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The Social Art of Jorg Dubin

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How well do you really know your friends?

Laguna Beach artist Jorg Dubin has spent 35 years as a professional artist, designer and art director, but questions about the human psychology -- such as the one above -- still keep him up at night. Well, that and Facebook.

Dubin explores both the philosophy and the effect of social media in his most recent work, "My Facebook Friends," on display at the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster until this weekend. The paintings are small, cropped portraits culled from Dubin's own Facebook friends -- people he's connected with on the social networking site. "On Facebook you accumulate all these 'friends' but you don't know who they are, so it's a little tongue in cheek," he says. Dubin claims he only uses Facebook to post about his art and shows, so for the show, he chose to paint profile pictures of his so-called friends -- people he hadn't interacted with personally -- in a small, 6'x6' portrait. He chose to crop the photos in "interesting and awkward ways"-- focusing on a bloody nose, or a widened eye -- because, Dubin says, "I don't really know you, how can I paint your complete portrait?"

Jorg Dubin
Jorg Dubin

Now 57, Dubin is more attuned to the difference between a virtual friend and an actual friend than most people. "It started the comment about how Facebook has gone to the core thing of most human beings wanting to be popular, and have a big audience for who they are," he explained.

Originally, Dubin was to repost the his portraits on the profiles of his subjects to get a response from them. "But I didn't elicit a real response from all 40 of them; some people were like, 'Why did you do this? Why was I a subject of this?' Facebook is an open forum to elicit responses from their friends about their lives and it's interesting in a lot of ways psychologically for me."

While Dubin seeks to engage people in his work, the process by which he worked on "My FBFs" isn't really his usual style (even though he tends to use friends and acquaintances as models). "I don't like to use models because I like what people bring to the process of painting by just being who they are," he said. "I'm not really big on directing people because when you let people just be themselves, they bring a certain kind of energy and depth to what I do in terms of portraying them in a painting."

"RF - 18" | Jorg Dubin.
"RF - 18"  | Jorg Dubin.

That philosophy was the impetus for his "Smiling Girls" series; Dubin had asked a younger acquaintance to pose for him. "Her natural personality was someone who always had a smile on her face, and the more I told her, try not to smile, the more she did smile, so I thought, let's just go with that. It led me to follow up with the start of a series of paintings where I let people be who they are."

Dubin, a Laguna Beach resident since 1976, found his home -- and his artistic calling -- through ceramics, as a high school student. "I moved here in 1976, it was really great because it was still very isolated. At the time there was a thriving second-generation ceramics community here that came out of Claremont Colleges where Paul Soldner and Peter Voulkos were, and they were pioneers in making utilitarian ceramic pieces into an artform, so I got hooked into that movement."

"The 70s were a time in Laguna where there were lots of edgy artists, writers, actors and people into social issues ... people in a lot of fields that made it interesting to be part of."

Now a bustling tourist destination, a lot of that has gone away, Dubin says. "Now artists can't afford to be around here. Don't get me wrong, it's beautiful little spot in the planet, but it gets very, very crowded in the summertime because it's become a real tourist destination. and a lot of businesses are catering to that demographic instead of [being] more service-oriented for people who live here."

Still, there's an aspect of his geography that finds its way into Dubin's paintings and his process.

"I paint like I sculpt, I just start by massing shapes and letting shapes get into relationships," he says. "I like the process of painting show in a finished work, where you see the humanity of the painting. It adds history to the paintings, and when you look at it it doesn't look mechanical, that there was serendipity in the process."
He also tries to dig into [subject's] personalities and their flaws, Dubin says. "I'm not trying to paint Playboy centerfolds and flawless human beings. I like to allow that to be part of my process -- you know, Laguna and the region around South Orange County can be viewed as a pristine bubble where everybody is perfect, when it's really not that way."

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