Visual Arts

"Mike Frick’s Twitter Show": Could Your Twitter Photo Become Art?

Move over, MySpace and Facebook, Twitter is about to have its day.

The social-networking site is three years old and has an estimated 4.5 million users worldwide. Flagstaff artist Mike Frick (a.k.a. Frickshow), is one of them. He lives on the outskirts of the town and, though he doesn't own a telephone, is on Twitter.

Twitter's set-up is simple: A user profile consists of a photo, a screen name (mine is Womanconi), and a short bio. Users post comments, or "tweets," no more than 140 characters long and watch as contacts grow and pieces of conversation overlap. Trust me, it's really addicting.

Frick's exhibition at Grandon Art Gallery in Flagstaff is inspired by the "micro-blogging" site. From his contacts on Twitter, Frick chooses profile photos he likes and whips up loose, painterly portraits on cardboard. He may or may not personally know his subjects, but for his Flagstaff show, he was sure to include local Twitterers. Each work's title consists of a username and a tweet by that user. Though the paintings are obviously created quickly and with cheap material, they have an immediate charm.

Twitter portraits aren't a huge departure for Frick, a former editorial art director at New Times. He's been painting full time for the past nine years and works with portraiture often, depicting humorous figures with distorted perspectives and large swipes of wild colors. No subject — celebrities, historic characters, folks in his personal life — is safe.

I caught up with Frick (on Twitter, of course) and did a quick interview, 140 characters at a time. Just a couple of tweets in, he sent me an e-mail with his Twitter portrait of me attached. In it, I'm ghostly with pale skin. My dark hair is stark black with tinges of fiery red. It's me, for sure. But I'm looking a little more sinister than usual. Many of his other Twitter portraits, like quathi-1, have a similar otherworldly look. Because his painting style looks undone, his subjects appear exposed, vulnerable, and a little haggard.

Turns out, Frick can do a lot with 140 characters and I found myself chuckling as we tweeted back and forth, often tweeting out of order or twice in a row to try and fit all of our words:

Womanconi: How long have you been tweeting?

Frickshow: I think I stumbled on this thing last winter, I thought it was odd . . . but then got hooked.

Frickshow: I'm sure Twitter will be replaced by Bluetooth anal probes within the year.

Womanconi: Wow! I just got your jpeg with the painting of my twitter picture . . .That was quick! Thanks :)

Frickshow: Oh, I'm trying to do all of them. I figure in another year or so I'll get the bathroom poses out of the way and can start on the pics in cars.

Womanconi: How did you first get the idea?

Frickshow: I got the idea from Anna Bjerger's paintings of 129 Swedes, taken from an annual report. [Bjerger is a Swedish contemporary painter who replicates found images in her paintings.]

Frickshow: Oh, and yeah, your painting was done quickly, as all of them are. I was trying to be as fast as a tweet . . . Some look like Elizabeth Peyton's [an American contemporary artist who paints stylized portraits of friends, family and celebrities].

Womanconi: Yes, I can see the Peyton comparison. Why cardboard?

Frickshow: Cardboard represents the transient nature of social networking: You're here, you're gone . . . Plus I like to recycle.

Womanconi: Oh, and how fast, would you say, is a tweet?

Frickshow: I think Superman is fast as a tweet.

Womanconi: Have you done a self-portrait?

Frickshow: They are all of me.

Womanconi: All are of you . . . How?

Frickshow: They all look like me, or I look like them . . . It's creepy sometimes, especially when it's a painting of a woman.

Frickshow: If Van Gogh had Twitter, he wouldn't have had to copy those Millet's.

Womanconi: Good point about Van Gogh. And we'll round out this interview with a final question: What do you think VG's last tweet would have been?

Frickshow: Theo, come here. I need you.

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Lilia Menconi
Contact: Lilia Menconi