When it comes to the internet, there’s no one more in tune than Pixelface. The multimedia video artist makes mindfuck GIFs that blend signature ’90s ClipArt with fashion world memes, creating moving anti-art manifestos that are equally subversive, and on trend. With an eye for mixing high brow references and low-fi kitsch, the artist, whose real name is Darin Vartanian, harnesses the nostalgia of digital culture to make art that only exists online. But that doesn’t effect its impact IRL. Through flashing pop-up imagery, Pixelface satirizes social media and fast fashion hype machines, while highlighting the irony of a political climate that elected the world’s biggest Twitter troll. Not that that’s necessarily surprising. “On the internet, it’s all about who can talk the most, the fastest,” explains Vartanian. “Especially right now—the loudest, most obnoxious voice gets heard.” And that’s the Pixelface aesthetic.
Like fashion world darling, Demna Gvasalia, Pixielface seems to have the formula all figured out: sell your art without selling your soul, and make fun of everything. Vetements critics might argue the designer is just taking things that have already been done, and solely re-packaging them. But there’s an art to that. Vartanian uses pre-paid stock photos and porn-site visuals to create something entirely new and more powerful. In a world where everything’s shared, re-tweeted and re-used, what else can you do? Pixelface turns lost art into blaring cultural commentary, crafting meticulously sloppy imagery that hits hard and cuts deep. With clients ranging from Skrillex to Versace, he’s about to break into the mainstream market, and on the precipice of inciting real, tangible change. After all, it’s the loudest content that gets clicked.
BULLETT caught up with Vartanian to talk Trump and the future of Pixelface. Read our interview, and view an exclusive series of videos, below.
What was the idea behind this series?
I’ve always flirted with the idea of the internet being this huge, wild, wild west of everybody’s input all at once. When everybody talks at the same time, it’s so loud and violent. So the internet is everything that’s amazing about human collaboration, and everything that’s good about humanity—but also everything that’s dark and vile. When I first created Pixelface, I used fashion photography—runway photography and editorial work—and juxtaposed that with really low brow GIFs, creating a dichotomy between soft, hard, ugly, beautiful, fashionable, tacky. The idea behind these was just a reactionary statement towards what’s happening in the world, and on the internet.
Your work is so interesting because it’s about the internet, but the internet is also it’s medium.
I come from a video art background—I went to Cal Arts for experimental animation. So, I’m used to doing projections and screenings and art installations—more tactile things that actually exist in the real world. It’s even cooler, but at the same time, kind of sad, that I get this opportunity to make art that only exists online. That’s why I make most of these videos really void of meaning—void of anything that actually makes a statement. I like to let images that are loaded by themselves, sit next to each other and distort, and I let whoever is viewing it create their own meaning.
But what happens when sites like Instagram delete your work?
That’s the cool thing too, they say that nothing can be deleted on the internet—it exists forever in some weird dimension. But at the same time, I’m a huge fan of temporary art—art that just exists in whatever space, like Instagram. And if it gets deleted, then it’s gone—all anyone has is their memory of it.
It takes a huge lack of ego to make art that’s impermanent.
I could care less about the videos themselves—they’re sort of not even mine. They’re just these collages that are pillaged from the internet, and haphazardly smashed together. It’s not like there’s a lot of serious thought that goes into them—it’s more of an aesthetic rule that I abide by.
So how would you describe your aesthetic?
I’ve always been super inspired by the idea of mistakes. In film, that would be the grain or the glitches, and the light leaks. And the whole idea that we live in a vacuum—no one explores what it means to be ‘wrong.’ So glitches, mistakes—that’s what drives my work.
Why did you create the Pixelface character, instead of using your own name?
I thought it’d be a more lasting project if I could create an identity and build it up or shed it over time—create something new and evolve it. And it’s something childish, which is something I definitely explore in my art—childhood imagery and ideals.
How do you decide which images you’re going to use?
The images I choose are already so loaded—they already have a crazy backstory and putting them all together distorts that. And my whole thing with fashion is—I was born in ‘88, so I grew up in the ‘90s when fashion was super cool. Then right around 2000, it had a total loss of identity. But now, fashion is really interesting again—fast fashion and real diversity. With the internet, everything is democratized. You don’t have these huge brands controlling what’s cool—it’s up to us to do that.
Is that why your work is so popular now?
10 years ago, no one would’ve called what I’m doing art. But that’s what makes Pixelface so funny. I do everything myself, on my laptop—it’s not the Sistine Chapel but it has real impact because I’m rewriting what people generally consider art, or branding.
But could your art exist without the internet?
It did—just on my computer. But it wouldn’t have evolved in the way it has, and people wouldn’t experience it the way they do.
Right. What do you want people to take away from your work?
I want people to have an immediate, visceral reaction—‘Oh this is dumb,’ or ‘Oh, how cool!’ even ‘What did I just see?’ That’s mostly what I want—the immediate, instant gratification of showing someone and having them respond. Right now, content has taken over what it means to be an artist. So, creating the day to day sketch and having each song, each feature, become a hit, and have it have its own legs and social impact—that’s the goal. That, and building an archive, so I can look back in three or four years and say, ‘I really created this identity,’ then either shed it or keep going.
What’s next for you? Where do you see Pixelface going?
The funniest thing about a joke, is when people stop seeing it that way and taking it super seriously—I hate to say it, but Donald Trump is the biggest example of that. I want Pixelface to be the biggest, most important artist.
Like the Donald Trump of internet art.
Yeah. But who actually knows what the fuck he’s doing. I mean, I’m a classically trained animator and artist. So this is a way for me to not be so serious, but at the same time, use all my skills in the arsenal at once and break all the rules.