Emoji As Art: Artist JUFE Takes Cartoon Texting to the Canvas

In 1984, George Orwell wrote about an entirely new language that nixes freedom of speech, limiting what you can say, the emotions you can express. Some could argue that the cartoon text language emoji runs along the same lines. Sure, they make flirting through Tindr that much easier -- "Ooh, I'd love some dessert [slice of cake]" --, and relieve the pressure when you rip a new one -- "I ran over your cat. Srry [frowny face]" -- but in the end you're only limited to the simplified expressions on a numbered keyboard.

Head over to Wynwood though, and this isn't the case.

Juan Fernandez Rivera, more commonly known as JUFE by his street art colleagues, is flipping the concept of Orwell's fictional language on its head with his own exhibit, aptly named Newspeak. In his installment, located within the clean walls of Product 81 gallery, the Puerto Rican artist has taken the 20 emojis he uses most often to explore the idea of the symbols as the next universal language, one that can bridge the gap whether you're speaking Mandarin or Spanish. JUFE is one of seven artists being featured by the Fordistas Residency Program, which provides living quarters, materials and exhibition opportunities to emerging artists in South Florida.

The idea steamrolled from JUFE's girlfriend, who was deep into the pages of 1984 a few months back. She couldn't help but think that we ourselves were limiting our vocabulary with these pixel-sized pictures. JUFE, being the artist that he is, strongly disagreed.

"I kind of [connected] that to using emoticons, since it's like a shortening of language, the way we text every day. I really liked the idea of how the two resemble each other. Her point was that she didn't like it because it makes us a little bit dumber, in the way that we don't use our full vocabulary, but I like it because it breaks down language barriers. Visually, I can have a conversation with some Chinese or Japanese people and they can understand it, or figure it out."

The paintings look like the kind of preliminary sketches Pixar artists might draw out, with each face running along an X and Y axis, grid marks bleeding through. Every line he uses adds to the story of a certain piece, thickening for dramatic effect and thinning to give you room to breath. This 3D wireframe style has become synonymous with the JUFE of today, which is directly influenced from his background in pottery, architecture, and graphic design. It's also not a far cry from his style with La Pandilla, an art collaboration he formed with Alexis Diaz, who is also an artist with Fordistas. Their colorful distortions of animals have been sketched onto walls around the world, and is a main fixture on the side wall of Wood Tavern. (Remember that worm-like whale being ripped apart from a chameleon and koala head? There is also a walrus/crocodile worm who do not share the same fate). JUFE is renowned for his murals, but he brings up a good point: they require a lot of social responsibility.

"At first, I liked to do whatever theme I wanted, either in a gallery or outside, but I think with the years I've matured. Seeing what has happened with street art and muralists over all, I think on the outside you need to be a little more open about what you do so it's acceptable to the public. I think I didn't see that years ago. I was a little bit more selfish in terms of wanting to prove [the ideas] I wanted, but I realize that when you put something in the public space, children, a lot of people pass by and they become a part of what you're doing too. You have to keep that in mind, always, because it needs to be a happy medium."

Another project JUFE has on his radar is a clothing line, scheduled to launch in the fall, which will feature premium t-shirts inked with his artwork, focusing on the internet and the individual. For now though, he's basking of the glory of his exhibit, which wraps up on June 14, and getting accustomed to new roommates in Puerto Rico: his girlfriend, and her dog. We didn't ask what his emoticon reaction to this furry new living situation was, but by the sound of it, we're going to guess it's something along the lines of this: O_o

--Ashley Brozic

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Miami New Times staff