Coca-Cola Pop Art Gallery: Micha Klein, Pioneer of the Digital Image Culture

Micha Klein graduated from the Rietveld Academy, Amsterdam, in 1989 as the first artist to receive a BA in computer graphics. The same year, Klein started exhibiting his gigantic photographic panels in prestigious galleries around the world.

Klein was already known as a successful VJ and experienced a breakthrough on the international club scene before he made it as an artist. Pioneer of the VJ-scene, Micha Klein introduced his rhythmic editing of computer graphics and video images at the first Acid house parties in 1988. In the nineties, he introduced the VJ concept in Ibiza, where he held a residency in legendary club Pacha. The rest of the world would follow fast. Over the years, Klein has seen how things have technically evolved and how the VJ-scene has boomed: “The new equipment and software create new possibilities. We live in a multimedia age, so we can’t live on music alone anymore. Visuals will become an integral part of electronic culture, and in the future DJ’s will become Media Jockey’s” (note: with this 90’s quote, Micha proved to be a real visionary – anno 2008, the age of the Media Jockey has begun with tools as the Pioneer SVM 1000).

In 1998, the Groninger Museum honored him with a retrospective dedicated to 10 years of his graphic production and videos. In 2003, Klein was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the international VJ scene during the AVIT UK summit.

Klein’s artworks are a significant crossover between art, multimedia, video art, VJing, marketing and advertising. They attract attention for their digital approach, surrealistic shapes & objects and bright colors and tell stories of a world that revisits pop art and culture. Klein doesn’t portray reality; he likes to create his own reality.
With his computer manipulated images and psychedelic computer palette, Klein explores the media based culture of our time. He mixes music, club culture, fashion, beauty and mass media to create a wondrous universe somewhere between dream and reality.

The people and landscapes in his artworks are just too beautiful & perfect. They appear unreal, even unearthly. In his series ‘Artificial Beauty’ (1998), Klein generated a new fictitious generation of beautiful young people, taking over the top the all too perfect beings and settings we encounter in advertisements.
By doing so, Klein also shows that today’s photography has no more to do with reality than other types of images. Even the most stunning models are given a Photoshop make-over. The end result is highly artificial, and comments on the aspects of society that Klein finds fascinating yet problematic such as artificial beauty and plastic surgery.

The aesthetics of advertising and elements of everyday and popular culture have always been an integrated element Klein’s art, and he brings everything that is usable over from this world. In true pop art tradition, Micha Klein is a big but critical fan of the techniques and concepts of advertising. Just like Damien Hirst, Klein believes that art must compete with commercial and spectacular expressions: “My work must be as seductive as advertising and entertainment. If not, it loses its visibility in a culture saturated by media, constantly bombarding us with commercial messages. Since these messages have become part of the mainstream culture, it is vital that artists especially can infiltrate this culture with their subversive ideas.”

Over the last years, Micha Klein has worked in clubs around the world and collaborated with superstar DJ Tiësto on visuals for his live-sets and created background projections for Eminem’s concert tour, based on his notorious character Pillman. Klein also did all the artworks for the Dutch dance festival Mysteryland, designed the animations for Jacky Chan’s ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ movie and did commercial work for companies and brands as Swatch, Philips, Endemol, KPN, Mustang Jeans, Heineken, Hugo Boss and Samsung.

For his first Coca-Cola commercial, Micha Klein managed to put in a girl in a ‘Make Love, Not War’ T-shirt (just before the 2nd Gulf war), a boy wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt the war and girls licking each others faces. The video with music by Monte La Rue, introducing Coca-Cola’s new visual identity by Desgrippes Gobé, was sold to 25 Coca-Cola markets, a lot in Central and South America.

Klein’s commercial jobs and his works of art have a number of parallels in form & content: “It’s fun to stretch the image of a company in directions they never would imagine, to sort of pile your own layer of meaning on top of theirs, to inject some of my own ideas”.
Klein always tries to inject some of his own ideas in his commercial work. “I try to talk to the client and tell them they should transform their strategy to become a ‘good company’, to be closer to their consumers and do community projects. Give back to the people… I think in the future companies will be judged on that”.
By doing commercial assignments, Klein can finance his own art, and is not dependent on government subsidies, which gives him more freedom.

