Everyone now has the opportunity to create a public persona, and make it very public through social media. Sami Lukkarinen is interested in inserting his painterly artistic practice into this digiverse.
I first saw Lukkarinen’s work at Galerie Forsblom in Helsinki. Large-scale portraiture paintings that appear eery from afar, the paintings become abstract, thick applications of paint up close. While Lukkarinen cites Gerhard Richter as an influence, his actual painterly practice is more akin to an amalgam of Georges Seurat’s pointillism and Chuck Close's portraiture. By blowing up smaller photographic portraits, and applying differing shades of paint in organic square forms, Lukkarinen has succeeded in achieving pixellation, a phenomenon that occurs images on the Internet, through the ancient artistic practice of painting.
Molecular biologist, Shinichi Fukuoka, discusses the brain's biases related to perception. The images below are from his Japanese text, You Can't Comprehend the World Even if You Divide It (Sekai wa Waketemo Wakaranai) (2009). They show Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa (c. 16th century) in pixellated grid-form, starting from the largest (8x8) to the most minute (80x80). As the image is divided into smaller squares, the jump in tonal ranges between each square decreases, allowing us to look at the overall picture, instead of focusing on the details.
Lukkarinen's artistic practice traces the opposite path from the Mona Lisa images. Trolling Facebook for photographic portraits that catch his eye, he then interprets the image through his painterly process. In a feedback loop, once he is finished with his painting, he sends an image of his painting back into the digiverse by uploading the image on his Facebook fan page for all to see and to comment. He apparently does not ask permission to interpret the original image.
The artistic practices of contemporary artists using available Internet images as source material pose all sorts of interesting legal questions. For an artist like Lukkarinen, does the "sitter" of the original photograph have a claim against his use? Laws on the right of publicity usually cover the use of unique indicators such as name, image and likeness, and generally, you cannot use the likeness of another person for commercial purposes (without their consent). While specific rights are different from state to state, these rights protect all 2-legged people, whether they are famous or not. (Most of the existing case law on the right of publicity involve famous people, because famous people arguably capitalize on their likeness which is directly tied to their own brand, and they have more at stake when they are associated with other entities.)
At the end of the day, however, context is key. Even though Lukkarinen is using the likeness of others in his artistic practice, having a photo of yourself (that you yourself uploaded into a public sphere) transformed into a beautiful painting is not derogatory, but perhaps a celebration of ways in which contemporary artists find and use source material.