On the internet exhibition space The State, a Tumblr-based website, artist Chris Collins has published “tyepilot.com”. The text and image-based essay riffs off the artist’s discovery of a hidden cache of spam images advertising work-from-home internet jobs. The images are fascinating, but even more interesting is our fascination for the lost vernacular artifacts of the internet, the relative anonymity of their creators and the possibilities of a new age of internet folk art.
Collins’ Facebook messag-cum-essay is addressed to one Ron Tye, a name that the artist discovers after tracing a particularly striking spam image back to its source, a treasure trove of jpegs that all share the same quirky visual style and the same vocabulary of bad MS Paint jobs, weird image stretching and flowing letters. The original image, entitled “Hope40”, is pictured above. Collins writes,
By tracing this image URL, I was directed to a folder that contained over 40 different images, all completely different, all with “hope” in the title all promoting “tyepilot.com,” and all signed by a mysterious person called Luzy. Each image I found was more thrilling than the previous one, and I was struck by their breadth and intensity as a body of work. Each one used stock imagery typical to this type of industry: images of sandy beaches, exotic locations, piles of money, and “cyber” looking backdrops. Yet each was constructed in a way that seemed alien to all traditional conventions of design.
What’s cool to me about this is first the serendipity of the encounter Collins has with the images. At first, the images are totally anonymous, a kind of found vernacular internet art, part of humanity’s great cyber-subconscious that he happened to dredge up. tyepilot’s images are seemingly random collisions of different 90s internet tropes, the same tropes that are now fetishized in internet art. This is the source material of contemporary net artists, found in the wild, rendered transcendent by time, cyberspace, and the otherness of spam anonymity.
Collins’ essay speaks to how we fetishize the most basic property of the internet, the possibility of random encounters, sweeps with other worlds and other aesthetics. Collins’ discovery of tyepilot.com’s images are like finding a particularly talented folk or outsider artist, the Grandma Moses of the internet age. Weirdly prescient and yet totally out of touch, the images are surprising in their relevancy. The folk artist behind these vernacular masterpieces just happens to have left his signature on each image, signing them “Luzy” at the bottom right, and adding the hyperlink tyepilot.com.
Collins writes that Luzy’s work reminds him of a friend who never studied piano but came up with beautiful compositions on his own — precisely because of his lack of training. Like Collins’ friend, Luzy “was not held back by rules and convention and was free to just create. The results were sincere and poetic.” The same definition holds to much of folk and outsider art. So is Luzy (possibly Ron Tye) our newest Henry Darger? His jpeg images look awkward and gauche, maybe a little too unpolished to really pass for contemporary internet art, just as Grandma Moses couldn’t pass for the Ashcan School. But the same sources and inspirations exist in Luzy’s work that artists are engaging with today, like a Romare Bearden work’s relationship to a Darger collage.
Though we may not yet have found an artist of the skill and magnitude of Darger or Granda Moses while sifting through the dregs of the internet, I think it’s pretty likely that we eventually will. The internet and its decades-worth of history is a repository of vernacular graphics, literature, found code and design. It’s up to us to sort through and find those things transcendent and discarded, rehabilitating to them to objects of value and artistic intention. Chris Collins has already started in on this process.
- Wikipedia has a fascinating list of outsider artists on their outsider art page. I could probably spend days going through these artists and their works, incredible stuff.