Made up of 50 self-portraits of near pop-art impact, The Spinning Beach Ball of Death collection typifies the artistic intensity and creative endurance of one of America’s finest surrealist painters.
Born in Huntsville, Alabama, Michael Porten earned a B.F.A. in illustration from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2004. Despite waylaying plans to work as a computer animator after rooming with a particular gifted fellow student, Porten’s work at Georgia’s prestigious SCAD institution bares more than a ghost of his early intentions.
Traditional portrait work is often laid-over with bold, clean edged lines, repetitive pictorial refrains or, as in the case of the Spinning Beach Ball of Death series, a primary colour filter. A quick glance at Beach Ball would have it as little more than the result of a Photoshop drop down box, or perhaps homage to the head rupturing Tizer man. A further glance shatters the initial reading.
50 24inch by 24 inch portraits stand side-by-side, each painted in oil. The first shows the back of Porten’s head and shoulders in bright red. The second, third and fourth fade to yellow then green and blue as his exceptionally bearded bust turns face on.
Porten says that the title of the collection borrows a metaphor from Mac’s rotating wait cursor, a spinning beach ball as seen from above that indicates processor-intensive activity. “For example,” tech website Thexlab aptly explains, “applying a Gaussian blur to an image in Adobe Photoshop.”
Such convenient clarification alludes to the artistic intentions of the digital designer turned painter.
The ease of computer based image replication and manipulation is parodied by Porten on the canvas. Each click of a button becomes a painstaking act of perfectionism and minute, barely detectable yet integral changes of perspective and pallet. What takes seconds on Photoshop is drawn out into a relative age. The motivation, Porten says, is to create a set of paintings undercut with an allusion to surrealist literature.
Surrealism first infiltrated a scene otherwise occupied with modernism through André Breton and Philippe Soupault’s 1920 work Les Champs Magnétiques. The principal piece of automatic writing, Les Champs Magnétiques is the fruit of shambolic sessions of free flowing thought underlined with a desire to be rid of classic literary influences.
The connection between Spinning Beachball and works born of such conceptual anarchy is clear. Porten’s portraits are at once striking works of pin-point accuracy with a photorealistic quality, and absurd, comic manifestations of self-examination; the product of an artist intentionally shackling themselves in terms of style and medium.
The end result of weeks of work, the product of far-gone literary movement and born from an ability to stare unwaveringly at his own image, The Spinning Beach Ball of Death is both a remarkable artistic achievement and a stunning collection.
Images via © Michael Porten’s website