Melissa Huang, Old Friend, oil on canvas, 2019
In my paintings and prints I explore multiplicity of identity. The way you are perceived and the way you present yourself changes from person to person. A different version of you exists in the minds of your family, friends, colleagues, strangers, and digital audience; none of which encompass your complete identity. Rather, each of these fragments come together to paint a fuller picture of “you”. I’m fascinated by the ways in which we construct these identities. Contemporary culture is obsessed with perfection, and digital image manipulation has blurred the lines between reality and the idealized self, creating an unsettling gap between who we really are and how we wish to be perceived. Much of our public image has become simulacra, representations of ourselves stripped of personal meaning and imbued with culturally constructed meaning.
Image editing apps, deepfake technology, simple photo editing software, and more have made it possible to construct an entirely new you that only exists through social media and digital means. I engage with this concept in my series of channel shift paintings, in which I use Photoshop to create warped, ghostly second images of the self, then captured in oil paint. By translating these digital manipulations into the oil medium I relate our
current obsession with images of the self to the long history of the portrait painting tradition.
The average person is no longer able to identify when images of bodies have been digitally edited to achieve a naturally unattainable goal. By creating layered paintings pairing more representational versions of a person with translucent, distorted imagery, I am engaging with this culture of digitally attaining otherwise unreachable perfection. There is both a connection and divide between the real and performative self. Without one, the other would not exist.
Born in Chicago, IL, Melissa Huang received her BFA in Fine Arts Studio from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Currently, Melissa attends Georgia State University for her MFA in Drawing and Painting (expected May 2021). Her surreal oil paintings, prints, and sculptures explore multiplicity of identity and the digitally constructed self.
Melissa is an Appraiser of Fine Art with a background working in galleries, museums, and archives. Her work has been featured in publications including Fresh Paint Magazine, Art House Press, and Stone Canoe. Melissa is a founding member of the Politits Art Coalition, a feminist art group that exhibits collaboratively and curates an annual juried exhibition. You can see more of Melissa’s artwork on Instagram.