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This work is harrowing and traumatic and rips apart selfie culture while providing a respite from PTSD.
A viewer at the gallery pulled me aside and said, “That painting there, that white one, is how I felt when my son died.”
This work is Expressionist, I call it Computational Expressionism. I chose to make the work in the style of Expressionism and other Northern European portraiture as it has an advanced language of expression ready and available to use, to express angst and existential terror. Stylistically the work runs from 17th century Dutch to Francis Bacon and into the twenty first century.
My antiselfies deal directly with my PTSD, Isolation and death. I suffered horrendously in 2018, being critically ill and worse, four heart ops, following the insertion of a device that failed and a near fatal heart infection, culminating in me watching myself slip away, on the monitor, as everything stopped during the surgery (and no, there’s nothing there; that’s the most asked question, second is, yes it’s peaceful as the brain deals with it). They inserted a device, I recovered and was home and out and about pretty much the next day. It’s done with you awake and takes twenty minutes. As its not GA, you can go home the same day. Then a couple of months later I heard an alarm and it was the device making it; it failed again resulting me being in hospital again with tubes in my neck and experiencing near death on that bed. They discovered the original insertion had gone wrong and the device had sent my heart into a massive random pattern of beats. They decided to reseat the device. yet again I was up and home the same day feeling fantastic but a couple of months later I felt extremely sick again. This time they kept me in for a few weeks until they discovered I had contracted a near fatal heart infection from the reseating. so they removed the device and I went home but on the world’s two strongest antibiotics until the infection had died down. 8 weeks later I was called back into have a new clean device put in. This time it would be on the other side, which made it harder and a longer op. It was during this op that after 2 hours I saw myself sip away on a monitor. Obviously I’m back and I was yet again home the same day but living with having watched oneself go is much harder than the slipping away itself. It was that realization that created the PTSD and it was for treatment of that PTSD that i started my antiselfies.
Then, just as i started recovery, along came Covid where I was immediately terrified due to being highly vulnerable. and during covid came the death of a close family member. I was the only matching donor for marrow but because of my conditions was not allowed to donate. She died.
…and so the project extended.
For some reason still unknown to me, over that period of months and during the time after, close friends and family declined to even speak to me. I had a few single line messages via social media, some months later; no phone calls, no support. I did get an email telling me to “snap out of it” so I know people knew I was struggling, but nothing empathetic. I recall messaging people suggesting a coffee and catch up but nothing. A few even used the old “oh my diary is full” and “I’ll get my assistant to set something up” or single line social media messages. This was me just trying to talk to people and feel human again, but when I needed human contact, I got almost none from the people I had expected to respond. This piled on top of the PTSD, physical recovery and physical trauma of so many ops and collapses really pushed me to the edge again.
I did get support from a number of people I hadn’t expected to get some from (I’m truly grateful) but the disappearance of people I had trusted hit hard. I was admittedly not in the best of moods but even so no-one even contacted my wife. I had 12 and 14 year old kids to keep going so the pressure to look normal was massive but no help was extant or offered.
Sitting in hospital, I realised I had to deal with the hammer blow of mortality and potential real depression and very real PTSD. Isolation and trauma are potentially killers in their own rights and I was suffering from both. I remember being laid in a hospital bed and realizing it would forever define me if I let it get on top of me and so instead of getting depressed, I realised I had to exploit the actual luck of being brought back and so I attempted to channel the trauma and shock into my work. Every time I felt it build, I started more work. I was discussing this, later, with an RE teacher at the kids’ school who feels it’s an amazing thing to have done and a great example. I find it difficult to read it that way. It does show resilience though.
Corrosive selfie culture
These anti-selfies show only the worst of my internal emotional state, as opposed to normal selfies that people curate to show how cool they are in that horrible narcissistic way. Sometimes these were created or started in the cold desperate hours of night and sometimes at the moments when my situation hit me full on. Sitting there getting no contact and seeing other people’s fabulous lives ( as presented by them) I began to realise just how corrosive and damaging selfie culture is. I decided to produce work that coruscated that.
Sitting there alone, knowing the trauma would trigger severe mental problems, using the materials I had at hand, a SurfacePro, a phone and a pencil (no messy media in hospital), I started to create anti-selfies tad a receptacle for the after effects of trauma.
The works are produced from pencil sketches or selfie photos, I run them then through some code to glitch the pixels, then I digitally paint into them on the PC using natural media synthesis and then I filter them as selfies are. Once that is done, I produce a unique print onto canvas and frame it in a distressed frame, creating perfect simulacra of a cry from the Id monster.
Framed with ersatz fake distressed rococo frames, including fake woodworm holes. They were then hung in a gallery to complete the creation of the Baudrillardian simulacra. They had to be false/simulacra so that they equalled the falseness of selfie culture which they are eviscerating.
I also talked about them at the RSA.
Simulacra and computers
Simulacra as defined by Baudrillard are one of the key outputs of modern digital art culture. The ability to “create copies that have no original” is a key function of systems such as AI artists and an obvious output of software driven push button art. By using the language of Expressionism and the language of computing (coding and software) combined with the technology of the Selfie, I was both able to communicate my trauma, therefore excorcising it, and create perfect digital simulacra, even down to fake woodworm holes in the fake distressed “vintage” frames.
Spirituality and computer/digital art
The use of contemporary technology to make art that is firmly rooted in its own critical and historical context has enabled me to produce something that is rare, spiritual computer art. Computer art that can move people emotionally. Not just delight or surprise them with cleverness (vis AI) but actually make them cry and feel, that is emergent from the characteristics of the medium (truth) and some people do cry that when they see them for real. After all, what is the point of art of it doesn’t address what makes us human, not bio machines?
Lessons learned and rules to live by, post calamity
Through this experience I have learned a few things and a few rules to live life by.
- Dont stress and don’t do anything that you don’t want to do.
- Do remember the healing power of art, it can be remarkable.
All work is for sale by contacting me. These works are canvases, usually 30 x 40 cm in size, on canvas and I’ll frame them.
Prints are A2 and are mailed direct you for £30. Fill in the form on my shop page.