On the 24th June, the anonymous artist, Jerkface, opened his latest exhibition at Maddox Gallery’s flagship location in Mayfair, marking his first ever solo show in the United Kingdom, entitled Villainy. Garnering a wide-ranging and loyal fan-base over his illustrious career, the New York born visual artist has become a trail-blazing figure in the art world, despite only rising to fame over the past decade. Known for his abstraction and repetition of familiar cartoon characters, his works are adored by fans globally.
In celebration of his highly anticipated exhibition, we take a closer look at the anonymous artist reimagining everyone from Mickey Mouse to Winnie The Pooh.
Like many street artists including Banksy and Invader, Jerkface remains entirely anonymous, hiding his identity from the public, as well as galleries and institutions. Favouring his privacy over the need for personal recognition, the artist even often avoids the openings of his shows, finding a bar close by to watch the exhibition from afar. Known only as ‘Jerkface’ to the public, over the years the artist has alluded to several different origin points of his name, keeping collectors and critics in the dark over the original inspiration for his moniker. In an exclusive conversation with the artist, the unidentified graffitist disclosed that his alias actually originates from a nickname given to him by an ex-girlfriend. A riff off of the name of Californian graffiti artist, Neck Face, the pseudonym ‘Jerkface’ seemed to stick with the Brooklyn-born artist and as his career progressed his name became intertwined with his artistic persona.
JERKFACE IN HIS STUDIO, 2021
Prior to his adoption of cartoon characters as subject matter, Jerkface first created canvases featuring abstract shapes on their own. Playing with ideas of colour dispersion and composition, the artist was inspired by the geometric abstraction of Cubism, a genre which was introduced to him by one of his teachers at the School of Visual Arts. With time, Jerkface added elements of familiar cartoons to make his work more digestible, with the recognisable subject matters of The Simpsons and Winnie The Pooh making his unique style more accessible to a wider audience. Describing his work as ‘high art with a low art subject matter’, his artwork fuses contemporary culture with art history, defying expectations and classification.
Colour is key to Jerkface’s kaleidoscopic works with the artist painting each canvas in a diverse and energetic palette. As the artist renders each work by hand, the more colours there are in an artwork, the longer it takes for him to create. This is especially true for artworks in which the composition overlaps, creating the effect of transparent elements. Although his works are often rendered in what appears to be flat block colours, just one of his canvases can contain over fifty different colours in a range of hues and tints, with the artist painstakingly matching and contrasting each pigment in accordance with colour theory.
It is a little-known fact that all of Jerkface’s subject matters are personal to him in some way. From Snoopy to Popeye, every character holds relevance for the artist. In fact, Jerkface feels so strongly that his personal relationship with the subject matter enhances his artwork that when commissioned by a high-profile street artist to create a work inspired by Disney’s The Jungle Book, the Brooklyn artist requested a new subject matter, knowing that his lack of connection to the theme would affect the quality of his work. In the end, Jerkface created a canvas inspired by the 1980s cartoon, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles instead.
In many of the street artist’s works, Jerkface omits the facial features of iconic cartoon characters, depicting Winne The Pooh with no eyes or Charlie Brown without a mouth. Due to humankind’s innate pareidolia, a tendency to perceive familiar shapes in abstract images, a viewer can easily recognise the cartoon character through colour and form despite the subject matter’s missing characteristics. By removing the facial features, Jerkface creates an artwork that transcends a specific mood or moment in time, creating a universally nostalgic work that champions form and colour.