Brandnewpaintjob.com, an on-going blog by Jon Rafman, is composed of (as of today, anyway) almost forty posts.
Each of the posts is itself composed of either (1.) a digital image depicting a 3D model, or (2.) a digital image depicting a 3D model as well as a short video clip in which a “camera” moves around the 3D model as if it were filmed in physical space.
The models Rafman uses are appropriated from Google 3D Warehouse and altered by him so that the “texture” or outer surface of the model reflects the style of (in most cases) a canonical Modern or contemporary artist.
So, for example, in the first post of the blog, Motherwell Elephant, one views an elephant whose surface reflects the rough confrontations between the colors black and white in paintings by the abstract expressionist Robert Motherwell; and, in the most recent post, David Hockney Studio Apartment, one views a modern studio apartment with natural light, expensive furniture and a flatscreen television in the color palette and iconography of David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash.
In-between these examples is a series of similar collisions between a particular painting style and a particular 3D model such as Warhol Commodore (a Warhol self-portrait over the 3D model of a Commodore 64 computer) or Parker Ito Condo (Parker Ito’s The Most Infamous Girl in the History of the Internet over the 3D model of an expensive looking condo apartment).
At first glance, these collisions may strike one as somewhat arbitrary postmodern one-liners; however, if one continues to view through the blog or follow its development as it happens live, then one begins to appreciate the way the posts function in greater depth.
Take, for example, Pollock Tank.
Pollock’s infamous dripping style serves here as a formal equivalent to the camouflage designs normally associated with the surfaces of a tank.
However, there are other things happening.
The aggressively armored shell of the tank nudges one towards viewing Pollock’s persona and his paintings as “tank-like”—excessively private and explosive–while this very explosiveness of Pollock’s canvases nudges one towards viewing the tank as itself wildly explosive (as opposed to defensive or keeping the peace).
In each of the cases presented through the blog, a similar collision between the 3D model and the painting style creates a two-way street of meaning in which the painting style says something about the model and the model says something about the painting style.
In regard to this point, Rafman writes:
A conversation is going on between the surface and the underlying structure. In this way, the clash of the cultural weight of a high modernist paintings and a mass produced vehicle is not simply another example of the blurring of the distinction between high and low culture.
It’s often not immediately clear what the connections are leading towards, but this very wiggle-room in interpretation benefits the project as a whole by maintaining a certain ambiguity to each post.
For example, I’m not sure exactly what Lewitt Blue Whale or Morris Louis Penguin have to say about each of their respective collisions off of the top of my head, but in seeing the actual models, each case does make some sort of sense and part of the pleasure in the work is in thinking through why that sense may or may not exist (why is Sol LeWitt like a blue whale; why is a penguin like Morris Louis?)
Finally, when the blog is viewed as a whole, an interesting theme is demonstrated:
When viewed as digital images, canonical works from the history of 20th century painting are inevitably going to lose whatever phenomenological power they possess in the physical space of the museum.
A .jpeg of a De Kooning is not going to afford one the phenomenological “De Kooning effect” which one would experience in a traditional art space.
However, what does afford one a certain phenomenological effect on the Web is the way that, over time, it’s not the style of the famous paintings that serve as art, but Rafman’s performed exploration of them.