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An Artist Interviews Himself on Performance, Characterization, and the Return of the Repressed

"Hamburger Helper Man" (2016). Resemblagè. Giclee print 40"x40" edition of 5. (All images courtesy of the artist) 

By DAVID HENRY BROWN JR, JUNE 2016

David Henry Brown Jr.: Describe what is going on with this body of work? What are you making?

David Henry Nobody Jr.: I am creating characters by transforming my appearance on a nearly daily basis using food, costumes, garbage, face paint, make-up, wigs, torn magazine images, doll parts and many other types of found objects. The images may appear (intentionally) to mimic Photoshop, however, there is no Photoshop or any Apps used, only REAL materials. I make a character in one to eight hours time and photograph the transformation until its appearance resonates with my imagination, resembling something from within me. Sometimes, I turn into something really beautiful and sometimes it’s really freaky! Either way, making Resemblagè makes me feel good. I visually transform myself into a character that is the super-problem-solver to pull off the idea of the piece. I glow from over-coming the creative “obstacle” and breaking through to realization with Resemblagè.

I usually post to my Instagram feed @davidhenrynobodyjr right after I am done.

DHBJR: Is it art? Or not? Why do you call it Resemblagè?

DHNJR: I can’t tell if its art anymore! I am so focused on pushing my imagination over the edge that I am no longer making any reference to Art History, at least directly. I work in a stream of consciousness. I have been making what I call Resemblagè since late 2014. This is a word I coined which is the combination of the words “resemble” and “collage.” I would say that Resemblagè is a performance-action in which one attaches/collages objects and materials directly to the body. A recording/photograph of this private moment becomes the final work. The recording and the posting to social media, where the work lives in Virtual Reality, are integral to the properties of Resemblagè. I take very private and personal performances and share them and make them public. My imagination leaves my body in the form of a Resemblagè and is suspended in Virtual Reality. The recording becomes a digital mask, which is a personification of Resemblagè.

"The Dreamer" (2015). Resemblagè. Giclee print 40"x40" edition of 5.

DHBJR: Why is this body of work attracting so much attention on Instagram? How does social media influence the work?

DHNJR: I think the idea of subverting the Selfie is a much-needed breath of fresh air in the era of fake Narcissism that we are living in. Journalists seem to be taking note of what I am doing. I began by figuring out that an Instagram post gets the most likes when you use your self in the image, so I went with it. I have been using myself, as a construct, in my work for the last 25 years, so it's a natural fit. My aim is to immerse my self in Instagram and see where it takes my work, to allow the fakery to influence my judgment and artistic decision-making.

My creativity is what inspires my large following. My following does not need to have gone to art school to get the picture. They appreciate raw creativity/expression and care less about art world status. I believe that art/creativity should be taken to the masses and I am extremely thankful to Instagram for creating a great (although not perfect) platform for fostering the exchange of ideas and inspiration. I have an art world following as well. I think my work celebrates the spirit of art that can be fun and creative as well as critical and intellectual — practically a “lost art” in the Art World these days!

I am sometimes asked why the work is so “creepy” and “shocking” at times. I would say this is a reaction to spending a great deal of time on social media (I’m addicted, yes!). The more I think about the idea that we are all being incessantly recorded and tracked, the more Orwellian my imagery has become. My eye often gazes at the viewer’s through the Resemblagè because this is referring to your mobile device incessantly staring into your private life, and that is creepy!

Just to put things in perspective, I do not think that art can EVER be as shocking as human greed, war, murder, theft, &co. can be. I am concerned with social media because I believe it is the current pictorial space for the imagination to live in. As we become more immersed in Virtual Reality, our sense of each other, our sense of self, our sense of body and at the deepest core of human consciousness, our sense of identity are in a state of self-questioning. Our personalities are fundamentally being rearranged. How we relate to each other has been scrambled. My portraits are contorted as an expression of this space that I feel imposed upon myself.

Virtual Reality is feeding back into life and it is changing our perception of our physical lives. I think that some of my Resemblagè portraits may be what humans may look like in the future — with a good dose of humor thrown into the mix (LOL). That’s just my current intuition. My work always deals with my life and where I see humanity headed. I enact ways to express my life dilemmas into my work through creativity. I am exposing my creative process in public; one portrait flows into the next.

"The Reptilian Mind" (2016). Resemblagè. Giclee print 40"x40" edition of 5.

DHBJR: How does your 25-year artistic repertoire influence this new body of work?

DHNJR: I think the motif of the social mask has run throughout my work as a recurring theme for the last 25 years. Once I realized a Selfie was a mask, it made perfect sense to focus on it. Social media makes it ever more apparent that the Selfie is a construct, a fabrication, an illusion. Anyone can create an online persona. Somehow, we all get that everyone could be wearing a mask, which makes it simpler for me at this time to engage the public very directly and playfully on the subject.

My earlier performances — such as my impersonation of Alex Von Fürstenberg back in 2000 — paved the way for fabricating characters (i.e. social masks) that intervene into real life social situations. I posed as Diane Von Furstenberg’s son Alex for one year, undercover, so that I could crash VIP parties and meet celebrities. Sixty photos chronicle "Alex" as he met the likes of President Clinton, Puff Daddy and Sarah Jessica Parker. The idea of a social mask is the key to "Alex." By turning myself into an illusion, it catalyzed real life around me into a work of performance art, a living painting.

My 10+ year collaboration with a collective I founded with a few friends, the Fantastic Nobodies, is also influential to my current work. It was with the Nobodies that my self and other members started generating enormous amounts of really strange characters for our performances. The creativity became more primordial, child-like and transgressive. I carry this ethos with me on Instagram as David Henry Nobody Jr

DHBJR: Where do you see yourself going with the work? How would a solo show of yours look like? How do you sell Resemblagè?

DHNJR: That’s a good question. I see this body of work as ripe for a solo show. I don’t think art world people quite grasp that the images on my Instagram feed are in fact really beautiful prints that could be installed in a gallery. I sell beautiful and intense prints of my Resemblagè. They are square shaped, like Instagram itself. They are 20” x 20” and 40” x 40” in size. It would also be possible to produce live Resemblagè, with the public, as an interactive installation during the show. I’m working towards a few other ideas. I have proposals, and about 275 pieces. I would like to do a book! WM

David Henry Brown, Jr.

David Henry Brown Jr. is an Interventionist performance artist and sculptor who creates in diverse mediums, often placing his physical body into the work. Frequently riffing off of the dark side of American popular culture, his work has been collected in prominent private art collections.

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