Though the pandemic has led to much fear and worry, it’s also inspired creatives to channel their energies into making a host of eye-catching safety messages. We’ve seen logos get makeovers and famous pop culture images get tweaked. And now, this eerie, unsettling series puts iconic works of art “under quarantine.”
For their project “The Art of Quarantine,” Bay Area-based creatives Jeff Roy and Drake Paul have applied the rules of social distancing to famous paintings from Van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Edward Hopper, Grant Wood, Renee Magritte, Georges Seurat and more, stripping them of human life (or relegating figures within the originals to the background).
Hopper’s “Nighthawks” are nowhere to be seen in the diner, Jesus and his disciples have abandoned the table of “The Last Supper,” the farmer and his wife in Wood’s “American Gothic” are now holed up at home, peering from the window.
“Where we live was one of the first places to embrace social distancing,” Roy says. “A few weeks ago I was browsing the internet, reading about how and why social distancing is so important when I came across Edward Hopper’s ‘Nighthawks.’ It’s always been an isolating painting, and I wondered what it would look like taken a step further into today’s world. Which led to wondering what other iconic paintings would look like if their subjects were all social distancing too.”
From “Nighthawks,” Roy moved on to Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte” and Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” (a suggestion from his girlfriend, Danielle). He then reached out to his friend and creative partner copywriter Drake, who suggested the copy line, “Stay home. Save lives”—a phrase that has gone on to appear in other coronavirus efforts.
The pair brainstormed on more paintings that fit the concept, and once they had a good number finished they created the project website. Friends responded positively, as did major institutions like the Art Institute of Chicago (home to “Nighthawks,” “La Grande Jatte” and “American Gothic").
As for the process, Roy says, “I always start with the original, make a rough plan of how to make it and then get to work in Photoshop. The majority of the retouching was done with the clone stamp tool—but it was one of those projects where I wished Photoshop’s content aware fill algorithm worked a bit more like magic than it actually does.”
Some of the paintings required more work than others. For “American Gothic,” Roy says that he spent a lot of time researching the original house in Eldon, Iowa that served as Wood’s inspiration “to make sure it was as realistic and accurate as possible.” But deductive reasoning also played a part. “The farmer still holding the pitchfork inside always makes us laugh—we talked about it and decided he’d want to keep it close by.” Overall, “I really tried to keep as much of the originals intact as possible, and match the styles as closely as I could.”
Both Roy and Paul currently work at JohnMcNeil Studio, a small agency in Berkeley, Calif. They relocated about six months ago after six years at Golin Chicago, where they worked on projects such as McDonald’s “utterly frivolous” over-engineered Shamrock Shake straw that allowed for optimal consumption of the drink’s flavors as well as the fast feeder’s “Mac Coin” Big Mac 50th anniversary tribute coin.
While the pair says that fortunately, they remain busy on client work, being stuck at home gives them more time to devote to this project. Roy says that currently in his “to do” folder are more challenging works like Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Harrowing of Hell” and “The Garden Of Earthly Delights” and Archibald John Motley Jr.’s “Nightlife.”
“It’s hard to see something so serious happening and not be able to actively do anything about it,” says Paul. “Creative at its best is creative problem solving, and since we went to ad school and not medical school, this was our way of trying to help get people to stay at home.”
“We hope everyone out there can stay safe, and that this project spreads that message while bringing people some sense of relief,” adds Roy. “And if staying safe means pursuing that random idea or side project you’ve been sitting on, we highly recommend going for it.”