Reclusive artist turns to emoticon self-portraiture (Wired UK)

Matt Brown

Emoticons are nifty things. They’ve
become an extension of our digital selves, allowing us to
communicate a range of emotions simply and effectively in our texts
and emails. And given their ubiquity, efforts are even underway to
make them more diverse — both in terms of the way they look and the contexts in which they are

For emerging British artist Matt Brown, who graduated
with a Masters degree from the Royal College of Art in 2003, the
emoji, however, is both his muse and self-reflection. “I think all
in all they [emoji] are a great addition to the traditional written
word. After, all a picture is worth a thousand words ;),” Brown
tells in an email.

Self-portrait Emoticons_silkscreen on paper

Matt Brown

Finding inspiration in electronic music and videogames, Brown’s
pieces, Self-portrait Emoticons are about modern
day self-expression, he tells us. While the portraits have been
drawn using conventional methods of paint on canvas, the resulting
images are unmistakably emojified. A tableau of six emoji
portraits, which seem like renderings of a stick figure’s face
up-close are packed together in various emotional states.

Force quit crash room 1

Matt Brown

“We are conversing more and more in virtual settings, not able
to see the whites of peoples eyes,” says Brown. “These portraits
have zero information regarding the real personality of the
‘sitter’. It’s like a mask.”

“This kind of expression is used in so many relationships that
people have online, a kind of very one-sided false reality,” he

Whether it’s because these emoji masks let him readily reflect
various emotional states, or out of general convenience, Brown has
chosen to shy away from physical society — much like
Japanese otakus. He
communicates solely via the internet,
and has pretty much chosen to live the life of a hermit for over a

Commenting on the ease of working on projects online without
“physically meeting anyone”, Brown noted the interdependence of
computer tech with all areas of his life from shopping, consuming
culture and general communication.

“I realised that I had more of a virtual presence than a ‘real’
one,” he said. “This fitted perfectly with what my work is about,
so I decided to embrace the idea of being an artist that uses
the computer as an extension of

Recalling that he’d started making computer art back in the 1990s, Brown spoke of the
changing societal attitudes toward technology. “At the time [in the 90s], I
think the attitude towards computers was very different. If you
were using them you were seen as a nerd, a geek!” he said.

“Now it’s the complete opposite, if you don’t immerse yourself
in virtual environments daily, you’re seen as ‘behind the

In recent years, emoticons have infiltrated our lives, becoming
another medium through which we express a range of emotions in
the digital sphere. Given their
ubiquity, they’ve been readily absorbed into pop culture with an
Emoji Art and Design Show in 2013 at the Eyebeam Art + Technology
Centre in New York showcasing artworks from other emoji-inspired
artist such as  Maya Ben Ezer and Genie Alfonzo.

With artists worldover taking the commonplace emoji as subject and turning it into
something more personal, and Nick
‘s carved wooden emoji pulling some headlines earlier
this month, it looks like emoji art, in all its forms, could be a
niche trend set to continue.

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4 December 2014 | 4:13 pm – Source:


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