Text by Michelle Collier
Untitled Profile Pictures is a solo exhibition by award winning painter and sculptor Jemima Brown. Hosted at PAPER Gallery from 26 April to 7 June, the show brings together a selection of works from an ongoing project in which the artist re-imagines Facebook profile images as pencil and watercolour drawings.
The collection of images on display aim to examine the “complex visual narratives involved in self-creation” by elevating the low-res imagery of the ephemeral digital world into the artistic heritage of portraiture. As a wider project Untitled Profile Pictures has been ongoing since 2009, but the last 6 months has seen Jemima collaborate with PAPER to generate new works for the exhibition. During this time Facebook followers were invited to add Jemima as a friend or like the Untitled Profile Pictures page to automatically put their own images forward for consideration by the artist.
In narrowing down the hundreds of drawings created by Jemima, the curation process centred around finding related narratives; discovering a pathway through the implied stories of idyllic family photos, towards more ominous and ambiguous imagery. The amount of work the micro gallery has been able to showcase is impressive, as is the inventiveness of display. Framed portraits line the walls whilst others are exhibited in a looping slideshow. Yet more still fill a large portfolio sitting atop a retro sideboard. It all hints at a mixed ancestry that smacks as much of the “family album” as it does the history of painted portraiture.
Most immediately apparent throughout the collection is the notion of personal narrative; stories, memories, and the desire for self expression all coming to the fore through the image choices people make. It’s important to note that the drawings are exclusively derived from profile pictures; those chosen above all others to represent a person’s public identity. It begs the question, are the images we choose an accurate vision, or a desired version of ourselves? This notion of projected identity fits into a wider social narrative of an image conscious, consumerist culture. A digital world that never switches off. Who will we choose to be on any given day? A mother? A friend? A political commentator? A sun kissed babe on the beach?
On this fleeting platform we continually ditch pictures in favour of newer, better versions of ourselves, but by recreating these images as artistic portraits Jemima has extracted these moments of self-creation and crystalised them forever. Now they hang in a gallery as pieces of art, and eventually they might perhaps find a home on the wall of a stranger’s house. Therein lies another narrative strand; the drawings are necessarily stories of their own, each told by Jemima. They are an abstraction from the original; the artist’s interpretation of the details. So how close can you get to the original person? To the individual who has morphed from real, to ideal, to painted character before being viewed by you as an audience member. When you look upon the pictures and begin to construct your own narratives, do the characteristics of the original identity still linger?
Jemima’s drawings slot into the wider historical narrative of portraiture, highlighting the fixation with self-representation that human beings have displayed throughout the ages, from centuries old oil paintings to the modern “selfie” monster. By giving a glimpse into someone else’s world they shine a light on our own, and encourage a new perspective on the choices and narratives at play in the humble Facebook profile picture.
Untitled Profile Pictures runs until 7 June and PAPER Gallery is open 11 – 5 Saturdays or by appointment. A selection of miniature sculptures by Jemima Brown are also on display, alongside additional works by PAPER artists.