking unfocused at a landscape out a train window. This sense of motion and distance makes the painterly arabesque float on the surface. Man, those digital oils are buttery!
There’s a relation between the woman and the pile of painterly brushwork.
She is looking at it, and a horizontal band of raised paint physically connects her eye to it while also creating a line indicating attention. I’ve used this kind of device in earlier works, when the abstracted painting can be a thought bubble. The blob of paint can be her own thoughts — a representation of her mind — or else some other intruding force. I do like healthy dollops of ambiguity.
You can even see this is much earlier digital art of mine.:
In the biomorphic abstraction above, the intertwining of intestine-like curving shapes represented a manifestation of sentience.
Part of her head dissolves into the background, becomes immaterial, and ghostly. The upper eyelashes remain, suggesting her glance, and the specific tension of her lid.
The line of white glistening fluid on the inner ledge of her bottom eyelid where it connects to the rounded surface of the eye is a little technique I learned from studying how to make realistic eyes. It’s a tightrope act, but I think I pulled it off here.
The long scar across her forehead indicates some invasive surgery on her brain, from which she may or may not have recovered. Right, the incision wouldn’t be on the forehead unless she’d been in some accident, but it is suggestive rather than literal. The references are not strictly medical, but more reminiscent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or this H.R. Giger cover for Brain Salad Surgery by Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
I painted her hair with wide knife strokes, rather than tediously trying to do hundreds of thousands of strands of individual hairs.
This whole digital impasto painting enterprise is not easy to pull off convincingly, and I am not aware of anyone who does it even in the same ball-park as I do.
I carefully painted the lips early on, below:
But later scraped them:
This was really just a process of experimenting with various techniques, and I liked this effect visually and in terms of feeling. It is also a bit to undermine the pouty lips everyone is giving their female figures.
And, you probably noticed her tears:
I painted those from scratch, but they originated in the source image I used, which was an AI generated head I created using the online program Artbreeder. Below you can see the head I used as inspiration, and my final result.
I was surprised that the AI gave the woman tears, and I used a process like “selective breeding” to get the AI to accentuate them. But while the tears were effective perhaps on an emotive level, close up they looked more like wet hair:
I used the concept and general form, but recreated the tears entirely, drawing and then painting them.
And here we get to one of the inspirations for this whole series, which was using AI not to make beautiful, stylish, but vacuous individuals, but rather ones that seemed more human, with an interiority, some history, and someone I might care about: a misfit rather than an idealized avatar.
If you go to artbreeder’s homepage you can see the types of faces most people use the program to generate:
If you’ve followed this series so far, you will remember my first two male characters:
My people are oddballs who are not idealized masks that hide the real person, but rather are individuals captured in an instant when their facade is down. They are vulnerable, fallible, and all around too human. They seem caught off guard, or as if they suddenly saw themelves in a mirror and were surprised to recognize their own faces only after an instant. The physical abnormalities and distortions serve to reveal the inner being. Their appearance isn’t so much how other people would see them as physical animals solidly occupying space, but rather as they might appear in their own minds if a photo could be taken of their fluctuating and imperfect self image. In this sense it is an inner or inverted portrait.
They are “Misfits of the Metaverse” because of the contrast between an idealized avatar of themselves they’d share online in a virtual community, and the imperfect but so much more rich and fascinating being behind the scenes: a person who is both more psychically embodied and more immaterial than his/her electronic representation in virtual social environments.
In this series I sought to make portraiture for the digital age. There is one foot in the long tradition of fine art portrait painting, and the other uses some of the latest digital art programs and modes of representation. There are painterly aspects going back as far as Titian, combined with painterly techniques that arose with pictorial innovations by Picasso, Francis Bacon and Gerhardt Richter…, as well as my own additions that are only possible using digital software.
Below are examples of portraits by Francis Bacon that have long influenced me.
And here are a couple works by Gerhard Richter combining photos and painting that I have also been inspired by:
I took from Picasso painting a face at more than one angle at a time, though I connected my heads at different angles in a way so that they appear deformed, as opposed to merely depicted from alternate angles. Both the first and third individuals have three nostrils.
