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🖼 On Dissolving Paintings by Ruben Fro
The birth of a new era of digital impressionism
This edition is a guest post by Tezos collector @0xSubEk
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If you are unfamiliar with Ruben Fro and his work, he inhabits a unique and deeply intriguing genre of cyberfuture art that most often explores timelines where the implications of our ever-growing dependency on data and artificial intelligence come to a dystopian conclusion of digital corruption. Each piece is often delivered as a tantalizing snippet of a story, with Ruben doing everything up to telling you exactly what you are looking at, leaving your mind to cross the threshold into meaning, reeling over the implications of what you just witnessed.
Most of his work revolves around a theoretical future where people can download their consciousness into an afterlife social platform, DAT, that allows users a new chance at a life afterlife. But like any good capitalist society, as soon as the potential of this technology was realized, it was hurriedly pushed into public adoption without a proper understanding of long-term implications. This timeline takes us on journeys through several mini-series, most notably: Dissolving Realities, Mind Relaxers, ATLANTIS, and BrainFeeder. But perhaps the most popular series, and one that lives in parallel to the storyline, is the Dissolving Paintings series.
In my opinion, the Dissolving Paintings series displays the purest form of Rubens art. It steps aside from the story to show an intimate connection with classical pieces that reveal a conversation between the artist and the art. Each piece stands alone, bringing you tremendous waves of experience, each one a delicate dance between showcasing his skill in creating scene and story while not eclipsing the art on display. This series tells a deep and beautiful tale about an ever-evolving artist and one that culminates in my favorite art pieces in the NFT space. There is no doubt these pieces will be looked upon in the future as transitional pieces of digital art.
To understand these pieces, you need to look at them as a whole, from the start, understanding the context of the time.
Girl with a Pearl Earring
It all starts with a girl. Although Ruben doesn’t list it as the first, “Girl with a Pearl Earring” is technically the first “Dissolving Painting”-related object published on Hic Et Nunc.
Being the first, you can see the experimentation with the idea. It feels exploratory, and the focus is more on the result than the subject. As it moves and rotates, you can feel Ruben processing the possibilities and the implications of this thought. This piece is as much a slice of Ruben’s consciousness in time as it is a piece concerning a girl with a pearl earring. This is the beginning of the thought.
Step into A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
Not long after, we see Ruben applying this idea to a grander scale. “Step into a Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” brings more comfort in the process. You feel him using this to pull apart the painting, exposing characteristics of the art inside. Gently gliding through bright summer colors, setting the tone of a lazy Sunday afternoon, pausing in the glare to emphasize the still air with the heat beating upon you, turning the scene into a physical experience.
Ruben is also beginning to add sound as a vehicle to amplify the experience. But through all of this, it is still very much an experiment, Ruben walking with you through his experience with this piece, effects given with light hands, afraid to give too much, push too far, to ruin the masterpiece instead of explore it through his art.
The Great (Particle) Wave off Kanagawa
After a Sunday afternoon, Ruben’s vision snaps into form. No longer weary on where he is going, there is confidence in the execution. “The Great (Particle) Wave Off Kanagawa” marks the transition from experiment to commanding your experience. The sound takes front stage, grabbing hold of its power to electrify the painting, shocking it into life. There is a resoluteness to it. Like Ruben walked into the gallery and hung this on the wall and walked away. It needs no introduction.
After this point, it feels like a groove has been found; there is less thinking about execution, allowing more connection and flow. With the completion of The Wave, you are left with tickling energy of what is to come. Never have you seen anything like it. Masterpieces from ages ago being reimagined into digital form. Digital impressionism as an idea begins to take shape, implications start to roll around in your mind. And all you want is to see more.
An Intimate Embrace
Where Ruben had been amping up the audiovisual techniques leading to the wave, we now take an unexpected pause to something of significance. “An Intimate Embrace” is as the title exposes. Immediately you arrive in a space with an air that commands reverence. You forget yourself as your heart is melted by the delicate sounds alive in the morning meadow. Before the wave rushed to meet you, this is slow and soft, as the touches from one lover to another. The picture formed before you bathed in the golden glow of love’s own light, then slowly dissolving, the two becoming one. As it fades, you are left solemn, already longing for the fleeting moment of a love once had but lost to time.
