Neo-Digital Baroque: How Jonathon Downing is Redefining the Portrait

In the ever-evolving landscape of contemporary art, Jonathon Downing emerges as a provocative voice, challenging the boundaries between digital and traditional media, pop culture and high art.

"My process is a dialogue between the digital and the physical," Downing explains. "It's about taking the infinite possibilities of digital manipulation and translating them into the tactile, permanent medium of oil paint."

Born in 1997, this Michigan-based artist is rapidly carving out a unique niche in the art world with his innovative approach to portraiture that seamlessly blends digital manipulation with classical oil painting techniques.

The Digital Native's Brush

Downing's work is a testament to the digital age, reflecting a generation that has grown up with the internet, social media, and the constant flux of digital imagery.

His process begins in the virtual realm, where he meticulously crafts digital photo montages, layering and manipulating images to create surreal, composite figures.

jonathon downing, painting making waves online, the young contemporary artist showcase his figurative narratives online 2024
Jonathon Downing effectively uses Instagram to engage with his audience by sharing detailed captions that provide insight into his artistic process and the meaning behind his work. Through his posts, he offers a personal connection, inviting followers into his creative world. In his latest post about the painting "Elixir of Life," Downing explains the narrative and symbolism of his piece. He describes how the painting showcases a couple caring for a fanciful goat and tiger hybrid. The female character wears rose-colored glasses, representing a parent's blind love for their child. The artwork alludes to "Space Jam," with Michael's Secret Stuff being fed to the animal in a baby bottle. The goat symbolizes the Greatest of All Time (G.O.A.T), combined with a white tiger to signify rarity and power. Downing's intricate details and thoughtful captions make his Instagram a compelling platform for understanding and appreciating his art.

These digital constructs then serve as the foundation for his oil paintings, resulting in works that are simultaneously hyper-real and fantastical.

Deconstructing Identity in the Age of Social Media

At the heart of Downing's work lies a profound exploration of identity in the digital age.

His monstrous amalgamations of portraiture serve as potent metaphors for the fragmented, curated selves we present online.

"In an era where everyone is constantly performing versions of themselves online, my paintings ask: what lies beneath these carefully constructed facades?" Downing asserts. His work invites viewers to look deeper, to question the authenticity of the images we consume and project.

By focusing on his love of basketball, Downing taps into a rich vein of contemporary iconography, using the sport as a lens through which to examine broader themes of celebrity, fandom, and self-image.

The New Baroque

Critics have dubbed Downing's style "Neo-Digital Baroque," noting the way his work combines the drama and grandeur of Baroque painting with contemporary digital aesthetics.

Pieces like "Reach for the Sky" exemplify this approach, presenting larger-than-life figures draped in basketball jerseys, adorned with symbols of success and power.

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Jonathon Downing: Reach for the Sky | Image Courtesy of the Artist

The artist's use of classical painting techniques to render digitally manipulated subjects creates a tension between old and new, tradition and innovation.

This juxtaposition forces viewers to reconsider their perceptions of both classical art and contemporary digital culture.

Engaging with Contemporary Issues

While rooted in the world of basketball, Downing's work engages with broader contemporary issues.

His paintings touch on themes of race, class, and the commodification of identity in late-stage capitalism.

By depicting his subjects as fragmented, composite beings, he comments on the complexity of identity in a globalized, digitally connected world.

"I'm interested in how we construct our identities in a world where we're constantly bombarded with images and information," Downing notes. "How do we maintain a sense of self when we're simultaneously connected to everything and everyone?"

Downing's approach to showcasing his work is as contemporary as his artistic process.

jonathon downing new faces in contemporary art and paintings, trending on instagram
Jonathon Downing "Fit Check” 30” x 48” Oil Description of the Artwork by the Artist: The Knicks hold a special place for me because they were my first NBA game. I got to see Carmelo destroy the Pistons in Madison Square Garden, and since he was my favorite player I never felt more conflicted as a fan. It was a complete blowout and Jeremy Lin came in for garbage time. He only had 4 points and 4 assists but he was running the entire team; then one week later Linsanity breaks out and the rest is history. Posing with a phone, complete with a Knicks case, the character in this painting is taking a photo flexing his outfit. In the age of Instagram, having a solid fit for a photo is a necessity. We wear cool clothes because they make us feel good and allow us to express ourselves and curate an aesthetic we like; and if the fit doesn’t accomplish this, it doesn’t matter how much someone else loves it. This piece is a comment on public perception and how a positive self-image is worth more than any amount of likes. | Image Courtesy by the Artist

While his paintings have been exhibited in traditional galleries across the United States, Europe, and Asia, he's also embraced digital platforms to reach a wider audience.

