A Fresh Look at Celebrity Portraiture: County Fair 2016 Edition

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Each year when I attend the county fair to observe the local amateur art exhibition, I inevitably think to myself, "You can keep your Roberta Smiths and Jerry Saltzes of the world, gallivanting from one high-society gallery opening to another. This is the real stuff!"

Nowhere is the honesty and raw insight of young artists on display more than in that evergreen standby of county fair exhibitions: the celebrity portrait. Let's look at a few of 2016's highlights, shall we?

Justin Bieber

First up we have this stunning charcoal-and-pencil interpretation of Justin Bieber. See how the artist divides the face vertically -- not between young and old, or short hair-long hair, but between Bieber and his own unchanged self in order to convey the young star's duplicitous nature.

Taylor Swift


Next is this felt-marker meditation on the resilience of pop star Taylor Swift. Using an anime approach, the artist exaggerates Swift's cartooning of herself for fame, while invoking her trademark phrase "shake it off," deployed when criticism of said cartooning arises. An errant "TS" logo at right speaks to the star's constancy of self-branding.

Johnny Depp

It's well-known that Johnny Depp is a human Trojan Horse sent here in charming disguise (Edward Scissorhands, Benny & Joon) only to emerge as one of Hollywood's most vile and despicable puppets in a war against good taste. Here, the artist peels away the subtle layers of "intrigue" to show Depp's true evil.


On a related note, who can forget the role which launched the "new" Johnny Depp we now know and recoil from? Yes: Captain Jack Sparrow, portrayed here as formless and without appeal, excavating the true heart of the character.


Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great man and needs no introduction nor embellishment. In this spare, tasteful rendition of the civil rights leader, our artist sees Rev. King looking askance at an agitated, anxious American flag in a premonition of the confusion that will one day arrive in the country, 50 years later, when a highly qualified candidate for president will be temporarily overshadowed by a bloviating spray-tanned real estate developer with no political experience.


Despite an able and considered replication of the cover of Adele’s wildly popular album 25, this slighted artist received only fourth place. The world's a cold place, I guess. Gotta teach 'em young.


Seen through a lens of new feminism, the female lead in the nostalgic romp Grease deserves reconsideration. Was Sandy a dimwitted prude who succumbs to peer pressure and gender roles to win a man, Danny? Or was she in fact the wiser one all along, in charge of her own agency? This portrayal of the couple, showing her head freakishly larger than Danny's, seems to say as much.


Ah, the fallen bluesman B.B. King -- the man who could play a single note on his beloved guitar "Lucille" and express all the world's emotion. We said goodnight last year to King, pictured here in photorealism as if pre-repose, at the end of his life, thinking, "I hope my estate gets fairly divided between those 15 children I had by 15 different women."


Much of the world learned of androgyny through the starman himself, David Bowie. In his death, many also came to appreciate the crucial role played in any successful androgyny by high cheekbones. Here, the artist zeroes in on and exaggerates Bowie's ace-in-the-hole: the singer's marvelous facial structure, without which he might have been relegated to opening for Sniff 'n' the Tears and Chilliwack at the Whisky-a-Go-Go.


Who, at a young age, does not project themselves upon their heroes? In this incisive rendition of the concept, the artist sees herself in the celebrated stoner comedy series Adventure Time in the visage of Finn the Human, who in the show was famously introduced to society by defecating on a leaf as an infant, falling into the fecal pile, and then crying loudly until rescued. Would that we all aspired to such tenacity.


And now our series must draw to a close, saving for last the famous Canadian rapper Drake. Apart from this work itself, we look specifically at its hanging. Observers of youth trends will note that several years ago, Drake stated that he and his team had "started from the bottom, now we here," indicating a climb of the socio-economic ladder of the rap industry. The fair's preparators return the phrase to its literal usage in height measurement by placing Drake high atop other art on the wall -- all the easier for the "One Dance" human meme to surveil upon and steal from Bay Area rap flows, and survey from which upcoming regional artist he might next siphon cultural cachet.

This has been your 2016 installment of Celebrity Portraiture, County Fair edition. Thank you for watching! You all receive a certificate of participation.