Rough, Gritty, and Provocative Creations from a Self-Taught Digital Artist

John Karborn relies on remnants of the past and the reality of the present in order to formulate a vision of the future.

by Presented By Espolón
01 September 2016, 12:50pm

No One Remembers Your Face. All images courtesy of the artist.

Self-taught English artist John Karborn has a distinct style that’s a fine-arts version of industrial chic, recalling the politically-charged realism of the Ashcan School, but tweaked and upgraded for the digital age. Drawing inspiration from contemporary cultural artifacts such as video games and large-scale advertising signage, Karborn believes that the world comes with its own natural arrangement of things, which is coherently manifested through its inherent aesthetics.

Karborn's portraits carve out and reveal subconscious themes about industrialization. In this way, they carry on the traditions of Russian Constructivists as well as the work of artists such as Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger. Karborn admits that he wants art to be completely removed from politics, "But not removed from clear interesting challenges of us, them, her, what, and why," he explains. "Simplistic bullshit like 'he’s bad' doesn’t cut it, but good, new, unusual and interesting perspectives are vital."

A Long Time Ago You Didn't Need a Body

Themes in Karborn's own art range from overpopulation and manipulation to technology and the bizarre. "I also enjoy the ludicrous aspects of society: new ways things can go wrong and exploring self-identity—the effect of our self-created environments through distortion and deconstruction of the human form," he says.

As it stands today, Karborn feels the graffiti scene is "boring, dead, sold out, gone." According to the artist, GIFs and self-made digital creations have taken the place of street art. "GIFs are more real, more honest, homemade," Karborn says. "They are a new kind of VHS tape [...] even though the format is 30 years old now. And of course, they are used to rip parts of films, overlaid with subversive new typography or edits to shift meaning. They capture all the imagination of the bootlegger and artist simultaneously. The GIF might be the most prolific and significant single digital format of social and artistic expression."

I Never Grow Old And I Never Die

Karborn feels that artists need to remain objective, even though their art can propel ideas in order to disrupt the status quo and ignite a reexamination of society's values and ideas. "Rather than expressly laying down a point of view, I want to invite curiosity and open challenges, not lay down strict statements," he says.

As an artist himself, Karborn finds that the issues he examines are continuously evolving, and he actually enjoys the "natural constant change" of ideas and mediums in his practice. He says, "In a dynamic environment, everything changes, and the work will change as I do. Change is vital. Even the work itself will change over time. Without change, you're finished."

With Courage and Confidence We Look Towards the Future

She Lied to Me

Living Portrait

Love and Factory


I Support All Your Wars

Follow John Karborn on Tumblr and visit his website here.


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John Karborn