In a world where we move quickly from one piece of technology to the next, Nick Gentry has chosen to step back and observe. Creating artwork from old, discarded tech, his portraiture is extremely striking, drawing focus on the significance of technology in society and its impact on us as consumers individually and as a community.
Now exhibiting across the globe, Gentry’s cyber figures have caught the eye of many and introduced a new form of media – something he was keen to discuss.
Most well-known for his use of floppy discs and film reels, Gentry loves to make use of carelessly-discarded objects, giving it back to us in a whole new way. “[I use] a variety of mediums,” he told me, “but just now there is a focus on obsolete materials.”
Of course, being obsolete, such materials are not easy to come by, so Gentry appeals to the public, hoping to receive old and forgotten floppy disks, film reels, x-rays – indeed, almost anything vaguely tech-related that he can regenerate.
This is what, once again, draws me to Gentry’s work: if someone were to say ‘recycled’ or ‘upcycled’ to me alongside ‘portraiture’ or any art form, my mind would instantly picture something crude, jagged and rudimentary – none of which appropriately describe Gentry’s portraiture. Sleek and refined, his work completely subverts my
initial expectations, opening my eyes to a whole new form of recycled art.
Of course, this did not happen overnight – countless hours of experimentation have been devoted to Gentry’s craft. “I have a long process before I can even begin to paint [a] portrait, so, in a way, the time spent on the work isn’t important to me… [My work] evolves over time. The technique changes and so do the concepts and materials.”
Such an evolution is intriguing, as it seems to embody Gentry’s message that, despite technology changing and advancing rapidly, the people behind the iPhones and 3D TVs have really remained the same.
Conversely, as Gentry observes himself, despite technology developing, it always remains fixed in a singular place in time, soon to be forgotten and even unknown to future generations. The dispensability of something we hold so dear in today’s society is fascinating – and Gentry agrees. “It’s a very different place now to when I grew up”, he commented, “I’d imagine [young people today] would see these things [floppy disks] as artefacts, maybe with a sense of mystery. It’s interesting, as the objects themselves remain the same, it’s us that changed.”
This, according to Gentry, is the reason for the anonymity of most of his subjects. “I don’t consider the faces to be the subject. In that way, it’s not like traditional portraiture. The materials really are central to my work as that is where the real identity resides. I’m quite happy with the faces being unknown and ambiguous.”
Similarly, he does not feel as if any singular work bears more significance than another: “They all have small details and elements that I find interesting. None is more important than another in that regard.”
It seems that, for Gentry, his work cannot be considered as several individual pieces. Rather, it is one entity, representing a commentary upon cyber culture today and its ever-growing impact.
Certainly the work itself has also had a significant impact upon the global community. Frequently exhibiting across Europe and in the US as well as in the UK, Gentry has made his mark internationally. However, this was not something he expected, “I just wanted to draw and paint and to do something original. I’m really happy that I do get to show my work in lots of countries, as I find travel to be very inspiring.
“I think you can’t really plan these things, it’s mostly a case of working hard and being persistent. If you are doing something unique then I think that also helps as well.” Soon to be exhibiting in Belgium, Gentry seems keen to maintain his international prowess. Naturally, he also reiterated his need for contributions: “If anyone would like to contribute film negatives then feel free to send them to my studio.”
Although a man of few words, Gentry’s compelling artwork speaks for itself. Reaching all corners of the globe, it seems to me that we not only connect with Gentry’s work connects on both an aesthetic and a psychological level. Perhaps, subconsciously, we recognise the truth in Gentry’s message – subconsciously, we recognise our dependency on technology and its potential