The music & club culture is still a key component in Klein’s work; at times he prefers the unceremonious gathering at clubs to the seriousness of galleries or museums.
For the Coca-Cola commercial “Bubble Dream Girl”, Klein could combine his passion for dance floors and advertising. The clip was shot in Malaga on 35mm, with a 50 people crew and 80 extras. Graphics & special effects were added in post production and his friend Tiësto did the soundtrack.

Last year (2007), ‘Speeding on the Virtual Highway’, a documentary about Micha Klein’s life & work was shown at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. Director Corinne van Egeraat follows Klein as he works on his his new art series. This unique time document shows us how fast digital developments go and how quickly the times they are a-changin’, especially in the case of Klein’s creative way of living.

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Coca-Cola Pop Art Gallery: John Clem Clarke

During the second half of the twentieth century, popular culture and the mass media gained a huge significance in American culture. Pop art that was a sign of the times: a product, a tribute to art history and critique of the social situation.
In the sixties, the New York art scene was very diverse, with people coming from different places, backgrounds and art disciplines & movements. The young John Clem Clarke was always fascinated art & advertising. He moved to New York, started painting and quickly made a name in the NYC pop art scene. Art about art is a continuous thread through Clarke’s work. His series re-working the Old Masters, such as Velasquez’s “Las Meninas” and Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” are popular icons of the late 60’s.
Clarke’s works, a mix of photo-realism and comic style with a pop art imagery. hang today in major museums as NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art & Whitney Museum of American Art, Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, LA’s County Museum and Washington’s Hirshhorn Museum.

Clarke works in the pop art tradition of Andy Warhol, Jim Dine, Roy Liechtenstein & Tom Wesselmann, drawn on the graphic vocabularies of commercial modernity: “I play back and forth using unique objects and a mass-produced presentation style. You might say that ideas I express are a lot more complex than the apparently simple style I use to express them”.
Speed is vital to the freshness of John Clem Clarke’s works, and animation is the key to his style. Every line is alive, no edge is ever straight. The large size of his artworks plays an important role in the transformation of Clarke’s illustration-based style into high art.
Working on big size canvasses, his work is quite technical. The last years he uses a computer for the design phase, but before he had to work out all specific details as a sketch, use an overhead projector to project this sketches on a canvas, drew the projected image and finally paint it.” His way of working is very similar to the work of illustrators of comics or how graphic designers work today in Photoshop. Clarke: “My first layer was always the black outline. Then I painted a colored layer underneath using the line drawing as an overlay. This is the same technique Disney cartoonists used years ago. Of course, when I was developing it as my own way of working, I didn’t know that. For the actual painting, I use large stencils. I lay them onto the canvas and sponge the paint on. This way there are no brush strokes. Sometimes, I overlay the stencils so that you get the sort of effect you see when a picture isn’t printed quite right -just a little offset. I like that irregular edge”. Just like the works by Andy Warhol or Jean-Michelle Basquiat, John Clem Clarke’s oeuvre is complete with imperfections: “Instead of painting out my “mistakes”, I let them stay on the canvas as alternative solutions to the painting and to show the thought process in making a painting. It bothers me when things look too good. I like to paint and paint and paint, until I get it wrong.”

On weekends, Clarke still roams around flea and antiques markets, looking for vintage retro objects, advertising material and photographs he can use as a point of departure for his artworks. The great ads from the fifties and early sixties are a big source of inspiration: “I try to make the paintings seem as commercially produced as possible. People grew up looking at commercial illustration and print advertising, so they are comfortable with it as a visual style. I make art in a way that people find it immediately accessible”.
Clarke found his future as an artist in his past through the subject matter, themes and styles of forties, fifties & sixties. But Clarke’s works also speak of the present, the moment he creates them, by his vision & the personal touch of his brushstroke.

In the 1910s, the Coca-Cola Company ran an ad of a gorgeous woman drinking a Coke. The copy read: “Nothing is so suggestive of Coca-Cola’s own pure deliciousness as the picture of a beautiful, sweet, wholesome, womanly woman.”
Associating itself with an ideal American girl, Coca-Cola made its appeal to the public. Clarke takes this advertising concept one step further and combines the “Coca-Cola girl” billboard with the all American theme of a police car chase. His painting “Police Behind Cola Billboard” is so filmesque, that we actually wonder what will happen next…

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