Facebook has arrived, well actually it arrived in 2006 when it transformed from a communication tool originally set up for use on Universities, to a point today where it now has over 100 million users and is included in the Financial Reviews Power 2008 list. It has completely transformed the world of social communication in just two short years. Another sure fire sign of arrival is the fact that people try to ban it; in cafes (because it stops face to face communication), in businesses (because it has an effect of employee productivity) and by Prime Ministers (Kevin 07 was a fan when it came to electioneering, but Kevin 08 has taken down his own sight and banned his office and household from having them).
What is equally amazing is the fact that Facebook has become the great social leveller; it gives everyone the opportunity to become ‘friends’ with almost anyone. The great and the good, the shallow and superfluous, provided they ‘approve’ your friend’s request, and with the number of your facebook friends, seemingly a measure of your social success, few these days are going to deny a friends request.
Facebook further shrinks our increasingly tiny world, breaks down social barriers and stampedes across borders. It decreases the whole notion of 6 degrees of separation down to one, and as Werner has show us, with portraits in this show of his ‘facebook friends’ Salvador Dali and Ned Kelly not even mortality can stand in the way.
But at its heart this exhibition is really more about good old fashion portraiture than it is about Facebook. What started as a project to get back to the beginnings of his art career when he discreetly placed portraits of his friends within paintings of the urban fabric of Brisbane has morphed into capturing a glimpse of the Brisbane art scene. As Werner notes “I had been considering doing a show of portraits as I wanted to get back to incorporating myself and friends in more of my works. I considered how I could paint some of the people I know as well as some of the artists, arts workers and musicians whom I’ve admired or worked along side on projects, exhibitions etc. over the past ten years. When I made my Facebook page I realised I could get links to these people and decided it might be good way to take a snapshot of where the Brisbane Arts community was at and touch on a few new media questions that are being discussed at the moment”.
Despite the fact that these portraits are of his contemporaries they never the less are part of a linage that extends from Gainsborough to Warhol both of who painted the wealthy, the aristocratic and the celebrities of their own day, mostly by commission. Warhol who would have loved Facebook! Had an understanding of publicity and how to generate it that was almost imprinted in his DNA, and with this exhibition of uncommissioned and un-invited works, Werner channels that same understanding.
The portraits themselves, painted in a stylishly blurred manner in the materials of a traditional oil on canvas portrait, are also reminiscent of Warhol’s in the fact that they are painted from photos. Only in this case they are photos, which are uploaded by the digital technology of today, onto a facebook profile and then downloaded again by the brush and paint technology of yesterday onto canvas by Werner. In the end this show also turns out to be as much of a self-portrait of Werner as it is a portrait of his Facebook friends. Benjamin Byrne