Romanticism and Selfie culture

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A lot of writing has been done on how narcissistic selfie culture is and indeed it’s a valid interpretation. The notion that someone feels their life is of interest to others does display a degree of narcissism. My take on selfies and selfie culture is that in many ways it represents a twisted reimagining of Romanticism.

Romanticism is defined on Wikipedia as being

“…characterised by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical. It was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, the aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific rationalization of nature—all components of modernity.”


Of course, selfie culture is all about the glorification and individualism of the self. From the tired cliches of seeing people’s “amazing” meals to the corporate sponsored rich kids who advertise product through staged photos of them selves in glamour plus locations, selfies are all about the individual and a romantic notion of who they are.

Look at romantic self portraits and we can see that they are painted to fit a romantic ideal and not as a true depiction of the idiosyncratic nature of reality. This self portrait by Delacroix for example is straight out of modern selfie culture and we can see the same romanticism in this by Gustave Courbet and this by Caspar David Friedrich Image which could be posted as a selfie with little alteration.

So many selfies are created to show these idealised situations and romantic stories that we know don’t actually exist. In reality, life and humanity is much more grim.

My pieces show the dark underbelly and inner turmoil of the reality of the human condition. They are intended to act as a counterpoint and to explore the solipsism, narcissism, loneliness and isolation that is the real bedrock of selfie culture.

Take the romantic paintings of Caspar David Friedrich and imbue them with the horror and ennui of existence and you get Haunted Selfies.

The soft realism of the light and the sadness are redolent of the Dutch tradition. Formally they are very much in the Northern European tradition of portraits. Running from the Dutch masters through Bacon, they are neo gothic romantic horror stories. Reality not hyper reality.

They are digital paintings created using surface pro 4 and iPhone, hand painted into and then played with using any available relevant technique.

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