Yung Jake

Meet Yung Jake, the Artist Making Masterpieces Out of Emojis

For the past three years, since he first landed on the art world’s radar freshly out of CalArts, the Los Angeles artist Yung Jake (real name Jake Patterson) has insisted on conducting interviews by text message, offering typically minimal responses typed out in abbreviated internet slang. Via iMessage, he says this method is “more personal,” though it’s hard to believe that’s true.

“it’s just my preferred way of communicating when it comes to interviews,” he clarifies. “interviews r weird.”
As one of L.A.’s most hyped up-and-coming artists, Jake has more and more to talk/text about as he steadily establishes himself across mediums — painting, sculpture, digital and internet art, video, music, apps, and products among them. When we first start texting, he has spent the day in a writing session with Adult Swim, developing an action-adventure series he says is “very different” from anything we’ve seen from him before.

Without a doubt, Jake’s most successful project to date has been his celebrity emoji portrait series created with the emoji.ink app developed by his partner Vince McKelvie.

It’s not hard to figure out why it’s so popular: the work combines two things people can’t seem to get enough of. But Jake’s execution is meticulous, using the pouting face to contour Rihanna’s cheeks, clouds for Larry David’s hair and ants for the top of Harambe’s head.

It’s borderline pointillism, and the technique allows Jake to expertly capture his subjects’ likenesses with a bizarre but familiar palette while tapping into meme culture in the process.
“basically i find a good image and try to represent the ppl as good as i can,” he says. “it’s not very deep …or high concept like my other stuff … i just happened to be good at it so i did a bunch of celebrities … i sent a lot to my famous friends [knowing] they’d post.”

For Jake’s “Hydration” exhibition at the Steve Turner gallery in Los Angeles earlier this year, he combined his passion for music and visual art to turn the opening into a rowdy concert, chronicling it on Snapchat and pouring Cîroc vodka all over his wall pieces at the end of the night.

He is extremely proud of the project, which incorporates glossy UV prints of almost comically amorphous water bottles on steel panels and furniture, adorned with brand logos, nostalgic cartoon characters, and raw elements of angsty tagging via stickers, spray paint, and etchings.

“I like [to] use famous and popular things in my work because it gives people something to relate to,” Jake says. “course I have a personal relationship with sonic [the Hedgehog] or friends [the TV show] but it’s obviously not the same as someone else’s. i think with art u create your own story as to why the artist did what they did but u don’t have to be right in order for the work to be good.

“when things are iconic/famous it’s safe to assume most people have they’re relationship with that thing so it fills an object with energy in a way.”

And as a kind of post-everything, “made on the internet” character (as his bio describes him), it can be hard to discern whether Jake’s art is created with a hyper-awareness that’s in response to our current social-network-obsessed-everything-branded-sometimes-lifeless-feeling culture, or as a result of it. Does that perception even matter?

“no.” he texts. “it’s both.”

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