On the -isms of Punkrockbigmouth II: Crosshatch Realism

This is the second in my series of essays about the art of Punkrockbigmouth. Please check out essay #1 about Niki’s Digital Impressionism and enjoy my thoughts on -ism #2: Crosshatch Realism.

Whereas brushstrokes exist as a result of the medium of paint, crosshatching is a technique that originated back when etchings and engravings were all the rage. This sort of technique, in which artists were scratching out their pictures on wood or metal, required a innovative and precise approach to shading and texture, and artists like Albrecht Dürer found ways to do it using just lines, and lines crossing over lines. Here’s a Dürer that’s a good example:

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Note in particular the way you perceive the darkness in the corner behind the bed from what are simply vertical lines strategically crossing over horizontal lines. It’s a very economical technique, which pen and pencil artists find useful as well. But like Niki’s use of brushstrokes, hatch lines are a technique of the past, essentially unnecessary in digital art. However, that doesn’t mean Niki doesn’t make necessary use of it. Here’s a beautiful portrait entitled, simply, “Ambrose”:

Niki has a lot of these character portraits that capture a wrestler’s signature expression, large, memorable expressions being such a crucial tool in their arsenal of getting over with a stadium-sized crowd. The Luke Harper portrait in the first essay in this series was another example of a perfectly captured expression that resonates as real, which I noted had an impressionistic approach to brushstrokes. But if you look closely, this Ambrose is composed almost entirely of hatch lines. The shading around the eyes and on the upper lip is standard crosshatch, but his hair, beard, and eyebrows integrate the hatch lines into realism: the hatch lines extend themselves from shading into Ambrose’s natural lines. They become short beard hairs, wild eyebrows, and wavy strings of tousled hair recently doused by a water bottle in order to look badass rather than poofy. And in the darker spot beneath Ambrose’s jawline, the lines are both shading and whiskers. Crosshatching, a technique that leaves a more non-real, impressionist feeling, extends into the realism that makes this such a dear, sweet expression.

It’s not exactly his signature expression—his signature expression is probably “big crazy eyes”—but it’s an expression known well by Ambrose fangirls such as myself. (And, I suspect, Niki.) Crosshatching is a quaint technique, really: it’s from simpler times, etchings and seventies storybook illustrations, it tugs on the heartstrings. So it’s a perfect way to endear Ambrose’ heart-throb demographic, who certainly see Ambrose in a sweeter light which his “lunatic fringe” gimmick has tended to neglect.

Then, here’s where things start to really evolve with the realism and the crosshatching, with this Becky Lynch portrait called “Make Money”:

Niki’s use of hatch marks here is excess, in terms of realism. They provide more than shading: they are a rather blunt attempt at texture, and they in fact detract from the effective representation of a realistic face. But that is, in fact, the point. Because the realism here is not aimed at depicting a real Becky Lynch, but depicting the profile portrait of Becky Lynch as she would appear on a US currency note, with the same sort of institutional American style of crosshatching we see all over old George here:

Becky Lynch on a bank note, isn’t that a curious concept! I was wracking my brains to remember a Becky Lynch “money” angle but to be honest, was distracted by debacles in October of 2016 (when this piece was posted), and wasn’t paying close enough attention. My mind raced with stories I could tell about what it all means but nothing really clicked, so I asked Niki. Turns out the meaning wasn’t there for me to discover, it was an inside joke!

Shinsuke Nakamura once told Niki to “make money”. I’m assuming his suggestion meant she should go big in monetizing her artwork, a subject about which I’ve noticed she’s been both salty and cautious. Like a thumb to the nose, this piece takes his suggestion too literally: she “made money” the subject of her art, and made both the cheeky and political gesture of choosing Becky Lynch as the official face on the Punkrockbigmouth currency.

That said, there’s actually so much meaning in this. It is an example of another Punkrockbigmouth -ism we haven’t covered yet: cartoon satire. Becky Lynch as money: it’s a satirical jab at the politics of women’s wrestling portrayed as an almost literal cartoon. (Cartoon satire doesn’t structure quite right for an -ism, but get over it. Not all -isms can logistically take on the suffix, and plus I’m just making all this up anyway. Essentially, cartoon satire is the genre of Niki’s art that intersects with wrestling’s political themes.)

So really, even though Niki was apparently goofing around here, her satirical jab should not be overlooked. Niki chose a chronically undervalued female wrestler to be the face on her own wrestling currency, with which she carefully engages with wrestling’s merch market. I don’t want to presume, but this strikes me as a feminist heel stance right there, if I ever saw one. A crotch chop to the problematic industry that would appropriate her art. (DISCLAIMER BTW: I am not accusing Niki of having any particular stance or opinion here. I’ve only read her tweets, and I am not claiming to speak for her politics, wrestling or otherwise. I’m simply pointing out that the symbolism in her art spins up into a certain message that I can see. It an interpretation heavily influenced by my own point of view. So if you want to be a bitch and troll about it, talk to me, not to her.) So the cartoon satire really boosts the purpose of the crosshatch realism here: what is real is not Becky, but money, and maybe that’s the point somehow.

That turned out to be a rather thorny metaphor that I’d best just park right there until we delve more deeply into cartoon satire. There’s more to say about Niki’s work that deals with the neglect of Becky Lynch, but we need to move on for now with more crosshatch realism, to one of my most favorite Punkrockbigmouth pieces, “The Selfie”:

Here’s the amazing thing about this piece—it’s is a direct hatch line depiction of a selfie taken and tweeted by Joey Mercury of J&J Security during the middle of a match:

This is way modern, by the way—both what Joey did and what Niki did with it. This is along the lines of Duchamp upending a urinal, giving it a name, and calling it art. She essentially sketched out the image in crosshatches over the top of the real image, which was its own perfect modern moment, but one that doesn’t necessarily pass as art by itself. Her sketch gives heightened meaning to Joey’s savvy and irreverent Twitter gesture, highlighting the artistic composition in the photo, which is far from an ordinary selfie.

Considering the sheer volume of photographic miscellany we consume daily as citizens of the internet, we’re accustomed to scrolling efficiently past selfies, even good ones, processessing them only as brief glimpses into a someone’s life. Even if that someone did a number of takes before they got their selfie-composition cute enough, we simply don’t have time to care about the bulk of their selfie catalog, it’s internet clutter for the most part. But what Niki did with this image makes you look more closely at what’s there, and what’s there is pretty extraordinary.

The figures of the Ambrose/Cena tag team are aligned to the left, and Joey’s own image aligns in the composition with that of Seth Rollins, for whom he was a loving and devoted security provider.  Their faces form a constellation of varied wrestler expressions: Joey’s exuberant muppet smile, Ambrose’s expressively pained countenance, Rollins’ look of grrr, and Cena’s default expression of self-important concern. My point being, the composition of the selfie provides a visual map of the storyline at that moment. It’s also a damn fine piece of camerawork, a rare glimpse through the ringropes in which the ropes don’t muck up the view, and all set against a visually pleasing background of sparsely lit audience.

Is all of this random chance for the selfie taker? Maybe. But Joey Mercury was known for taking selfies around the ring at that time, and he does proclaim in his selfie caption: “My selfie game is strong. Too strong.” The man’s apparently a selfie master. Who are we to scoff? All of this is the conclusion I came to after Niki crosshatch of the real interpreted Joey’s Twitter selfie as art. And that’s my whole point here, why “The Selfie” is so remarkable amidst the rest of Niki’s archive.

Next up in this series I venture down the rabbit hole of what I’m calling foreshortened dynamism. Here’s a preview:

Don’t forget to visit the Punkrockbigmouth Tumblr, Absurdity!

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