A look at virtual life on the D-list

Andy Warhol made Marilyn Monroe a product, a pop culture commodity captured on canvas.

Forty years later, Los Angeles-based artist Ariel Erestingcol has immortalized people whose existence, to most of us, is restricted to an image on a computer screen.

They are arrangements of pixels creating personas as reviled as they are celebrated — “cewebrities.”

“In the context of painting and self-portraiture, we somehow want to convey the true essence of the person, to place ourselves in a dialogue with the other on a more personal level,” says Erestingcol, whose “CeWEBrities: The Virtual Red Carpet” is on view at the Togonon Gallery in The City.

Intrigued by the superficiality of the Internet, he says, “I found it interesting subject matter for portraits. These fixed personas thrive and reside [online], and it’s interesting to see these portraits in the gallery where they are reimaged, reimagined and reproduced, as another way of understanding this unique form of persona.”

Erestingcol made his colorful portraits of Lonelygirl15, Perez Hilton and MySpace.com founder Tom Anderson by printing their images from the Web and re-creating the portraits with tiny, colored beads representing each pixel.

The artist says that each bead is an “increment of meaning” that contributes to our understanding of media and what we are presented with in the digital landscape.

“The term ‘cewebrities’ means an Internet-personality-attained celebrity,” Erestingcol says. “It’s a persona that needs an audience and is defined by its audience.”

“Cewebrities are D-list,” he says. “Sometimes the numbers of viewers do not equate success. Take Tila Tequila. She had 1.6 million friends and page views in the billions. She’s the most popular person ever on MySpace, but it turns out not very many of her 1.6 million friends wanted to shell out a buck for her first single, ‘I Love U.’ In the first week after the single’s release, only 13,000 copies of the single were sold, or less than 1 percent of her MySpace posse.”

In many of his installations, Erestingcol similarly uses childhood playthings to address elements in the collective consciousness.

In “LZC646,” which is named for the license plate number of the Oklahoma City bomber, the artist examines fear and safety. The 6-foot beaded, pixellated image of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building right after the explosion, Erestingcol says, involved “the idea that threat originates from within our own community.”

 

IF YOU GO

CeWEBrities: The Virtual Red Carpet

Where: Togonon Gallery, 77 Geary St., second floor, San Francisco
When: 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; closes Oct. 28
Contact: (415) 398-5572, www.togonongallery.com

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