If you haven’t see the first three, here’s a gallery with all four:
If you read my last post, you have a good idea what this series is about. I got some really good comments on it, too, here and on Patreon. I was heartened to discover that people got it on their own, and on a deeper level where they could interpret aesthetic communication and accurately articulate it in linguistic language.
This image is perhaps not as beautiful as the last, but that might have a tad to do with my choice of Mark Zuckerberg as the subject. And if you are wondering, “Why Zuckerberg”, keep in mind that he is the man behind “meta”, as in “metaverse”.
If anyone wants to take a crack at grokking the image before I start unraveling it, just have a look and see what percolates for you.
You can click on the image to see it sized for your browser.
You already know that this is Mark Zuckerberg before the US Congress, and comes from when they were grilling him about Facebook selling people’s private information to companies, etc. I used several screenshots from video footage on the proceedings. That footage is intriguing because of his body language and expressions, which people have compared to a cyborg, an alien, or Data from Star Trek. His choice of hair style — Spock circa 1966, but with bangs as severely short as Yolandi from Die Antwoord – and rigidly upright posture are probably the reason for most such associations. And I may have had some fun painting the hair like it was frosting on an ice-cream cake. There is the eerie and undeniable effect that he looks as if he’s impersonating being human, but not fooling anyone.
There’s two sides to his performance before Congress. Yes, he might appear haughty, defiant, arrogant, rigid, and overconfident. But on the other hand, he’s just one guy taking on a room full of politicians who are hostile to him. One of the most powerful tech giants alive, he was also the underdog in that particular crucible. And so we have a delicious ambivalence for me to work with.
Above, Mark looking uncomfortable as he surveys his opponents. At some points his eyes became a bit pink and watery as pressure mounted and he was on the defensive. I tried to capture a bit of that fight-or-flight tension in his right eye.
His left eye is blurred horizontally, as if peering in a different dimension. The striations, and the blue lines over the orange give an impression of some otherworldly substance, somewhere between plastic, tape, and cellophane. It’s one of my favorite effects I’ve only started using in this series, and which I discovered accidentally while trying to do something else.
Something similar happens to much of the second head that’s floating off, peacefully, his visible eye closed as if he’s dreaming.
Here there’s an additional effect like the mirrored surface of water, which aids in the sensation of floating away. One could say that these kinds of effects are mere decoration, but in the field of aesthetics, decoration has its own substance. Let’s just say I’m a junkie for painterly effects. And since my haters (I have some, especially on reddit and Twitter] won’t have read this far without feeling like they’d suffered some sort of defeat, allow me the immodesty to observe that nobody has investigated recreating physical paint digitally as much as I have. One might think I get some iota of credit for that distinction, but unless ignoring me is the reward, only a handful of people care about it.
Above, I like some of the details more than the whole painting for sheer beauty. The dreamy head represents a reprieve from the stress, perhaps in the future when the ordeal is over. It’s a bit of blissing out, and the juxtaposition plays with identity within shifting time, or at different layers of awareness.
You can’t miss the painterly swatch in the middle that connects the heads. This level of excess painterly bravado is directly related to Francis Bacon’s wild brushwork, and otherwise places this image on a continuum with avant-garde modernist painting. Other than that, visually it can be seen as a physical manifestation of the action of the mind conjuring one’s self image.
As a whole the painting is about the underlying fragility, vulnerability, and universal humanity that underlies all of our slick avatars and the mask of our online and virtual incarnations. Here, even the father of meta himself is only mortal, and all too human.
Let’s go back to the first in the series, because I want to highlight a certain quality they all share:
This could be the view of the man from the camera of his laptop or smart phone. He seems a bit like he just F’d up, got called out on something, got owned, made an ass out of himself, or for whatever reason his online, virtual manifestation just got shattered. There’s that sudden shock and loss of breath. This is most evident in his right eye. But as whatever lie crumbled, that’s when he is no longer the perfect authority on fishing, demolition derbies, or whatever he was posing as: the real human is visible.
You can see this in all the portraits. Some sort of distress has cracked them out of the shell of their artifice. While they were trying to belong or be accepted, they were revealed as misfits, which everyone inevitably is. There’s the online persona of how people want to be seen; then there’s the corporeal body with all it’s emotions, addictions, hormones and adrenaline; then there’s the mind, memory, beliefs, and a whole mental construct of the world; and then there’s a deeper cognizance that is just the inescapable awareness of being. Here, I’m trying to portray subjects on those various levels simultaneously, like a peeled orange, with peel, and seeds, and juices. I hope it also comes through that I want them to be compassionate subjects.
Perhaps it was easier to feel for the woman in my last offering:
And here’s my second misfit for your review:
In these first 3 I used people I created with AI. They don’t exist. But I used the AI to make people that seemed to have an interior life, and some sort of fabric of authenticity about them. And they are really left out of the metaverse, for whatever reason, but continue to exist. In the end, however, even the billionaires running the show are the “man behind the curtain”. We all get peeled away eventually: face the trauma of disembodiment.
Above, I see the humanity in his right-most eye.
In the Zuckerberg piece, I think it’s the dreamy head that evokes compassion, though I can easily sympathize with the Zuckerberg on trial. For the record, I’m not really for or against the man, Facebook, meta, etc. Social media has it’s positive and negative aspects. And I’m old enough that I can see myself in him, and in the members of Congress grilling him.
I’m planning at least 2 more of these for the NFT platform. I promised to make six, and so will honor that. I am thinking of extending it to eight, because I want to do some experiments in this same arena. After that I have other projects I’m looking forward to.
You may wonder how the NFT community is reacting to this series of portraits. I can sum it up with the word “crickets”. I could say more, but at this point I’m conducting a private social experiment for my own amusement/edification, which I can’t really discuss publicly.
But on the off chance you have some Tezos — that’s the crypto that is NOT bad on the environment, using rock bottom gas prices (minting this cost me 1 cent worth of gas compared over a hundred to mint on Etherium], you can pick up NFTs of any of the digital paintings in this series here: https://objkt.com/collection/KT1DB4BUnPbV6ZG8bTfKrKeA3cY629nbMAUL
Stay tuned for the next installments.
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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