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Having lived a life online for the majority of her life, Annabelle Gralton navigates her experiences and anxieties from her virtual growth through autobiographical oil painted portraits.
She paints the faces of the people she’s met online, merging together the permanence of both oil paint and information published online. Despite this permanence, many often label friendships created in this virtual nature as inauthentic due to their non-physical background.

The changing relationship structures in a post-internet world is something that has fascinated Annabelle since a young age, spending a large portion of her early teenage years in online chat rooms such as Habbo Hotel. The friends she made there were often shot down and labelled as ‘not real friends’ due to her not having met them in person. Despite this, she continued to make friends and keep online personal blogs. This was prior to the rise of social media where online friendships and expressing intimate details through online platforms was not considered the norm.

Annabelle’s desire to pour attention and care into these portraits yields a more intimate and emotional piece compared to a screenshot or photograph. The meticulous rendering, emotional and physical labour involved her creative process alludes to the emotional and intimate connection the artist has towards the sitter. The scales of these paintings can range from intimate smart-phone sized miniatures to large, overwhelming six-foot by three-foot murals.

Depicted in casual, relaxed positions, either in person or from screen shots during Skype calls, these online friends are caught relaxed, off-guard, with their digital link portrayed through bright and ‘not quite’ realistic use of colour and paint strokes.
Since she has only known the friends online prior to meeting, her conception of them is built through a series of text, audio and images sent back and forth over a period of time. Her image of them is built with the information they choose to reveal to her, often honest, confronting, and intimate – or completely fabricated, fuelling Annabelle’s questioning of what is authentic and what is not, and what constitutes as an authentic friendship. This fluid nature of identity online and being able to delete accounts within a few clicks presents the fear of loss in Annabelle’s work, fuelling the artists wish to immortalise these people in paint.

The surrounding interface of the digital screen is often also depicted, including icons to expand or close the window, the option to ‘end call’ and other illustrated imagery. They remind the viewer that the artist and sitter are not always present with each other in a physical setting, obstructing the sitter from holding the artists full attention.

The permanence of oil paint and the virtual friendships marry together the concept that anything one uploads online is ‘there forever’, cementing friendships often labelled inauthentic and portrays the confirmation Annabelle seeks. Although these friendships may fade in time, accounts and blogs left inactive or deleted, they will last as a copy in a server or other online space, indefinitely. Out of reach, inaccessible, yet immortalised.