You've definitely seen them on Instagram. But why?
via @madbutt on Instagram
This story appeared in the April issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.
A young woman stares into a seemingly endless expanse. Have you seen her? She peers out a window in David Hockney's Beverly Hills Housewife, toward a distant farmhouse in Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World. Or, if you're looking at art on Instagram, she's the one gazing quite literally into space itself, where the uniform shapes of stars belie the cosmic illusion of three-dimensionality. In artist Eugenia Loli's version (which earned more than 3,000 likes—even the second time she posted it), she leans out a window. In Mariano Peccinetti's Jupiter Field, posted for his 83,000 followers, she stands at a fence post on... Jupiter, I guess. Major Manic's work is entitled Sadie and has a twist: She stares, while sitting on the moon, back at the viewer.
But a passing trend is less to blame than the nature of collage, the medium these works posted to social media have in common. As when the introduction of new surfaces like cut paper in paintings led Georges Braque and Picasso to a more radical phase of Cubism; or Hannah Höch's newspaper clippings became a glossary of Dada; or Eileen Agar's juxtaposed printed pages and objects got people to see the world through the Surrealists' magnifying glass, contemporary collage artists on the internet have cut and pasted the cosmos for a style all their own.
Their methods differ—some cut by hand and others with Photoshop—but the homogeneous end aesthetic is the result of a common source material: vintage magazines. National Geographic, LIFE, Better Homes & Gardens, Popular Science, Playboy—the Things Americans Actually Read canon—and it all looks the same because we're looking at it in the same way, through the everything-is-just-an-image platforms of Instagram and Tumblr.
Like Walter Benjamin, we could eulogize authenticity to the rise of mechanical art making. Instead, consider the mercurial way Lana Del Rey created opportunity for contemporary collage artists through the release of her "Love" music video. In the days surrounding its debut, Del Rey, a veritable encyclopedia of Western referents, instagrammed collages by Peccinetti, Loli, and Madbutt, whose work also follows this galactic trend—but each time neglected to credit the artists.
After garnering 425,000 likes, at least one of them didn't mind: "When the Queen @lanadelrey reposts your collage of #brigettebardot #madbutt," Madbutt captioned the re-reposted shot.
One can almost imagine the Greek poet Aratus of Soli, who described the constellations circa 276 BC—his verse itself a pastiche of Eudoxus of Cnidus's prose work on astronomy—seeing himself validated in his stars and thinking something similar.