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Travess Smalley Is Not A Meme Artist

The abstract digital visuals and photo work of this talented YIBA are refreshingly not too “meta."
February 16, 2016, 4:35pm

Not long ago, in a feature on the marketability of the emerging GIF art scene, we discussed certain YIBAs (Young Internet-Based Artists) who are thinking savvily about how to create, distribute, and make a living selling their work on the web. These artists typically don’t specialize in any one medium—even though their ability to craft endless lines of code far exceeds that of the average person—but rather weave their practice throughout a variety of mediums and media formats that incorporate everything from video, GIFs, photography, installation, 3D animation, gaming, and even more traditional forms like painting and sculpture.


This new breed of artist tends to thrive in online artistic communities, like Computers Club,, and “surf clubs” like the now defunct JstChillin. And it was in one of these creative salons that we discovered the work of Travess Smalley, a 25-year-old artist from West Virginia and graduate of NYC’s Cooper Union.

Smalley somehow stands out from his fellow YIBAs, in part thanks to the diversity of works, but mostly thanks to the carefree and joyful approach he seems to employ. From what we can tell, he’s not the kind of artist who spends endless hours crafting glitches of pixel paintings and writing esoteric, pompous “artist statements” on the virtual as paradigm or many of the other self-conscious and often superfluous trappings that often interfere with artworks from this particular scene.

What’s so refreshing about his works is his obvious desire to emancipate himself from the sometimes oppressive internet imagery and web subculture—think ‘memes.’ Many of today’s net artists seem to be putting forth a stream of inside jokes derived from the new pop culture (i.e. internet culture) and developed in the online communities where they live. The result is work that often feels alienating and ephemeral.

Smalley appears to be very much a part of this community, but somehow manages to escape these emerging clichés about his generation’s art trends and produces work that is very clearly born out of the digital world but whose genuine artistic interest goes beyond a digital native ‘wink’ to his peers. Also, his subtle yet quite noticeable inclination for humorous pieces betrays a sane and joyful relationship with his endeavor.

Here’s a selection of some of his more chaotic works, but we encourage you to visit his website to see more.