Whether by design or otherwise, most movies and television shows tend to present audiences with a portrait of the modern familial unit, which viewers are welcome to measure against their own. It was only a matter of time, perhaps, before someone decided to show us what an actual portrait of these families might look like.
"There are definitely fictional families that I’ve almost felt like a part of," says Kirk Demarais, the artist responsible for a series of portraits of fictitious families plucked from pop culture, which have been in heavy online rotation lately. "The Brady Bunch is first to come to mind. Thanks to endless repeats of those 117 episodes, my brain was practically fooled into thinking I was growing up alongside Greg Brady and the gang."
The portraits in question serve as quirky love letters to pop cultural ephemera, both classic and contemporary. The bumbling Bluths of Arrested Development are represented alongside the dark, conflicted Drapers of Mad Men, and they’re all cast in schmaltzy portraits that could have easily been shot in back-rooms of your local K-Mart. The result either challenges viewers’ ideas of the characters or provides a hilarious contrast contrast, as in the case of the broken Draper family from Mad Men or the even more broken Whites from Breaking Bad. "Overall, I’m equally proud and ashamed," says the artist.
Demarais initially started making pop culture-inspired portraiture in 2008, as part of the annual Gallery 1988 show, "Crazy 4 Cult," in which the art plays off of films with a strong cult following. His image of The Shining’s Torrance family in a Sears-style portrait duly impressed the gallery’s simpatico owner Jensen Karp, who encouraged the artist to create more pieces. Demarais has since had several shows at the venue.
In order to create the portraits, the artist scoured through hours of video looking for images of the characters smiling in the general direction of the camera. He also found images of the family members all gussied up in their most photo-worthy outfits. Next, he adjoined heads and bodies in a digital mock-up, arranging them in the style of actual family portraits. Since the source material didn’t always cooperate, some of the subjects don’t face in the same direction, but that somehow only makes the images feel more true to life. Next, he drew rough sketches with a regular pencil, and went over them with layers of colored pencils. This part of the process might take one to three weeks, "depending on the complexity and my attention span," Demarais says.
Some of the portraits are for sale—and the Whites were recently spotted going for $1,250 on eBay. But mainly, they provide an unusual look at some faces that have become extremely usual to us—they say something about how we relate to pop culture. "Usually, the first art we ever experience is from popular culture. I grew to love art in all its forms by way of our thirteen TV channels, pop radio, the school library, the gas station comic book rack, and our two-screen theater," Demarais says. "Even if a production is created with commerce in mind there are still a million artistic choices that went into it. The two worlds are so blurred together that I no longer try to distinguish them from one another."