This series was developed last term in response to the brief on memes. I felt that my original thinking on memes was too transient. Picking any sort of pop-culture or current news item just ensures that the idea will be stale in a few weeks’ time, once the interest in that thing has passed. I decided to refocus my efforts into doing something that had a little more staying power and punch.
I was already working with universal archetypes for another project. I came up with the idea of taking archetypes as they were depicted in Renaissance art, and updating them for the modern day. I already really enjoy doing style parodies of artists, so this gave me the chance to do even more of them. They’re just too much fun. The downside was that this project took a ton of time to complete. (As I said to a friend: who would have thought painting like Michelangelo would take more than two days!?) I ended up spending the better part of a month on these three digital paintings, along with three other final projects. This series was the second of three pieces comprising my end of the term Research into Practice portfolio.
The System Admin
In classical Greek mythology, the Delphic Sibyl was an oracle and keeper of arcane knowledge. The image below is the Sibyl as depicted by Michelangelo in the Sisteen Chapel. She is shown in a seat of authority with a scroll depicting her knowledge.
The modern day version of the sybil would naturally be the system administrator. In the same way she controlled access to knowledge, so too does he control access to the internet, using the arcane knowledge of the workings of computers, with his power represented in his laptop.
The Cable Installer
The Milkmaid by Vermeer depicts a young, well built woman pouring milk from a pot into a Dutch oven. At the time this painting was completed, milkmaids were already symbols of love and sex—most crassly, of lust. Some artwork from this time period depicts this more overtly, but The Milkmaid is more subtle in its insinuation. Nevertheless, the interpretation would not have been lost on contemporary viewers of Vermeer’s work.
The contemporary version of Vermeer’s Milkmaid then, would not be the housemaid who comes directly into your house with temptations of lust, but rather the workman who installs one’s internet cable—which in turn allows an infinite number of women into one’s house via the internet. The cable installer brings the same sort of temptation into the home toady as the milkmaid was thought to have done in 1658.
Christ and the Cellphone
In the gospels, the Bible describes the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The image here, Christ and the Good Thief, painted by Titian c. 1566, depicts Christ in that moment as he loses his life-long connection with God. (The version below is cropped to just show Christ. The original painting has him side by side with the good thief, described in the Bible as having asked for forgiveness shortly before he dies.) In this moment, the Bible describes how a darkness fell over the land. Jesus is quoted as saying, “… My god, why have you foresaken me?” This is the point at which Christ, having taken on the sins of the world in sacrificing himself, is unable to remain in the presence of the Lord. God turns his face from Christ, leaving him in a literal and metaphorical darkness—indeed, the first time in his life that Christ has lived (if only briefly) without this connection.
In a way, this can be seen similarly to living in our modern day society and losing one’s cell phone signal. For those who’ve grown up with ubiquitous access to information and people via the cell network and internet, the loss of this connectivity can be felt in a quite salient way. When it comes to day to day affairs and the coordination of efforts with others, without a cell phone signal, we feel effectively cut off from the world. A loss of cell phone signal is, in a concrete way, the modern day equivalent of Christ’s metaphorical loss of connection with God.
The actual paintings were painted digitally. This has several advantages: it’s far cheaper, less messy, faster (no waiting for paint to dry), and easier to fix mistakes. The downside to digital work is that it can look particularly digital. It can be clean and “computery”, which doesn’t exactly lend itself well to mimicking, for example, Renaissance paintings. Fortunately I’ve had a lot of practice over the years with “dirtying up” digital work, and I have quite a number of tricks I use to make things look more traditional. Copying the traditional aspect on the computer is half the fun. To complete the look, I had them printed with a high-quality six color archival roll printer on canvas paper. The piece de resistance was placing them in frames. Over the course of several weeks, I went searching through a few antique shops, and manage to secure three gilded frames. (And for not too much money! About £30 altogether, or about $45. But totally worth it, in my opinion.) So I submitted the whole package that way: three canvas printed digital paintings in three gilded frames. They were a big hit.