Focalizing the Amalgam
Reflections on Jonathon Downing’s solo show at IRL Gallery.

Jonathon Dowing via Office Magazine

His active presence on Instagram and features in online publications like Hypebeast and Office Magazine have helped him build a substantial following among younger art enthusiasts.

This digital-first approach to art promotion reflects a broader shift in the art world, where social media increasingly plays a crucial role in an artist's success.

jonathon downing contemporary painting now 2024
Jonathon Downing “Nothin’ but Net” | 60” x 60” | Oil | About the Artwork: The NCAA Championship is an often overlooked accomplishment in a player’s career, even though it is one of the most difficult feats in sports given the highly variable tournament system. Every year, the winning team cuts down the nets and everyone on the team gets a piece to keep. Playing on the idea of the cowboy, this man, wearing a Michael Jordan jersey, swings a piece of the championship net like a lasso. Jordan is part of a select group of Hall of Fame players to win on both the college and professional level. This small piece of net, mirroring the lasso, represents one of the tools used for success in one’s work, while the all-star jersey shows the dream of potential. The NCAA championship was a big step in Jordan’s quest for greatness, and this piece showcases the win that preludes the much larger success to come. Image courtesy of the artist.

Downing's ability to navigate both the traditional gallery system and the digital landscape positions him as a model for the 21st-century artist.

For those interested in experiencing Downing's vision, Collect Bean is presenting "Sunlight," an upcoming virtual exhibition curated by Jonathon Downing. 

Founded by Marlee Katz Snow, Collect Bean brings you a curated art experience. Discover and acquire unique artwork directly from artists’ studios every first Friday of the month for an approachable, genuine, and transparent connection to the creative process.

The show will open on July 5 and feature a diverse lineup of artists, each bringing their unique perspectives and styles to the exhibition.

The Future of Portraiture

As Downing continues to evolve as an artist, he's pushing the boundaries of what portraiture can be in the digital age.

His recent works have begun to incorporate elements of augmented reality, allowing viewers to interact with his paintings through smartphone apps.

"I'm interested in creating portraits that aren't static, that can change and evolve just like our online identities do," Downing explains.

This fusion of traditional painting with cutting-edge technology points to exciting possibilities for the future of art.

A Voice for a New Generation

At just 27 years old, Jonathon Downing represents a new generation of artists who are redefining the parameters of contemporary art.

jonathon downing in his studio with billie eilish artwork and  painting, fresh, strong and trending
Jonathon Downing Artist Portrait with an Artwork inspired by Billie Eilish | Image Courtesy by the Artist

His work speaks to the experiences and anxieties of a generation that has come of age in a world of social media, digital manipulation, and constantly shifting identities.

Jonathon Downing - Biography, Shows, Articles & More | Artsy
Explore Jonathon Downing’s biography, achievements, artworks, auction results, and shows on Artsy.

Jonathon Downing on available Artsy

As the art world continues to grapple with the implications of digital technology and the changing nature of identity in the 21st century, Downing's work stands as a bold statement about the power of painting to engage with these thoroughly modern concerns.

new faces in contemporary art and painting jonathon downing 2024
"Seeing Double" artwork by Jonathon Downing: 60” x 60” | Oil | For this piece, I wanted to expand on the idea of the two eras of Michael Jordan, pre- and post-first retirement. The working title was “The More Things Change,” which is showcased by the montaged 23 and 45 jerseys. That tiny amount of time when Jordan wore 45 represented a completely new era and a completely new Jordan. Even though they are so similar, they are still so different, just like the twins in this painting. Kobe said it best, “Are you a different animal, and the same beast?” I'm getting closer every day to learning what that means, but in the meantime: no one knows what it means, but it's provocative. It gets the people going! This piece is from the past exhibition with Vlab Gallery as part of my new solo show “Appearances, Aspirations, and Allusions.”

By bridging the gap between classical technique and contemporary themes, he's creating a new visual language for the digital age.


Appearances, Aspirations and Allusions by Jonathon Downing at VLAB Gallery

In the landscape of emerging artists, Jonathon Downing is not just a rising star—he's in the vanguard of the future of portraiture, challenging us to see ourselves and our digital world in a new light.

For more insights, art practice, upcoming shows and projects follow Jonathon Downing on Instagram.

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