The Art of the Photobomb

If you type “how do you” into your Google search bar, one of the first options to appear is “how do you photobomb.” A phenomenon that has come to define our generation of selfie-takers and digital conversation-makers, the photobomb is often seen as a comical way to leave your cyber stamp — usually in the form of a duck face — on those around you.

Chris Rellas (COL ’17) is taking the notorious photobomb to a whole new level. Rellas has amassed a following of over 23,000 users on his Instagram account, CopyLab, by inserting a surrealist photobomb into classic art. Rellas created the account in the summer of 2014.

Starting on his bed with a Macbook on his lap, Rellas finds a famous piece of art, such as Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” or Sandro Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus.” On Photoshop, he adds a contemporary flair to each piece — on “Starry Night,” he Photoshops supermodel Kendall Jenner strutting down the canvas, while on “Birth of Venus,” he affixes two Poppy Lissiman clutches to the goddesses’s hands. Each picture has more than 1,000 likes.

In an August 2014 article on Vogue Magazine’s website, writer Mark Guiducci praised the account.
“CopyLab embellishes iconic art-historical images with trending designer accessories and logos and is, simply put, really well done,” Guiducci wrote. “In CopyLab’s twist on Delaroche’s 1840 depiction of Napoleon, defeated and about to abdicate for the first time, the emperor of France wears a Givenchy Rottweiler shirt. Is that just irony or a psychological reading? Though certainly the former, CopyLab is, nonetheless, a lot of fun. It’s the kind of gimmick that makes you think, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’”
Rellas also received praise in W Magazine and on art website Smashbox Studios.

“CopyLab reimagines the iconic works of Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso dripping with designer accessories and plastered with gaudy logos,” Jane Helpern wrote on Smashbox Studies in October 2014. “In a digital age when everything feels painfully unoriginal, Rellas and his brainchild prove you don’t have to rewrite history to reinterpret it.”

During a Facetime call with Rellas, who is currently studying abroad in Paris at Université Paris-Sorbonne, he explained that he doesn’t label himself an artist, but instead as a commentator. To find inspiration, he turns to art blogs, museums and online shopping.

“It usually works one of two ways,” Rellas said. “I either see fashion or think something along the lines of “this bag is missing an arm to lean on, or alternatively I think to myself, ‘this piece of art needs something to liven it up.’”

Rellas said that he doubts artists like Van Gogh and Botticelli would appreciate his pieces.
“But I do think that modern and postmodern artists would enjoy my work; they’d probably find it funny,” Rellas said.

Although many bloggers and online artists have taken to multi-platform posting, spreading their work across different apps and sites to get as much virtual attention possible, Rellas said he prefers to leave his work on Instagram alone.

“Art and images are a lot more valuable when they’re not splattered everywhere,” Rellas said, “It’s better to have all my work in one place. It’s more real.”

To Rellas, CopyLab is much more than just a form of entertainment.

“My posts are about teaching people about art,” Rellas said. “I’m trying to expose my followers to works they may have never seen before, but that they ought to. Some of the greatest artists are those that look at other people’s works and have something else to say about it, or want to flip it in a different direction. There’s been a lot of artists in history who’ve riffed off other artists. You can unlock a lot like that.”

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