Chad Wys‘ digital collages, and in particular his ‘Nocturne’ series, are about deconstruction and the re-appropriation of images from art history, those images that we uphold as objects and in particular portraits. Through the recontextualizing and subverting of these cultural objects, and their meaning in an historical context, Wys reframes what we already know in a new way through the use of digital and traditional mediums. The purpose? To make us question what we’re looking at whether it be the colour, form, unity, identity or semiotics of the painting.
Wys isn’t doing anything new, the deconstruction of art and images is a fundamental part of the artistic process, it has been done since the beginning of time, but for him the very act of deconstruction is the question, it is part of his ongoing investigation into the nature of objectification and the question of art itself; what does it mean to us as a society, how do images affect us and so on. Here’s how he puts it:
A major strand throughout much of my artwork, beyond the broader inquirers into what art means socially, is the notion of object: object ownership, objectification of history, objectification of people, objectification of artwork and its many mediums; objectification of aesthetic pleasure; etc. I often explore/exploit the idea of objecthood: how we decorate our lives with arbitrary, as well as meaningful, things; how we objectify the ones we love and the strangers we see; how we objectify pain and death; how we objectify complex and sensitive cultural histories. I’m also deeply interested in understanding the reception of art, the reception of objects, and how extrinsic and intrinsic influences affect individuals’ reception of the visuality they experience.
A good example of how he deconstructs images and questions the notion of objectification is his series, ‘Nocturne’, in which he digitally manipulated Victorian portraits. Here’s what he has to say about the series:
I appropriated mainly Victorian imagery for my Nocturne series. Aesthetics—beauty or decoration over narrative or substance—were in vogue during that era. Negating that beauty is part of the conceptual process I go through. In selecting largely Victorian, Romantic, or Baroque imagery from history, I am negating much of the art’s purpose: which is to be beautiful and realistic (“a window into the soul” of the sitter, as it were). I focus exclusively on portraiture in the Nocturne series because that’s the most formal subject matter of all (aside from religious imagery, perhaps). We pay such reverence to portraiture in art history that to behave irreverently toward these formal renderings disrupts virtually every function of the original work. My work is meant to be a critique of the institution of art history, causing people to question their own allegiances to particular objects, styles, concepts, ideas, and even the people in their own lives.
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