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Isaac Serif's digital practice is a visual tapestry of 2000s aesthetic

Digital artist Isaac Serif discusses his nostalgia-laden practice that borrows from pixelated band posters, wide logos and snippets from defunct websites and blog pages of the 2000s.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Apr 04, 2023

The term digital art covers a broad spectrum of practices, some more esoteric than others and the work of artist Isaac Serif is an excellent example of this. One must be well-versed with the art, and culture, particularly the music, of the early 2000s, in order to make sense of his vivid mishmash of pixelated band posters, wide logos and snippets from now-defunct websites and blog pages. His work is a series of visual tapestries, powerfully nostalgic for some and utterly incomprehensible to others. Remaining consistent with the imagery he uses, the visual artist tells STIR, “When it comes to inspiration, there are so many artists and graphic designers that come to mind, almost too many to name—but most of them are underground. For the most part, I am inspired by music and aesthetics that accompany sounds—I am talking about the likes of Slipknot, KoRn, Limp Bizkit, Lil Uzi Vert, XXXTENTACION and so many others. I prefer the kinds of heavy sounds that mix together genres of punk, hardcore, metal, and rap along with other diverse families of audio motifs." 

‘ChostInTheMachine.exe’ evokes the anxiety of digital surveillance, 2022, digital art | Isaac Serif | STIRworld
ChostInTheMachine.exe’ evokes the anxiety of digital surveillance, 2022, digital art Image: Courtesy of Isaac Serif and Grant

Serif often attaches relevant music to his pieces, definitely in an effort to drive home the point, but this comes across as overkill—one can most certainly hear his art, without the addition of any sound at all. Still, to the millennial audience that has become largely jaded with the internet, stumbling across Serif’s work can be a joyous prospect, unlocking 'core memories'—the terminally online expression for the magic his craft manifests—visions of happy evenings spent as children in the company of friends, exploring the fledgling internet on shaky dial-up connections, transporting audience members back to a simpler time, where hair was as frosted as pop culture was angsty.

‘INSOMNIA’ looks the part, digital art, Isaac Serif | Isaac Serif | STIRworld
INSOMNIA looks the part, digital art Image: Courtesy of Isaac Serif

The artist discusses his background, along with his creative practice in a broad sense, stating, "I am a multimedia artist and designer and have been interested in digital and traditional art from a very young age. I went to school for Rhetoric Media and Professional Communication at the University of Waterloo, where I specialised in fine art. I have always been interested in outsider art and its diverse aesthetics, and very much pay attention to the kind of styles that fade in and out of popular culture over time." Many of Serif's pieces go beyond an evocation of older visual motifs and instead recontextualise them totally. Engaging with these can feel like exploring a (sort of) graveyard of the internet, now raised from the dead. There is a distinctly strange quality to some of these artworks; above all, they challenge the viewer to contend with their own shifting tastes and meditate upon how quickly the cultural zeitgeist evolves and mutates. What was cutting-edge and rebellious back then feels obsolete now, yet there is a truth there that persists—all aesthetic sensibilities are time bound and subject to evolution. Nothing stays permanent, and truly, everything participates in a collective, transformative change.

‘EVIL WEB’ is a blatant shout-out to old-school computer games, 2023, MidJourney AI & digital art, Isaac Serif |Isaac Serif | STIRworld
Evil Web is a blatant shout-out to old-school computer games, 2023, MidJourney AI & digital art Image: Courtesy of Isaac Serif

In terms of his creative process, the artist tries to be experimental, first and foremost. He says, "I like to find fresh ways to integrate new ideas and approaches. Right now, I prefer utilising Y2K-futurism and nostalgia-laden imagery and then juxtaposing this with other technologically focused ideas in order to create a weird sense of surrealism and longing for a future that does not exist. I like to use old windows tabs and media players to create frames presenting the images of very specific things.” Often, Serif finds himself collaborating with artists and designers who aim to capture futuristic or modern surrealist imagery. Then, the groups he participates in use the retro-stylistic windows tabs that populate his work, along with other such simulacra, to build upon their ideas. He explains that this is a way for them to connect the 'modern' with a forgotten emotional past.

‘NECROMECH’ reminds one of the particularly bold Winamp skins, 2022, Digital art, Isaac Serif | Isaac Serif | STIRworld
Necromech reminds one of the particularly bold Winamp skins, 2022, Digital art Image: Courtesy of Isaac Serif

Like his art, Serif’s motivations are grounded within a bygone era. He explains this, by sharing, “I was born in 1999 and I feel like at an early age, I was exposed to computers, excessive amounts of media, and emerging technologies. I never owned a phone till I was about 13 years old, but I liked to play a lot of computer games and mess around with the user interface. So, I think that all of this helped to shape my ideas around the integration of art and digital technologies.”

Serif never has a specific plan for his work. Instead, he chooses to remain fluid, getting inspired by random, sometimes fleeting aspects of culture, and integrating the new and the old. He tries to allow his natural senses to do most of the work but is always looking for new innovations in the world of artificial intelligence, software and hardware to bring together his richly overpopulated pieces. He says, “I usually try to evoke the analogue in some way. I think it mostly started when I was given a 1980s Hitachi CRT. I figured out how to plug my laptop into it using adapters from Amazon, so then I began recording my designs and renders to the VCR to make tapes of my works. Eventually, I began reaching out to other artists to fuse their own individual styles with the TV aesthetics, and that was a fun way of integrating the past and the future, thus creating a unique look." 

Profile picture, AI art | Isaac Serif | STIRworld
Profile picture of Isaac Serif, AI art Image: Courtesy of Isaac Serif

Serif's art can be found online, attached to the name Hysterical Melancholy, quite appropriate for the qualities it possesses—the artist’s work is, in its entirety, a mad rush of feelings for the culturally initiated, transporting its audience to distant pasts and forcefully colliding them with current paradigms. There are very few artists, like Serif, who are able to manifest an emotional response for a category of internet-dwellers, and his practice is without a doubt worth following. It remains to be seen if this form of art will gather enough momentum to form a movement of its own, but for now, Serif remains singular.

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