The intimacy created here is so delicate and personal that as you step back, you can see Ruben’s own experience guiding the hands of the composure. This NFT is not simply a setting created to showcase a painting, but a memory encased in 43 seconds of art. But even still, there is a gentle refrain, like one afraid to put into words the feelings that seize the heart. I don’t know if this is out of intention, where the artist is walking you to the door only for you to take the final steps from your own experience, or if this is the result of an internal struggle with being fully open with their emotion through their creation. Whatever the story, what you are left with is an experience that lulls you into forgetting that it is not your own story but one that is created for you.
This kind of gentle intimacy and deftness of effect is a rarity in the entire catalog of storylines in Ruben’s work. It’s for all of these reasons that I believe this is Ruben’s finest piece he has yet to create. A masterpiece in every regard, personal and delicate in execution, one that can stand alone.
But as we are here to talk about the series, we must ask what could be next.
The Starry Night
In what feels like the exhale to Intimate Embrace, “The Starry Night” arrives with a cool crispness of a late summer night. The world is asleep, and their dreams are bringing an air of magic to the night. Despite the surroundings of the painting, I can’t help but experience this as being in the country with few lights around, exhaling out the events of the day.
At this point of evolution, Ruben’s particle work is just magic; like fireflies in the night, they carry as much temperature as they do color. They create emotion by flowing their trajectories, pulling the tensions out of you, filling you with warmth. The audio work is much more subdued, moving to the background adding to the relaxed tones of the work. It’s an audiovisual massage without a sharp edge.
The Birth of [Glitchy] Venus
So now that we just experienced the ecstasy of love’s touch followed with a good breath of night air, Ruben takes us sharply in another direction, again proving the extent of his masterful range.
With the slowly rising crescendo, you feel like Ruben got something out of his system with the previous works and now wants to explore his technique's full extension. This piece is full of emphasis.
The angels, in constant harmonic awe, bring the coalescence of millions of particles into birth. The final pulse of golden light brings such weighted significance that you are convinced of its religious relic status as if god wrought this from the raw fabric of the universe. It is pure, flawless, a technical masterpiece. The pinnacle of using this format to emphasize the centerpiece.
Up to this point, we've witnessed the maturing of the technique through experiment, raw emotion, to mythical purity. After Venus, I wondered what Ruben could do that wouldn't just end up feeling like a rehashing of a classical work in a new setting. I longed for a new Dissolving Painting, but no amount of my imagination prepared me for this result.
In came the Wanderer. It immediately hits with an unearthly color scheme that lends itself to more of an alien world. Initially, as the frame is empty, you are drawn to the landscape, giving significance to the setting. The choir, with its resonating tones making it feel more like a cathedral with its unnatural walls drawing upwards. This isn't just a landscape to frame the painting; this is an alter.
Now, this is something we haven't seen before. Every dissolving painting before this has had the setting be an addition to the painting, relatively stark and acting in the background, to add only to the overall emotions of the piece. This time, there are artifacts in the landscape to create the reverential tone and weight of a worship place.
As the painting begins to form, you pause on the finished picture for just long enough to breathe in before the subject, the wanderer himself, is enigmatically pulled out of the animation into the space created for him. I can't help but feel as though this action of pulling him out of the painting signifies Ruben seeing himself as the wanderer, the wanderer exploring digital landscapes. And before you can process this idea entirely, the wanderer dissolves before you into ash, as fleeting as it came.
Ruben is not one to frivolously create artworks and certainly ones that do not further the story he is trying to tell. So you have to ask, what is the purpose of this piece, what story is this telling that isn’t being upfront about? In looking at it, I believe that this emphasizes the alien nature of this particular dissolving painting. This is an artifact stumbled upon in an alien world, a place of reverence, but one that isn't easily understood, and that this artifact shows Ruben what he believes himself, that he is the wanderer.
After 7 Dissolving Paintings, this is where we stand. Each one leaves me sure of the pathway this series is on, with what then follows always going me in awe, seized with emotions, having seen something I never thought I would. Not only does this series show a stunning evolution of the artist, but it also shows what this format is truly capable of.
Although these pieces have been highly sought after within the community, they exist in the bridging of classical masterpieces with the digital impressionistic format. They will be recognized as some of the few early masterpieces in NFT history. The only possible question is, where will he go from here?
SubEk is an NFT collector that was introduced to this space through the early days of Hic et nunc. Although initially not deeply interested in NFTs, he found himself completely captured by what this format enabled artists to capture and communicate, showing him a world he didn't know he needed.
Read more about his incredible collection here.
Until next time,
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