The first emojis were created in 1999 by Japanese designer Shigetaka Kurita for a local telecoms company. Over the two decades since, they’ve mounted a stealth takeover of the world’s written conversation, and along the way, found their way into the permanent collection at MoMA. Some more emoji art can currently be found up a staircase off the Hackney Road, with a small exhibition of paintings from Kazakhstan-born German artist, Hell Gette.
As someone who rarely digs beyond the default Smileys & People menu in my texts, I was impressed at the broad variety of emojis Gette incorporates in her ‘landscapes’: which, drolly, are all in portrait format. Using a bright and breezy palette, and thick gobs of precisely-applied and planed-off oil paints, she gives us the blue and yellow pill, the sneaker, the hunk of meat and the muscly arm-flex, all in one work: #Fitnessmodel. Though obviously the star of the show here is the spectacular double (butt) peach of its titular subject!
Meanwhile, there’s the selfie-arm, a ladybird, a vampire, the lesser-used black checkmark, and a battalion of thunderstorm clouds, in #worldwanderer (below).
All of the paintings have a shared aesthetic, inspired, so the artist says, by 90s platform games. A more recent influence is clearly Photoshop, with parts of the painting framed by Adobe-format crop boxes, lending some extra depth. Or, perhaps, still more ironic removes.
Bringing us still further up to date is the obvious fact that the whole show’s seen through an Instagram filter. Fitting, given the sheer amount of emojis posted on that platform these days. Along with their phone-screen-friendly format, the titles of the works are all some of Instagram’s most-used hashtags: others are named #tbt and #tfw.
Even if the subject matter’s deliberately ephemeral and throwaway, Gette’s careful handling of her medium, and solidly coherent aesthetic, means these paintings linger in the mind.
And how ephemeral can emojis really be anyway, considering they’ve been with us since the last century?
Hell Gette: ## is at Annka Kultys Gallery (London). June 18 - July 18 2020