by Hannah Ghorashi from styleite.com
Unfortunate Portrait was originally just the name of the Instagram account featuring childlike drawings of a child’s heroes – rappers, actors, basketball players, #belfie queen Jen Selter, even dinosaurs – rendered in 2D and colored in with what looks to be crayon. But upon closer inspection, the drawings, which include a leering Nic Cage, a ”L’il Jon Stewart,” and a brilliant ”2 Spock,” bear the distinct wit of the pre-Y2K generation. Eight months, 6,000-odd followers, a clothing line, and a few celebrity fans after its inception, Unfortunate Portrait is almost enough for its creator – once an amateur artist with an ordinary life – to live off.
The man behind the operation – artist, designer, social media guru – is something of a phenomenon himself, in that he quietly prefers that his identity remain anonymous to the public. ”I’ll tell you [my] whole story,” he says, though his thoroughness is mostly out of necessity (he doesn’t have a Twitter account and he isn’t an active Facebook user, either). He’s not trying to be the internet Banksy; he simply has no interest in becoming an object of interest. It’s a wise person who can claim Pusha T and Brandon Boyd [of Incubus and Sons of the Sea] as admirers of their art and then go on to admit, with relief, ”No one really cares.”
As such, his work remains as solely integral to the success of Unfortunate Portrait as it was eight months ago, when he became one of hundreds of millions to create an Instagram account. Motivation developed alongside the endeavor’s unexpected progression, and from the enjoyment it gave his fans and friends.
My research consisted of going on the Unfortunate Portrait Instagram account, so I’ve seen all of your drawings posted on a timeline. What was going on behind the posts?
I’ve always done these drawings; as you can see, it looks like a child did them. But I have a couple friends who are real artists and they were like, ”This is actually pretty cool,” so I started posting them on Instagram because it was something to do and I liked it. As I was posting them, more people around me were like, ”These are cool, you should do something with them.” My mind went to clothing – I thought it would be cool to put them on t-shirts. That was about a month after posting the first drawing. I started with five or six hundred dollars, and so far that’s the only money that’s gone into it in terms of investments. From there, I knew someone in the clothing and fashion design industry, and she was really into the idea but thought we could do more with it. So I kind of began to collaborate with her and some people she works with who actually make a complete line of clothing – we’re coming out with a lot more than just t-shirts this summer. They very first post was in late October, and then by late November we had made some shirts, and now it probably has over 6,000 followers.Ê The first time it drew a lot of followers was when I did the T Party drawing, and Pusha T reposted it and a bunch of different outlets picked up on it. It was all very genuine – I would post something and either a celebrity would repost it or do something with it that would get a lot of people to see it, and all of the sudden people would want that shirt. It just kind of kept going, and then I decided to bring a few other people on board who are close friends of mine, just to help with the actual clothing line part. I still do all the drawings, and the clothing design is usually a collaboration of several people.
It seems as though many really famous people who strongly identify as a certain brand don’t have much freedom on social media, because they have to stay within the margins of their brand. Are you anonymous partly because you wanted to be able to be yourself elsewhere?
That’s a perfect way to put it. For me, it was almost a natural result of not wanting it to be about me. I have my own private social media that’s just me, the person, and I don’t want to have to make sure that my personal posts match up with this presentation of a brand. I don’t take myself that seriously; I’m not trying to do something like Banksy. I did this because other people were enjoying it, and I’ve had a lot of people helping me with this, and it’d be unfair to make it about me, like, ”I’m an artist, look at my stuff.” I don’t think people care about me, personally, at all.
So fame isn’t important to you at all.
No, definitely not. I feel like if I were to get known for this personally, that would make me not want to do it. This is just content, and hopefully you like it, but I’m not going to pretend that you also want to know about me the person. There’s been a few people who have wanted to find out who I am but very, very few. This worked out perfectly – I wanted to be anonymous, but I didn’t want that to be the focal point.
How did celebrities start reposting your pictures?
It’s crazy how Instagram works. I would just tag [the photos of the drawings], and then it was as simple as me seeing that they had commented on it. I would just direct-message them and let them know it was totally cool if they wanted to repost it, and then they would. Or they would just go about it themselves and repost it. Part of what got me so into this was that the people who were reposting it were people of whose music I’m naturally a fan. I was really excited, like, ”Oh, shit, this is cool. I need to keep doing this and make it better.” I would say that Brandon Boyd and Pusha T – who make very different kinds of music – were the two who really helped set it off in terms of reposting and wearing the shirts and stuff like that.
Are you surprised that celebrities who have reposted your pictures haven’t accidentally dropped your name or other personal information?
Most of them don’t know my name. I also feel like if there’s anyone who would respect privacy, it would be celebrities. Like, I now communicate with Brandon Boyd – we email, and we maintain a relationship. He’s the nicest guy, and he knows everything about my name and my background, and I don’t know him on an in-person basis, but I trust him implicitly. Pusha T didn’t know my name – I went to his show and we went to his table and hung out with him, but if you told him my name, he doesn’t remember it.
What makes you want to draw a particular person?
I draw a lot of musicians; I like hip-hop a lot, so I draw rappers a lot. Then there are some people I draw who just interest me because they’re complete characters, and I’m not necessarily a big fan of theirs. Mike Tyson, for example.
I liked your drawing of Peter Dinklage dancing.
Yeah, my thought for that was just, ”I’d like to see Peter Dinklage dancing.”Ê That was generally it. I don’t even watch Game of Thrones. I know he’s a good actor and all of that, but for this, I just thought it was funny.
Even though you describe it as a child trying to draw, I think I disagree. I draw very poorly – totally like a child – but your work has a sense of deliberation instead of being a mess. I really assumed that you were drawing this way on purpose.
That’s cool, I’m glad that you say that. It’s consistent – if you look at them, you can tell the same person is doing them. Honestly, I just look at a picture and try to capture the person as realistically as I can do it. I mean, I’m not going out of my way to make a mistake or anything like that, but I don’t really erase or redo. If I have an idea, I won’t try it twice. I live in a world of established rules and very specific technique and you can’t make mistakes, so this is very much the opposite of that. I embrace mistakes. I’m hesitant to say, I don’t want to upset anyone ”ÛÏ but I’m not into very hyperrealistic drawings of people. Anyone, I think, could go to school and learn how to draw something in a way that you know exactly what they were drawing. Especially with the way social media works, it’s constant photographs, constant realistic images of these people that we see all the time. You’re not really presenting it in a different way than what I’m already seeing.