PAINTING IN THE HYBRID ERA: THE BOOK OF IMAGINARY BEINGS BY MIGUEL ÁNGEL FÚNEZ

Miguel Ángel Fúnez (1988-), based in Madrid, Spain, creates his own original image using the widely known animal icon of popular culture as a starting point. Dogs, frogs, lions, and woodpeckers appear in his painting series ‘Mincemeat’, which will be debuted through this exhibition. These are actually based on the characters that everyone has seen at least once in a manga or anime, such as Snoopy, Pink Panther and Garfield. This familiarity, however, we felt at first sight soon turns into unfamiliarity. This is because the images only hint at a specific character, but do not appear in its full form. The artist uses a cartoon character that has been established in many people’s memories, but fills the canvas with a suspenseful images created through the process of chopping and mixing, just as the ‘minced meat’.

This painting series present an ambivalent image that stands on the border between familiarity and unfamiliarity, clarity and ambiguity. The titles also do not specify the name of the characters, but simply refer to them as ‘white dog’, ‘pink lion’, ‘yellow bird’, etc. The technique can be largely divided into two types: a case in which one character is divided into several parts and then overlapped or connected, and another in which one character is mixed with another character or combined with images like a hat, cake, or heart. When the central character is white, like ‘White Dog’, the background is red, yellow, and blue, but when the character itself is colored like ‘Pink Lion’, the background is white and the impression of fullness stands out on the entire canvas. Although fragmented images are combined and reconstructed, their clear outlines are organically connected without conspicuous seams, and the shape seems to be revealed but is hidden, so it is difficult to grasp the artist’s image dismantling and recombination process at a glance. Each piece of art works as a kind of camouflage image.

In addition to painting, Miguel has been approaching the culture of hybrid image that is easily transformed and duplicated through digital technology or problems caused by human intervention in nature along with the development of biotechnology by dealing with animal images through photography and drawing works. As the artist himself reveals, the artistic backgrounds that influenced his work are diverse, from Natural History by Pliny and Metamorphoses by Ovid to Eduardo Kac’sBioart. Above all, the unique fantasy world of Hieronymus Bosch seems to have been an important source of inspiration for Miguel’s work. Bosch was a painter who embodies a surprising imaginary image of a mixture of human with various animals and plants in “The Garden of Earthly Delights (1490-1500)”, and was praised as a pioneer of surrealism. This triptych is one of the representative collections of the Prado Museum, boasting the world’s best collection of paintings and where Miguel must have visited many times since he was a child. In addition, Miguel’s art can be associated with the Bestiaries, Cabinets of Curiosities in the 16th-17th centuries, a space for collecting rare animal and plant specimens, and “The Book of Imaginary Beings” of Borges.

In this way, Miguel continues his endless passion as an artist with both insight into the times and excellent expressiveness based on his richness in the knowledge of humanities. His work makes us reflect on the contemporary phenomena of cloning and recombination, image manipulation and transformation, and reminds us of the value of human imagination, which is becoming increasingly important in the age of artificial intelligence (AI). In an interview, this promising artist says, «I drew pictures every day to overcome myself, and that made me go into a different world.» Miguel’s work, which composes his own illustrated animal encyclopedia with the ‘Mincemeat’ painting series, provides an opportunity to reflect on the world we live in and to think about the role of art in creating another world.

Kim Bo-ra (Art/Art Criticism, Visiting Professor, Department of Painting, Hongik University) [Seoul, september 2022]