There is a resulting odd effect whereby the figures are both still and moving, which gives the impression of the struggle to hold for oneself a single concept or representation of selfhood. This makes the images disquieting, and the subjects impossible to fix, or pin down. However, on the level of images made of digital paint, they loosely follow laws, written or not, of what works aesthetically, which allows them to be physically beautiful as art, but perhaps ugly in literal physiognomy.
There are other things I could analyze about this image: the bolt of energetic paint on the left of her neck, or the leaking light from the negative space of the left tuft of hair below her ear… But let’s not dissect it entirely.
Some people thought the first two images were self-portraits, and that the third was a female version of me. That is entirely understandable because I did an entire series of 36 images of people all based on me, but in which I never appear in an actual photo-based image of myself [see Selfies From Alternate Universes]. But there is something Francis Bacon said which stuck with me because I found it to be entirely true. “All paintings” he argued, “are self portraits”. His reasoning is that paintings are the way artists chooses to present themselves to the world. In that sense these portraits, which are inside-out to begin with, are a visual manifestation of some of my internal apperception of reality.
Lastly, I created these largely for the NFT community. It is digital art honed for a space [at least partly, or ostensibly] dedicated to the evolution of digital art, and addresses the human condition in relation to virtual reality. I neglected to mention that the figures so far appear almost as if from the perspective of their computer cameras.
The analog art world has mostly engaged the NFT art sphere in terms of money-making auctions, but I am not aware of NFT art itself considered legitimate by the brick and mortar art world. They may not take memes, fantasy illustrations, agitated animated gifs, and other of the most expensive NFTs seriously as high art, even if they will put a crumpled piece of paper on a pedestal in a museum. I think they will have a harder time dismissing this series because of how it builds on the history and evolution of modern and contemporary art, even if it is completely digital and was released in the NFT sphere.
That said, so far the response from the NFT community has been to shut me out. Nobody has bought an edition of this piece, and only a few were sold of the first two, both bought by fellow artists who I already knew, one years before NFTs arrived. I’ve been selling these at a very reasonable price of between about $20-30 in editions of roughly 12.
But, uh, just between you and me, if your work is original, it’s going to take the general population a little more time or help to digest it, and it’s been established that collectors overwhelmingly buy whatever looks like whatever has sold already. If you start out trying to not look anything like any of that — for me there’s no reason to do something that’s already been done — than you are shooting yourself in both feet for the short term. In that sense, not selling CAN be a sign of succeeding at making quality, original art.
A friend once said that my art was “jarring”. I thought that was a huge compliment, even if it wasn’t meant as such. There is art that is a veil upon reality, and art that unveils it. When you see reality in a new light, or more clearly, there’s a bit of a jolt. Another friend confessed that he didn’t want to hear any new music. Much art bolsters the fortress of the familiar, and is instantly popular. And some people are not so interested really in something that’s new or different. But I’m motivated by curiosity, and when it comes to art I’m an explorer. I’m always on the prowl for something new, but it’s hard to find, and as a result I’m driven to go off exploring on my own. And if I don’t make my art, nothing else quite like it is going to exist.
To put my sale prices in the proper perspective, here’s a tweet I saw this morning.
The point is that someone is willing to spend $1.16 million on a Bored Ape which was produced by a program, and is one of 10,000 variations on the theme, in which case me asking $30 for an original work of contemporary fine art in the digital sphere is very, very reasonable. You might even say the comparison with the Bored Ape is insulting. Best not to compare one’s sales to the unfathomable amounts that some NFTs have gone for.
I’m planning 6 images for this series, because I am promising a series, whether collectors are real or only hypothetical. That’s part of what I’m selling, and it gives each piece more monetary value. I might do a couple more just for good measure, as a bonus, but beyond that may not stick to this particular venue, or at least these prices, where I don’t stand to make much money even if I sell out. For this project, it’s 6 images on the Objkt platform, in editions of about 12 (I mint an extra for myself, and have sent one as a gift).
You can see the series in the marketplace here, and if you have Tezos crypto, you can even pick up one: Misfits of the Metaverse.
I have plans for other works that I’m excited about, though I am also invested in this series for as long as it lasts.
And if you like my art or criticism, 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 on the back-burner while I slog away at a full-time job). See how it works here.
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