Artist Dan Proops is set to showcase a series of paintings at the Empire Gallery in London from May 1st until 13th. If the surname rings a bell, it might be because he’s the grandson of agony aunt Marjorie Proops, but, as an artist, Proops has gradually been making a name for himself. After featuring in over 25 shows since the age of 14 Proops has been attracting acclaim, in part through his painterly reconstructions of computer desktops.
Proops received a bachelor’s degree in 1990 from Goldsmiths College and, while there, had broke with convention by avoiding, even rebelling against, the conceptual art movement prompted by other Goldsmith’s artists at the time like Damien Hirst.
Since 2002, Proops has played on society’s hunger for technological evolution by incorporating elements of the media, technology, design and digital art into his paintings. Sam’s Desktop I (2006) was the encapsulation of Proops’ take on modern life and the nature of digital imagery available on the internet.
The coming together of art and technology was pertinent to his first one man show but, rather than embracing digital manipulation, Proops has continued to opt for the more traditional route of working in oil on canvas; to open a new window for classic desktop icons and iconic paintings.
The second installment in this desktop series, Sam’s Desktop II (premiered a year later) demonstrated Proops’ artistic shift from desktop designs to censorship.
Proops embraces a technique from the digital realm in creating a pixellated veneer to censor iconic images such as the earring in Vermeer’s The Girl with(out) the Pearl Earring, or, more controversially, Christ’s groin in Velazquez’ 1632 Christ on the Cross; a tongue in cheek reference to the familiar scene in the Borat film.
His style of painting has been seen as anarchistic but Proops sees the pixellated censor, usually associated with obscenity, as a humorous reaction to the shock values promoted by young British artists of the 90s: by censoring something that does not need to be censored.
Of course, the boundaries of toleration have always been tested, especially in Popular Art over the 20th century, with artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Banksy both having a crack at da Vinci’s Mona Lisa; be it providing her with a moustache, or arming her with a rocket launcher. Where Proops mocks and provokes he can also be seen paying tribute to some of the greats, as observed in his Ode to Dali. In this sense, his transcriptions can be seen as a form of compliment and recognition, rather than a violation of the original artist. And while there’s no doubt that he has all the attributes of a talented “traditional” painter, where skilful painters fall short at just talent, Proops is able to provoke thought and, more significantly, humour.
Q&A with Dan Proops
Do you always work in oil on canvas?
Yes, for my main paintings I always use oil on canvas but the collages are paper works.
Why choose this medium and how did you come to the decision to transcribe these famous paintings?
I have always used oils and I like the fact that even though I’m doing a very contemporary non traditional subject matter, I’m using a traditional age old medium. I have always been interested in painting and I feel that many artists try and avoid their art heritage but I’ve decided to embrace it.
How do you see your work has changed since your first Sam’s Desktop show – in artistic direction, thought process and delivery?
I feel that my work has evolved since the first Sam’s Desktop show and now I am concentrating on creating the epic masterpiece combined with a wicked sense of humour. I feel that Sam’s Desktop III, although focusing on technology, also focuses on the theories of appropriation and theft in art and the artist’s constant struggle to avoid his influences.
What was your initial inspiration for the series?
The initial inspiration for the project was when I was doing some portrait work in 2004 and I met artist Paul Winstanley who was giving a talk in my studios. He was saying how he dramatically changed his style from abstract to highly representational.
I went home that night and used the computer and had a eureka moment when I looked at a cluster of folders on a white background as part of a computer window and thought that could make great art.
I did a lot of research and investigation to see whether it had been covered before and found out no-one had worked with that subject matter in the past, so I went to my studio the next day, set up my easel and started painting icons from Microsoft Windows software. I figured that painting something that could be seen as nerdish was something that I could make very cool. It was incredibly exciting working with this subject matter as it was so surprising to me that artists hadn’t been inspired by this subject matter previously. I felt I had discovered a gold mine of subject matter and I had so many ideas it was very hard to get them out on canvas as quickly as I could produce them in my head.
I wanted to create a character that I could base the Sam’s Desktop theories on. I wanted to create a depiction of this imaginary character’s computer environment. Sam’s first desktop was Magritte’s Empire Of Light in Windows XP. Sam’s most recent re-incarnation is in Sam’s Desktop III. His desktop wallpaper is Dali’s Hypercubic Body in Windows Vista.
I believe the influence of Cubist philosophy on the graphic user interface (ie operating systems like Windows’ XP/Vista) has never been properly looked at. In my work I seek to set strong arguments for the connections between the many “viewpoints” set up in cubist paintings and the way PC and Mac operating systems set up multiple “windows” to allow the computer user to see and use and assimilate information.
It cannot be overlooked that the theories and ideas set up by the cubist mentality of setting up objects and environments and viewing them from different vantages from within the same space has created the intellectual set of possibilities allowing the design and concept for the “Windows” interface to evolve.
I noticed a big shift in your work regarding censorship in the next project, Sam’s Desktop II. What were your intentions when you decided to rework and censor these iconic images and how would you like them to be interpreted?
I think censorship is a very important part of how an artist makes his work in that he is always censoring by default because by painting one thing he is effectively cutting out all other options. Censorship also refers to the shock element in art being prevalent in British Art in the last 10 years. Censorship is a form of cutting out a subject matter in a photograph and, in a similar way, the artist, by choosing one subject for a piece, is effectively censoring out all other subjects for that piece.
Now to your latest project – what can we expect to see with Sam’s Desktop III?
You can expect to see Sam’s third reincarnation and a selection of paintings with huge impact in both their design and subject matter and the way they have been painted. No artist in history has combined the influences of art and what that art has influenced within the same piece of work. For example my Coke Zero and Lichtenstein cutouts.
In this collage I have literally combined a photograph of a can of Coke Zero with a Lichtenstein fighter plane. Within the Coke Zero photograph we can see the Ben Day dot design influenced by Lichtenstein. It is quite obvious that without the work of Lichtenstein this can of Coke Zero would not look like it does. I am showing here the true power of Fine Art and the full cycle from the original comic strip to Lichtenstein’s major works and then the can of Coke Zero.
The Google painting has been transcribed from the design of the Google homepage, one of the most recognised images in modern culture. The Google homepage is one of, if not the most iconic images of our time. It is the most important “gateway” in the world. It’s a powerful statement to paint the Google homepage. By transposing Google into oil on canvas I am making a comment on the huge cultural and sociological impact Google and the Internet has made on all of our lives.
My inspiration has been the internet, computer game theories and ideas and works of the old masters. Humour has been missing in a lot of conceptual art in Britain in the last few years and I think that humour has a very strong place in my art. For example, I have cross referenced inspiration taken from scenes in the recent Borat film and Velazquez’ Christ on the Cross. Most artists try and avoid discussing their influences because they see it as a sign of weakness, but in telling you about influences such as Borat, I hope I’m bring people closer to the thoughts that go on behind my creative process.
And will there be a Sam’s Desktop IV?
Sam’s Desktop III is the last of the trilogy. This is the last Sam’s Desktop show. Even though Sam will not be appearing again, I am already working on my next set of paintings, the subjects of which will be revealed later in the year.
More at samsdesktop3.com