Check out this great article in the Hartford Courant by Susan Dunne
on “The Garden of Emoji Delights” by artist Carla Gannis
EBK Gallery [small works] opened last year in a tiny art space on Pearl Street in Hartford for just that purpose, to show small pieces. The little artworks lured passersby who were walking down the street or visiting the neighborhood to see shows at TheaterWorks or eat at Bin 228.
Recently, gallerist Eric Ben Kiki has been shaking up his own business model with exhibits of massive paintings. Because his space is so small, only one large painting will fit in an exhibit. “I haven’t changed my focus,” Ben Kiki said. “But if something like this comes my way and I can do it, I will.”
Several weeks ago, Ben Kiki showed “The Last Supper in Hartford.” Tim Wengertsman’s huge black-and-white painting is a modern-day, woodcut-like reimagining of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” with a punk aesthetic. Now, the gallery is showing another large-scale 21st-century riff on a 15th-century masterwork, this time “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch.
Carla Gannis’ digital C-print “The Garden of Emoji Delights” is an impressively faithful re-creation of the bizarre scenes from Bosch’s legendary triptych, with faces of both animals and humans replaced with emojis. The color palette of “Delights” is amped up to a Disney-esque level to look more like something found on the Internet than something found in 1490 Netherlands. The scale of the painting is identical to the scale of Bosch’s.
In the left-hand portion of the triptych, the “Eden” portion, a minister wearing a red robe and a bucket on his head flashes a peace sign while he marries a couple with emoji faces and emoji clothes. Emoji-faced creatures and ducks with clocks embedded in their feathers scamper about, loomed over by an elaborate pillar topped by a picture of a cellphone. On the island surrounding the pillar lay the detritus of old technologies: a VHS tape, snail mail, a fax machine, a chunky, cream-colored computer.
The center portion, depicting “Earth,” shows a sunny world filled with naked people, some congregating happily and others clearly up to no good. Wildly shaped towers in the background celebrate money, football, McDonald’s French fries and all other consumer products that make up modern American life. Animals are marched in a circle around a pond full of girls with Internet icons on their heads. Little emoji children watch from the top of a sunny hill.
In the right-hand portion, a view of Hell, the dark landscape is populated by emojis with evil and tortured faces — skulls, ghosts, fanged creatures, a menacing guy with sunglasses — and characters hurting and abusing each other, while a city burns across the top. Emojis drown, or crawl out of, a lake of fire, surrounded by dice, bombs, guns and bows and arrows.
Gannis, a resident of Brooklyn and a professor of digital art at Pratt Institute, said the inspiration for this work has been in her consciousness since her youth, when she became fascinated with “Garden of Earthly Delights.” As she matured as an artist, she became influenced by surrealism, and fascinated by emojis. “Emojis are like digital semiotics. … They express emotion in images,” she said. “I don’t know if anyone in the future will use emojis, but they are a fascinating prevalent language of texting, language as used in social media today.”
She used the emojis she got in her iOS operating system, and altered a few herself to make her work more racially diverse. “When I was making the piece, they had not released their latest set of more diverse emojis in terms of ethnicity,” she said. “The universality of all races and cultures should be represented.”
She also wanted to explore the usage of pop-culture images in art. “You might think, ‘Oh, my gosh, I am making emoji art, am I a serious artist?’ I wanted to explore that, too … how these kinds of popular customs and communications methods, that they can be integrated into art,” she said. “Warhol had his soup cans. Picasso had his newspapers in collages. It’s not something that’s a new approach. When something is really popular, artists are afraid to incorporate them into their work, because they think that means the work isn’t deep. But what happens when we overlay emojis over this painting that we revere?”
She used countless emojis to “speak to the ills of society,” as Bosch did with his work, and also to its mystery. “The middle panel, Earth, is teeming with life and sex and naked people,” she said. “Art historians have been scratching their heads for years trying to decode it.”
After EBK Gallery, “Garden of Emoji Delights” will move over to Real Art Ways in Hartford, where it will be exhibited alongside a video that animates the artwork, including one segment in which Hell freezes over.
“GARDEN OF EMOJI DELIGHTS” will be at EBK Gallery [small works], 218 Pearl St. in Hartford, until Nov. 8. The opening reception is Oct. 31 from 6 to 8:30 p.m.ebkgallery.com. The opening at Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor St. in Hartford, will be Nov. 19 in conjunction with Creative Cocktail Hour. The exhibit will run there through n until Dec. 31. realartways.org.