You’ve probably never heard of Chester Charles, the Impressionist master whose turn-of-the-century paintings of queer life were posthumously discovered in a Cleveland attic. And that’s because Charles is the fanciful creation of ClownVamp, an anonymous self-described gay A.I.-assisted artist.
Even so, a sweeping and long-overdue retrospective of Charles’s oeuvre was staged at Canvas 3.0, in partnership with Web3 platform Transient Labs and NFT marketplace SuperRare, for one day on June 21. Titled “The Lost Grand Master,” it offered the comfort of looking at works from the most familiar of genres and quiet unease with the history they reveal. Impressionist artworks are museum staples, but works evidencing the queer gaze are largely absent. This realization came to ClownVamp by chance while trying to conjure images of a father and a son walking in the woods. The A.I. model glitched, offering two dads and a son instead. So began ClownVamp’s journey to prompt an alternate art history.
“We live in a socially constructed world, and history is an even more modified reflection of this warped sense of truth. A.I. allows us to break, remix, and confront history, showing what could’ve and should’ve been,” ClownVamp said in the exhibition notes.
The 23 works ClownVamp presented at his debut solo show contained visions from his fictive artist, each accompanied by text that laid bare Charles’s reflections and questions. As with any thorough project involving image generators, “The Lost Grand Master” is the product of considerable trial and error, with ClownVamp eventually discovering a means of blending two image groups with which the A.I. was familiar: queer art and historical art.
The collection certainly hits many of the Impressionist beats. There’s the hazy white cliffs of Monet in , the depth of Van Gogh’s greens in the layered grass of and most perhaps overtly, a scene of Degas ballerinas, one transformed by ClownVamp into a joyful all-male bright pink affair.
“The Lost Grand Master” expands on Clownvamp’s first collection, “The Truth,” which imagined the paintings of another Impressionist artist in the wake of an alien invasion, and his wont of wielding machine intelligence to toy and dream up alternate histories.
“I believe A.I. is a tool,” he added, “that allows us to take our collective history and reimagine it.”
See more images from the series below.