Cameron Gray's mashup of pop imagery to reference the master of Pop Art, Andy Warhol

You have to love an art work that takes pictures of Twinkies, Bart Simpson, hamburgers and a mouse eating a cupcake and put them all together to reference a famous painting by Andy Warhol. Let's take a closer look here and figure this out.


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I saw this art work, below left, at the 2013 Armory Show, and it's titled Yellow Mao (After Warhol) by Cameron Gray, and sure enough one can see the exact reference when placed next to Andy Warhol's Mao, below right. But when I looked closer at Gray's Mao, one of the first thoughts that came into my mind was Chuck Close. Why? Because Gray is using a grid filled with images that when viewed by themselves have nothing to do with the overall image, but when seen together from afar, make up the bigger image based on the color values of the smaller images.

Portraits of Chairman Mao by Cameron Gray and Andy Warhol

Let's take a closer look at my reference to Chuck Close's work. If you look at the detail (left), what we have is a collection of abstract multi-colored ovals, twisted and bent in different directions, yet conforming to a diagonal grid. But when one steps back from this detail, one can see that the red ovals make up the mouth and lips in Chuck Close's Self Portrait (right). The darker ovals at left reflect a shadow on his face, and the whitish ovals are the gray of his beard.

But part of what makes Cameron Gray's Mao so much fun is that the grid is made up of well known pop imagery and not abstract shapes. Gray is taking the same general approach as Close, but his little parts that make up the whole are using well-known images that stand on their own, if seen close enough.

Let's look for those Twinkies and Bart Simpson that I mentioned before, and see what else we can find in the Cameron Gray details below. The Twinkie section, below left, comes from the area to the right of Mao's forehead, and the Bart Simpson area below right comes from Mao's shoulder (on the lower left side of the overall art work).

Self Portrait by Chuck Close with a detail showing the shapes making up the mouth

images of twinkies, clowns, cars, Bart Simpson and other pop imagery making up a mosaic that looks like the Andy Warhol portrait of Chairman Mao

Let's take a look at how Cameron Gray portrayed Mao's mouth - he's using red flowers and a red car, so just like Chuck Close's red ovals didn't look like much up close, it forms the shape and colors of lips when seen from afar.

I was trying to think of what word or words best describes this process of taking small images and collecting them to make a different and bigger image, and "photomosaic" came to mind. While Cameron Gray's smaller images are actually oil-on-tile paintings, the fact that they reference specific images rather than abstract shapes like Close's work makes it more photomosaic than a direct riff off of Chuck Close's approach.

But as I read a little more about photomosaics, it describes them as "a picture (usually a photograph) that has been divided into (usually equal sized) rectangular sections, each of which is replaced with another photograph that matches the target photo." The Wikipedia article on Photomosaics credits Joseph Francis, working for R/Greenberg Associates in Manhattan in 1993, as being the inventor of the modern-day computer-generated photomosaics, as his "Live from Bell Labs" poster used computer-themed tile photographs to create a mosaic of a face.

But Francis himself, on his own blog, admits his inspiration as coming from Chuck Close, saying "I was aware of the work of the artist Chuck Close, who had been creating large faces out of arrays of swirling abstract images, and I wondered if I could do something similar, only with hundreds of actual photographs." So we see the full circle of inspiration here, from Chuck Close to Joseph Francis to Andy Warhol to Bart Simpson to Chairman Mao all coming together in this work by Cameron Gray.

detailed view of the mouth of Chairman Mao on Cameron Gray's Mao painting



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