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Why You Should Not Buy This Painting (So That Michael Connor Can)

Austin Lee, Profile Picture (2013). 11" x 14" Acrylic on canvas.

Postmasters Gallery is now showing a solo exhibition of work by Austin Lee, a young painter whose work you should really not purchase. If his prices remain flat for long enough, it's possible that in the future, when all my babysitting bills are paid, I might stumble across it in the Postmasters sub-basement and offer whatever I happen to have in my wallet. Recent history shows us that the artworks that I have come to own do not significantly appreciate in value. Therefore, an important tip to prudent buyers: do not purchase this painting, or really any other painting by Austin Lee. Are you following my logic?

Anyway, this painting by Austin Lee deserves to languish in the obscurity of my personal collection because it somehow captures so well the haphazardness of digital image culture. What I mean by this, partly, is that it's blurry, and I like blurry artworks. There is, by now, a proud art historical tradition of blurriness in representations of technological imagery: Vija CelminsGerhard RichterThomas Ruff. All these people have offered us works (in painting or photography) depicting familiar scenes or objects mediated by the distorting effects of popular culture.

In Profile Picture, the distorting lens of technology is more than a mere visual filter. It's not just a blurry painting, but it seems to have unhinged the object of the painting itself. The work is partly a careful replication of the blurring effects of a smartphone, but it's also more than that. This Profile Picture represents a discombobulated subject, a person in anxious movement, eyes bulging from screen burn, hair and clothing in the latest garish netart colors. The technology does not only blur the image, it also blurs the person.

This blurry netart person, this one-eyed jack from a deck of cards designed in MS Paint, speaks to me in a way that a lot of internet-aware painting does not. Profile Picture conjures both the aesthetic of an era of pocket snapshots and generally haphazard image-making, and the need to stage public identity in a manner that makes a bold impression, but leaves our outlines indistinct. 

In short, savvy collectors should stay well away.

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Tom Moody Feb. 1 2014 08:51Reply

On an initial skim of this post I thought, "Magda Sawon is showing MSPaint?" and then realized you were making an analogy and that this is just another acrylic painting that pops online. We will have to wait for our New York galleries to develop a connoisseurship of widely available paint programs.
But seriously, let's talk about this jpeg some more (haven't seen the original). One actually probably could do this in MSPaint – there's some of that granulation in the "spray" – if you then treated the image with the popular "Gaussian blur" effect in Photoshop. The subject matter of the pop-eyed, no-forehead idiot who looks to have been painted by a feral child recalls a very early George Condo, in a good way.
Sadly, we're not at the point where an artist could just make an image like this and post the jpeg. You have to go through the tedious business of painting it on canvas and finding a gallery willing to promote it, which includes photographing it, converting the photo to jpeg, and sending it out with a press kit.
All of which is to say, thanks, Michael, for discussing this work in the context of "internet aware art," meaning art made with an idea to how it will look online as opposed to the humdrum concept of "art based on the internet." The ambiguity is resolved in this case with your tag Internet-Aware Painting. That's kind of a subtle, stealth critique and a validation of your need not to own the underlying artwork – you have a perfectly good jpeg.