Andy Warhol essentially forecast the Internet when he wrote, “In the future everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes.” The future is now, online, where it is possible to obtain unprecedented visibility through a distribution system of likes and shares. Millennial multidisciplinary artist, Yung Jake says he’s “from the internet.” Coming of age at the onset of user generated content and social networking culture, Yung Jake’s art takes a self reflexive look at life on the internet and the value of visibility.

In an interview about his series, Emoji Portraits, Yung Jake comments, “I appreciate things that are more mainstream than indie. There’s more power, there’s more eyes watching.” When Andy Warhol emerged in the mid 20th century post-war art scene, similar distinctions were made between mainstream consumer culture and the esoteric artworld (abstract expressionism, for example). Pioneering the American pop art movement, Andy Warhol broke down elitist barriers between the fine arts and popular culture, yet the tension between these two worlds carries into today. Yung Jake revels in this tension with his expansive artistic practice that traverses pop culture, music, design, and emerging technologies.

Yung Jake has crafted a perfect formula for viral art in his ongoing series, Emoji Portraits; depicting contemporary celebrity figures made entirely out of those familiar digital pictograms in our phones. With these pixel-based units, the artist has devised a method of digital painting reminiscent of pointillism, but readymade to circulate the Internet.

This week, Emoji Portraits once again moves from the digital into the physical world, in his second solo show with Tripoli Gallery, New York. The gallery features wall mounted versions of the colorful portraits, printed with UV cured ink on aluminum substrate. Taking the images off the screens of mobile devices and into the realm of the physical, viewers can get close and get lost in the vastness of tiny basketballs and prayer hands (etc.) that make up each portrait (which, according to the artist is anywhere between 10-30 thousand emojis per portrait).

Like any career Fine Artist, Yung Jake participates in the circuit of blue chip gallery representation. But, as an internet artist, the majority of his work is more accessible to wider audiences than his Artworld peers. Not only are Emoji Portraits shared through social media, Yung Jake has developed a free app, emoji.ink for everyone to digitally paint their own Emoji artwork. When art lives online it’s easier to distance the work from the artist. You may have come across Yung Jake’s work in the flurry of online content without knowing it was his. Just last month, with the internet talking about Kanye West’s release of his eighth studio album, Ye, Yung Jake joined the conversation with the yenerator.com, a free web browser tool to make your own Ye album cover.

Popular culture on the internet shifts its focus at warped speed. Many of Yung Jake’s current projects strategically aim to keep up with the insane pace of online content, embracing reach and relevance over the more traditional circuits of endorsement in the visual arts. “We’re becoming more ADD. We’re becoming more impatient. We need stimulus. I find the right combination to keep us interested,” he explains. There are over one hundred Emoji Portraits currently on the artist’s Instagram page. Taken together in one massive scrolling feed, the portraits are an archive, chronologically documenting the fleeting relevance of celebrity news.

Yung Jake first became internet famous for his experimental music video “Datamosh” released on Youtube in 2011, where he raps enthusiastically about the obscure, “geeked up” practice of glitch art, “look what I can do with this picture from Google.” Since then he has put out a number of experimental videos where hip hop beats are overlaid with witty lyrical commentary on the social phenomena of online culture, like going viral, or unfollowing your ex. Perhaps the most grandiose of these video works is http://e.m-bed.de/d/ (2012) in which he built his own streaming platform that invades the viewer’s desktop with erupting popups. This jarring viewing experience takes you on the journey of ‘going viral,’ moving from Bieber’s twitter mentions into prestigious art criticism write-ups.

If you are truly a “geeked up” nerd, you will likely check the source code for the artist’s work, to which you will find hidden surprises, like this ASCII drawing of a medicine bottle. A nod to the double entendre of “viral culture.”

– Erika Barbosa

Installation view Young Jake 'Emoji Portraits'
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