the tumblr-famous appropriation artist behind kanye’s t.l.o.p. album art
Peter De Potter's aesthetic might look simple, but it raises a lot of questions.
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Not everyone was a fan of the Peter De Potter-designed cover art for The Life Of Pablo that Kanye West premiered on Twitter ahead of his T.L.O.P/Yeezy debut at Madison Square Garden yesterday. "plot twist: Peter De Potter is actually North West," read one of the nicer tweets about the MS Paint orange stamped repeatedly with the album title like stylized matrix code with a cut-and-paste image dropped into the bottom left corner. The Independent called the effect "nausea-inducing."
De Potter, a Belgian artist who has been showcasing his work exclusively online for the past few years, would probably be delighted at the comparisons. So too with the suggestion that he ripped the art from Madonna's 2003 single "Nothing Fails." De Potter's favorite medium is a collage of photography and text, which he often appropriates from elsewhere on the internet. Prominent in his work are primitive images of anonymous youths, often nude, and usually swiped from the subject's own social feed before being subjected to either contextual or explicit commentary. His 2010 piece "Upstarts" features such gravelly monochromatic portraits overlaid with words like "CONSENT", "SAFETY", and "REJECTION" digitally imposed to resemble Sharpie marker slogans like one might wake up wearing after passing out at a frat party. The phrase "angelic starts" in a lowercase font otherwise indistinguishable to that rolling down the T.L.O.P cover hovers over the bodies of the youths as the viewer scrolls through the feed, mingling with the DIY scrawls over their skin.
It's unlikely that Kanye became familiar with De Potter's work through Tumblr's "Explore" function. Since 2001, before Tumblr was even a thing, he has been the close collaborator of another Belgian creative: fashion designer Raf Simons, whom Kanye has repeatedly cited, along with Helmut Lang and Rick Owens, as an influence in his work for Adidas. De Potter was involved with the curation and exhibition of Simons' 2003 book The Fourth Sex: Adolescent Extremes, which delved deep into youth culture in all its lustful, ingenious, and ingenuous complexities. The book features portraits, excerpts, and artworks that explore the contradictory existence of teenages and teen subcultures, being hip to the money-grubbing desires of corporations and yet keenly rabid consumers of their mass-produced goods.
Along with imagery of Playstation and Coca-Cola, Adolescent Extremes features input from authors and artists ranging from David Foster Wallace and Vladmir Nabokov to Richard Prince and Vanessa Beecroft. These last two are closely allied with De Potter and West, respectively. Beecroft, Kanye's longtime artistic collaborator, might be the only person on Team Yeezy (with the exception, perhaps, of Kylie Jenner) with a more hearty appetite for controversy than Yeezus himself. Prince has himself repeatedly stirred controversy for stealing the images put online by young (and mostly female) social media stars. But while his "works" are made for gallery walls and come with $100,000 price tags, De Potter's appropriations remain only online. One might argue that his approach to Tumblr isn't much different to anyone else using the site.
De Potter's obsession with youth codes and the democratization of art make him a fitting collaborator for Kanye West. Yesterday's T.L.O.P debut was too presented in a format made for reblogging, Instagramming, and hashtagging. And just like the contradictory kids documented in Adolescent Extremes, even the most sharp-witted of the art's detractors will probably fork out for the album. At least if the internet doesn't make that freely available too.
Text Hannah Ongley
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