Sex, bongs and the internet—these are the motifs explored in the watercolors of Portland-via-New York artist and Tumblr addict Dan Gluibizzi (pronounced "glue-busy"). Opening tomorrow, 1 March 2014, at LA's Kopeikin Gallery, Gluibizzi's solo exhibition "Between Friends" features his most recent studies, many of which are modeled from images he discovered through Tumblr. Explaining his chosen title, Gluibizzi tells CH, "We live in a world dominated by social media; everything is constantly 'between friends.' That term is sort of slightly nefarious, something's going on, it's between friends. Or, we're in this time of data collection and what is private? 'Oh, this is between friends,'—but everyone knows it's not between friends. And I think that's what fascinates me about the adult content that is posted and viewed online. Many of those posted images were [originally] intended for someone specific, perhaps, and now they're sort of 'between friends.'"
Gluibizzi follows around 1,000 Tumblr blogs and regards the platform as a sort of landscape. "There's just so much, especially when Tumblr is in its archive setting; when you're on a large monitor, there can be several hundred images and they're all just talking and bouncing ideas off one another," he says. (At the time of publication, Tumblr had a count of 173.8 million blogs and 78.1 billion posts.) Gluibizzi collects photographs of people who thrive in this artificial habitat of the internet so he can make observations about how they behave in front of cameras.
"I see a strong connection between all of the amazing poses that artists have captured throughout history, and the way that people subconsciously or naturally pose, or [deliberately] pose when photos are candidly taken. There's this wonderful connection between going to galleries and seeing work and seeing these amateur-posted images on Tumblr."
Gluibizzi's other sources of inspiration are, on the other hand, very much analog. In contrast to seeing something on the screen, Gluibizzi recalls the unique experiences he had while working at Christie's when he was living in New York. "It's an incredible opportunity as an artist to have a one-on-one experience with a work of art that's not on a gallery or museum wall. You can hold it in your hands and you're up close and personal with an object that's not usually seen, since there are so many works of art in the storage rooms, private collections, artist studios, etc. A main example, a huge influence of mine—Tom Wesselmann—I was very privileged to get to work on an exhibition of Wesselmann drawings at Christie's and be able to see his studies. To see how he was thinking about his imagery was extremely important to me as an artist."
Gluibizzi is also fond of the "wild" works from the early 20th century, before World War II, by artists such as George Gross and Egon Schiele—the latter being very popular on Tumblr. "[Schiele] was working exactly 100 years ago in Austria and he died very young, I think at 28 years old, and he was making the most amazing drawings. He was making the kind of images that we find online and he was convicted of obscenity," because his drawings were considered pornographic and deemed easily accessible by children. "Many of his images are on Tumblr and have become point and counterpoint to some of the amateur content that gets posted, so this speaks through time in a very powerful way."
To label the watercolors NSFW seems a little bit of a stretch. Subduing the shock with soft yet vibrant colors, Gluibizzi manages to remove the stigma that usually accompanies porn pics, drawing the viewer in and allowing for a good, long stare at the poses unique to these very human—and at the same time, animalistic—acts. In fact, you'll probably end up observing the details of the watercolors far longer than you've spent looking at any photo on your Instagram or Facebook news feed. It's easy to see why: a volatile energy bubbles underneath as Gluibizzi brings life to these figures, in comparison a photo can only appear to be lifeless.
"My intention is to show a beauty to these images," says Gluibizzi, mentioning that some of the original sources are difficult to look at. "I hesitate to say that I believe that I don't think that everyone is looking at adult content, but it dominates the internet. It's certainly not the only thing I do—I love portraiture and many other things—but I think that there is something sex positive about the way that I view using this adult content in my artwork." And of course, some of the content is fascinating and creative in its own way. Gluibizzi mentions seeing a show in Berlin by a Japanese artist who shoots, "incredible but totally insane" photographs of eel porn (which Vice also did a documentary on). "He said it wasn't sex with animals but sex with food, which is sort of fascinating," says Gluibizzi.
Not all of the pieces in the exhibition depict erotic acts, however. In works like "A Few Friends" and "Our Season," Gluibizzi paints innocent close-ups of people that would get the green light for any television commercial on the Lifetime channel. "In many ways I see the portraits and the figurative groupings in similar ways," he says. "Shapes grabbed from the endless stream bombarding us everyday from every screen we encounter. I like the ways that the reduced portrait shapes interact with one another. Despite being drawn and redrawn and painted, they each maintain their unique individuality. I'm very inspired by science posters: indexes, archives and other grids of information. The portrait grids often look educational to me. There's a lot of coupling and pairing in the portrait groupings—perhaps they are not all that 'innocent.' However I do enjoy making both bedroom friendly and living room friendly works of art."
But a certain watercolor sprinkled with waterpipes definitely caught our eye. "There's also a huge amount of content online of people posing with their bongs," says Gluibizzi. "That is just something: thousands and thousands of images of people with bongs. People are so proud of them and of course, things are changing. There's a larger community of marijuana use—but even with legal use, there's just something provocative about the image."
"Between Friends" opens tomorrow, 1 March 2014, at LA's Kopeikin Gallery and runs through 19 April.
Images of studio courtesy of Dan Gluibizzi, images of artwork courtesy of Dan Kvitka