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  • Beyoncé to SpongeBob: Snapshots of Digital Culture

    Producers: Wilson Korges, Shelley Davis
    Editing: Emma Cregan

    It’s no coincidence that all of Sarah Jamison’s recent drawings are the size of an iPhone 6s Plus screen. Her colored pencil artwork imitates the common way in which we ingest the culture of the internet, placing a critical lens on the images that consume our daily lives. As a collection, they have a fitting title: Ubiquitous.

    Her work, Jamison explains, is meant to address and explore “our digital culture, pop culture as a visual language that I think our culture speaks.”

    Jamison transforms viral images into fine art renderings. She first creates a digital collage, choosing and layering images that will eventually be recreated in colored pencil.

    “I really prefer colored pencil because of the amount of control and precision that you have with the line, the level of permanence, the level of saturation you get when using it,” she explained in her studio.

    Jamison moved to Washington, D.C., to earn her BFA in fine arts from Corcoran College of Art and Design. She uses her fine art background to reimagine the memes that make up internet culture—everything from Beyoncé to SpongeBob. By focusing on these iconic figures as part of a common cultural thread, Jamison reexamines their meaning to larger, offline society. Realism gives the images a more grounded context, one with connections to more tangible forms of art and culture. As Jamison describes in her artist’s statement, culture lies at the core of her work.

    “I want to create pieces that are snapshots of our culture, presented in a way that allows the viewer to consider familiar concepts in a different way,” she writes. “I consider the internet and digital media to be a unique and incredible vessel for culture to exist, evolve and be archived simultaneously.”

    Sarah Jamison Ubiquitous series
    Clockwise from top left: “Run the World (Girls),” “Haters Will Say It’s Photoshop,” “Woke,” “Disaster Girl,” “Kawaii,” “Hey!” Colored pencil, gouache, marker. From the series Ubiquitous. 2.75” x 5”.
    Artwork by Sarah Jamison

    The images at the center of our connected consciousness are constantly shifting as well as losing and regaining meaning. In her work, Jamison explores their evolution and appearance of importance.

    “It’s all sort of important on the internet,” Jamison mused. “And people are constantly elevating things to iconic status.”

    Jamison purposefully mirrors this elevation through her art, inviting questions about the nature of the people and characters we promote almost accidentally.

    “It’s this echo chamber where if something is popular, it’s getting reblogged and retweeted, shared and liked, elevated to the status of anyone and everyone seeing it.” 

    Internet culture, she concluded, can catapult to fleeting fame “something as ordinary as Kim Kardashian crying or Grumpy Cat.” Jamison’s work reflects this roots-up creation of iconic images that happens constantly on the internet, allowing them to be examined with meaning and purpose outside of their usual iPhone homes.

    Wilson Korges is a writer and former media intern at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. He recently graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s of science in history.

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