Remaking masterpieces

How a Vancouver blog became one of the biggest art phenomenons on the internet

Remaking materpieces

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Calgary-based artist Spencer Pidgeon put Gumby and Mr. Bill in his photo remake of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. Montreal photographer Vinna Laudico recreated John William Waterhouse’s Ophelia with a fashion model in her neighbour’s backyard. Hamilton-based photographer Kevin Thom remade Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus on the shores of nearby Burlington Beach, featuring artist Laura Hollick wearing a copper bikini. Instead of standing on a giant shell, she’s standing among rolled-up canvases of her paintings. “It’s symbolic of Laura’s rebirth as an artist,” explained Thom, who is one of over 500 entrants in the Remake photo contest on (that’s seven o’s), an art blog run by Vancouver artist Jeff Hamada.

The contest’s mandate to recreate a classic work of art without special effects proved to be catnip for artists. The month-long contest is now closed, and Hamada is assembling a jury of design and art bloggers to dish out the prize—a copy of the Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 Master Collection, worth $899, donated by the software firm.

Hamada graduated from Emily Carr University of Art & Design in 2006, and founded Booooooom two years later. “It was never my intention for the blog to be my full-time job,” says Hamada, who designed a line for Endeavor Snowboards and T-shirts for the street fashion label 3sixteen. “But it took off when Kanye West posted about me on his [now defunct] blog, kanyeuniversecity.” Booooooom is now one of the biggest art phenomenons on the Internet, attracting over three million page views a month. “Booooooom isn’t only for people who went to art school,” added Hamada. “It’s not elitist, at all. I edit the site to welcome people who don’t necessarily know art history.”

Everyone knows American Gothic, by Grant Wood, and maybe that’s why it had seven remakes in the contest. “It’s one of the most parodied pieces of art in history,” said photographer Jesse Hunniford, via email from Launceston, Australia, where he shot his version of American Gothic with a skateboard instead of a pitchfork. Equally popular submissions were remakes of Leonardo’s The Last Supper and Johannes Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring. Less expected was an homage to Christo’s Umbrellas. “I raided the dollar stores looking for cocktail umbrellas,” recalled Tate Foley, an assistant professor in Missouri. “When there’s a tinge of humour, it makes the entries infinitely more interesting.”

Emily Kiel’s master’s thesis is about recreating famous paintings with photography, so she jumped at the chance to submit a remake of Ohhh . . . Alright . . . by Roy Lichtenstein. “My bedroom walls were already yellow and I found a can of red hairspray in the closet,” recalled Kiel, from College Station, Texas. “I painted my face with red acrylic dots, which would crack if I moved my face, so I had to scream with my mouth shut when I accidentally sprayed myself in the eye with hairspray.”

Is Lichtenstein rolling in his grave? Have Botticelli and Leonardo been debased? “It’s for fun, but remakes are legitimate,” noted Lori Pauli, associate curator of photographs at the National Gallery of Canada. “They’re a way of continuing the tradition of training and teaching.” Montreal artist Jessica Eaton pointed to Jeff Wall’s Backpack as a successful remake. “You’d never guess it’s based on a Kazimir Malevich,” said Eaton. “He captures the energy, the balance and the colour in a completely different context.” Likewise, remakes that are pure imitations don’t interest curator Karen Irvine at the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago. “They need to make some kind of commentary or question the canon of art history,” explained Irvine. “When it’s done right, a remake engages the viewer because of the familiarity, then throws into question the history of representation.”

Hamada’s response to that would be a resounding “whatever.” His primary concern is entrants having fun and sticking to the rules. Does he have a favourite submission? “I have a soft spot for handmade, analog, imperfect art,” said Hamada. “I don’t like a lot of the slick art you see on the Internet that’s made with a lot of computer graphics.”

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