Trivia question: Do you know this girl?
Of course you do.
But who knew just how contemporary that Mona Lisa smile could be? A stylized, stock expression in Leonardo’s day, it suddenly looks quite current removed from its Renaissance setting and inserted into a post-modern one. The bloody amputation might be a bit over the top, but the figure’s facial mien—part simper, part sneer—would do nicely in a Vogue photo shoot. Not quite as enigmatic as it has been deemed down the centuries. What a difference placement makes. And the right haircut.
If you are a Photoshop freak, you already know about FreakingNews.com. If you are not, you have fun to look forward to. It specializes, as you can guess, in wacky, doctored photos. This is art, too. It gives the lie to that motto on her hat. Art is not dead at all, thank you. Whether it is good or bad art is always another question. But dead it is not. What Photoshop mavens produce is simply collage, just without the mess of scissors and paste.
The vamped up image above has all the wit of Eduardo Paolozzi, a favorite of mine. Born in Edinburgh to an Italian immigrant family, Paolozzi was co-founder of the “Independent Group” that functioned in London in 1952/53. Members hunkered down to discuss ways of introducing low-brow, trivial items of quotidian culture into mainstream art. The group was a decisive impulse behind the development of British Pop-Art, which predated the better known American species. Paolozzi’s clever fracturings are lighter in spirit than the anonymous illustration above. Their visual intelligence amuses, seduces, but without biting. Color lends buoyancy.
Back to Photoshop. Among the oddball tournaments run by Freaking News is the annual Funny Kids Masterpiece contest. What would famous paintings look like if their famous artists created these pieces when they were still kids. Contestants can recreate the art pieces in someone else’s style from scratch or edit known images down to kids’ level. Here’s work by the young Magritte. Even then, he was a careful draftsman:
Leonardo was just a tyke when he drew this version of Vitruvian Man:
Here is the Freaking News on Rand Paul’s filibuster:
For all the furrowed brows that turn out socio-political art by the carload for gallery and museum installation, none cut to the chase as pointedly and economically as a good cartoonist. The venue might be downscale but the visual wit is not. And now, at least, you know that what most people take for granted—that Pop Art sprang like a giddy mushroom from American soil—just ain’t so. Andy Warhol & Co. did not invent it. It had its prehistory in Britain. It was in the air.