Joshua Dean

Painting photorealistically while using only four colors, Joshua Dean draws from social media and the culture following the information age. His paintings offer wide-ranging themes from media driven advertisements, home movies, and the history of photography. Through exploration of this tableau, he hopes to expand on a sense of technical, social awareness.

Coming of age in a small, Midwestern town, he learned the skill of escapism early on. The pursuit led him to the world of comic books. There he developed an interest in the figure and its place in the history of painting. Studying the techniques of Master painters, he obtained an MFA from The New York Academy of Art. Drawing influences from Pop Art, the young painter also developed an appreciation for the social commentary of Modern Art. Interested in both traditional and postmodern painting, he devised a plan to merge the two, reinterpreting the process as if he were a human printer. His work is in the collections of The Clearing House and the President of ExxonMobil.


The smartphone is a subtle device that pervades our daily routine, but we use it mainly for communication. Uploading pictures to the Internet, we develop a digital timeline; the pictures become documents that define our brand. With the luxury that comes from this technology, we have a novel understanding of it, or more accurately, we have less of an understanding and more an expectation.

With this behavior, we may tend to lose a critical eye of the products of our efforts. Adversely, when first introduced, the printed image was a revolution, and Daguerreotypes were a precious extravagance. Now, 4000 images are uploaded to social media per second. I’m interested in our relationship to these images. How accurate are they in their representation?

With my paintings, I highlight our interaction and the evolution of photography by interweaving aspects of the historical and digital. My process is specific: I operate as a human printer. While it has replaced much of the artesian skill involved with photography, this machine has made the printed image common and accessible to everyone. The reinterpretation of its function allows for an exploration of the psychology around modern, archival photography.

Interpreting the painting digitally, I reappropriate traditional techniques by deconstructing familiarity and meaning to better understand new and different usages. Echoing the printer, I use only four colors: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Each color is applied singularly. In this scheme, the black layer stands in for the grisaille underpainting. I layer on the other colors in an additive process, which allows for progress in only one direction. The painting develops in the same manner as a print, left to right, mimicking the oscillated output of an ink jet printer.

The finished painting hangs like a tapestry, floating away from the wall like a movie screen. It sways slightly when someone walks by. For sizing, I use two ratios: 4:3 and 16:9. 4:3 is an old cinema ratio, the first, and was initially used for silent movies. The other references the aspect of most current flat screen televisions, smartphones and computer monitors.

In order to understand a thing’s relevance, we need its adverse or adjacent-other to compare it to. In referencing nostalgic aspects from the past while pointing to current trends, I create a particular frequency within the work. I intend that this oscillation be a liberation from ideological naivety or cynicism. My paintings reside in this flux in order to understand how the photo functions as cultural memory.