For generations of kids who grew up on cable, Nickelodeon was. The channel reached its creative heyday in the 1990s, but still draws audiences, especially with the long-running blockbuster animated series. Sponge Bob SquarePants, who has managed to move beyond the small screen to social media in the form of countless memes.
A local artist has turned nostalgia for Nickelodeon into a series of fascinating and bizarre paintings, now on display at VaultArt Studio.
Darian Johnson, local painter, sculptor and illustrator, is part of In the flesh, The studio’s annual Halloween group show describes as showcasing “all the ghosts and goblins you know and hate, along with a selection of cutting-edge works that map the intersections of the supernatural, the bizarre and grotesque “.
Multi-artist show will feature Johnson’s main series debut Gross Up Close Up. VaultArt Says Halloween Show Inspired By Big plan, a collection of what is described as “photorealistic paintings of Nickelodeon characters”, serving as an ode to the famous “Gross-Up Close-Up” animation technique.
What has been dubbed the “Gross-Up Close-Up” has become prominent on Nickelodeon’s shows and refers to times when an episode suddenly ends with jarring close-ups of characters, during which the aesthetic of the drawing animated is replaced by a more realistic body horror. details like throbbing veins, rotten teeth or infected eyes. The effect was shown on Ren & Stimpy,and has been used on Spongebob and other shows.
The theme shines through in Johnson’s work, with acrylic paintings putting sometimes eerie, sometimes captivating and frightening turns on beloved Nickelodeon characters of decades past. Familiar smiles turn to threatening smiles, and the eyes are bloodshot or lifeless. In one, SpongeBob SquarePants brandishing the spatula from his Krusty Krab work. In another, Krumm, the comic Aaahh !!! Real monsters creature defined by its stench and disembodied eyes, looks truly monstrous, its mouth bloody and full of jagged teeth.
Other animated series represented include Hey Arnold !, Rocko’s Modern Life, The Blackberries, The Strange Parents, and others.
In the flesh – which debuted while exploring the First Friday Galleries of Penn Avenue in October – is part of VaultArt’s mission. The Garfield-based space is a project of Achieva, a southwestern Pennsylvania nonprofit that “advocates, empowers and supports people with disabilities and their families throughout their lives.”
In the flesh curator Benjy Blanco, who, along with colleagues Sam Berner and Steph Neary, runs operations at VaultArt Studio, and says the space functions as an artist collective, where the “artists working in the studio determine our programming – in this case, we’re big Halloween fans here.
Close up Close up is accompanied by works by other VaultArt artists, including animations by Kahyll Holyfield, drawings by Wendy Davis and sculptures by Maggie Kambic. Similar to Johnson, fellow painter Lee Kennedy also draws inspiration from pop culture, most notably with a portrayal of midnight film icon Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
Like other VaultArt artists, Johnson faces certain obstacles in bringing his art into the community. Blanco says Johnson “expresses himself through atypical verbal communication, mostly names and titles,” but says the “shocking quality of his work often speaks for itself”. Despite this, Blanco provided a statement from Johnson, which reads:
The services offered by VaultArt help to empower and present to the scene artists who might otherwise be overlooked. The VaultArt website states that artists have access to professional-level art education, exhibition space and career coaching in order to “turn their creativity into the vocation of their choice.”
The support offered by VaultArt goes beyond creation. The studio’s website says 100% of all art purchases go to artists. Currently, various works by VaultArt artists are available for purchase on the studio’s website, with prices ranging from $ 15 to $ 1,000.
It’s here that Johnson’s obvious penchant for reinventing pop culture becomes clearer, with paintings dedicated to Karate Kid, professional wrestler turned actor John Cena, and various comic book characters. Some even have a Pittsburgh flair, with images of the great Roberto Clemente baseball player and the famous view of the Incline and Downtown’s Point State Park. One of them features local documentary director Rick Sebak meeting controversial rapper / producer Kanye West at Wholey’s Fish Market.
In the same way In the flesh, showcase featuring all of the artists working at VaultArt Studio, the public can expect to see works from the exhibition downloaded and available for sale on the vaultartstudio.org online store throughout October.
Blanco calls Johnson’s new series of paintings “extraordinary,” adding: “We have been delighted to be developing his showcase for several months.” He adds that Johnson is “one of the most skilled artists” he knows in the region, and speaks of the wide appeal of his art.
“His work, which often intersects pop culture and the grotesque, dazzles with its technical flourishes while finding room for personal connections,” says Blanco. “Why do we like this stuff? By dedicating such a remarkable talent to pop art, Johnson invites us to consider the gaps in artistic merit from what we truly value and deeply need. “