Painter Spreads Internet Memes in Oil The Dramatic Prairie Dog, the Grape-Stomping Lady, Diet Coke and Mentos: Each are short videos made famous by the Web — and all are now splashed on canvas thanks to Prague-based artist Jeremiah Palecek, who makes art from what others made viral online.
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Painter Spreads Internet Memes in Oil

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Painter Spreads Internet Memes in Oil

Painter Spreads Internet Memes in Oil

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OK. When you hear this sound...

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: You probably think of the best five-second video on the Internet. The Dramatic Prairie Dog. Maybe you watched it a couple dozen times. Maybe you sent it to a friend or two. Same with that video of that local Fox reporter who was on assignment stomping grapes in a bucket when things went terribly wrong.

(Soundbite of Fox broadcast)

Unidentified Woman #1: (Reporter, FOX News) It's a lot of fun, a whole day. And - Stop! Oh!

(Soundbite of crashing, crying)

Unidentified Woman #1: Oh, I can't, ow, ow, ow, ow, stop, oh, stop! Oh! I can't breathe! Stop! Uhhh!

Unidentified Woman #2: (Anchor, FOX News) Oh, no! Oh, dear.

Unidentified Man: (Anchor, FOX News): I think she's actually hurt.

Unidentified Woman #2: No, I think she is. Ouch!

Unidentified Man: Yeah, she's hurt. She took a hard fall off there.

Unidentified Woman #2: OK.

Unidentified Man: Gosh, I hope she's OK.

MARTIN: We are such bad people for laughing.


For laughing. Well, we're also laughing at the reporters. They're like oh, ouch, oh, I think she took a bad fall. Of course she took a bad fall! My gosh!

MARTIN: Oh, man. OK. So we watched, and we emailed the link to someone else. That's what we do with these things. And then usually it kind of stops there. They fall off the radar, or in the case of these last two, they don't. But unless you're Jeremiah Palecek, he - who has done a series of oil paintings on these things, on these Internet phenomena. That's - you know, these things that they've become part of our Internet consciousness, like the Diet Coke and Mentos thing, the Tom Cruise Scientology video, average homeboy Denny Blaze. Jeremiah's paintings are really oddly beautiful, and we've rung him up at his home in Prague, in the Czech Republic to talk about them. Hi, Jeremiah.

Mr. JEREMIAH PALECEK (Painter): Hello. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Hey, thanks for being here. So tell us a little bit about how you came to this idea, that these would make good paintings.

Mr. PALECEK: Well, I've been painting television for quite some time now. I started when I was, like, 16 years old, making paintings from, like, the Ricki Lake show, and stuff like that, and then I just, you know, studied painting more, and studied drawing more, and I came back to painting digital media, and I thought that these images were worthy of an oil painting.

MARTIN: Let's talk specifically about examples, like the Mentos and the Diet Coke. Everyone has seen this, this dramatic experiment. And the local news reporter falling down and moaning.

Mr. PALECEK: Right.

MARTIN: What about these two in particular made you think, aha, these would make great oil paintings?

Mr. PALECEK: Well, I mean, I really like the idea of memes themselves, and how they spread on the Internet. And just trying to find a way to depict, that and keep it concrete over the years, and especially most of these things, they have a - they're very easy to replicate, like the Diet Coke and Mentos thing there. They're ingredients that everybody has, and everybody kind of has an experience with that, the same way they have an experience with like the kidney thief story, or something, you know. So they want to share these things, and spread them.

MARTIN: The kidney thief story, we all know that. It's horrific. So you're interested in these things as mass-media phenomena, but do you respond to the people in them? I mean, you - do you end up as you spend time meditating on these videos, and painting them? Do you develop some kind of empathy, some affection? For example, you seem to have a little bit of an affection for the Techno Viking. Tell us about him.

Mr. PALECEK: The Techno Viking is a video - it's taken from a street scene during the Love Parade in Berlin, and apparently some guy stumbles into this scene and kind of cops a feel on this girl dancing. At this point, the Techno Viking enters the frame, and he kind of sets this guy straight, basically, and tells him to take off. And you kind of think it's going to be a fight video, because the Techno Viking is this character - he's really - he has his shirt off, he has these cut off jeans and everything, and you think he's about to smack this guy, but instead he starts busting out these like really crazy dance moves for the next five minutes. So...


Mr. PALECEK: So, it's kind of a level of unexpectedness, which is fun with the Techno Viking.

MARTIN: Do you always have to have an affection for the character that you're profiling in your works?

Mr. PALECEK: Uh, it certainly...

MARTIN: Or can you have a negative response to one of them?

Mr. PALECEK: Yeah, I mean, the Tom Cruise Scientology video. That was one where I was just kind of blown away with the insaneness of it, and I just thought this was a great snippet, and you know, I don't - it's kind of hard for me to empathize with Tom Cruise, compared with...

MARTIN: Did that...

Mr. PALECEK: Maybe Britney Spears, maybe I could empathize with her more.

MARTIN: And you have - you have captured an image of Britney Spears as well.

Mr. PALECEK: Yeah.

MARTIN: Is there - what are you trying to say with these? Are you just trying to say, you know what, this - these are these Internet memes, so to speak, these cultural phenomena that have become part of our consciousness. Are you trying to say something more about them?

Mr. PALECEK: I mean, they're something that I think everybody sees all the time, and they're fun, and everybody kind of has a different experience with these type of videos, like, you know, a 12-year-old girl could send it, or your 60-year-old grandmother, or whatever. So they kind of have this universal appeal to a wide cross-section of people, and you know, essentially they - I think a lot of them are actually really abstract. They're really kind of base, and almost like reality TV or something like that, and I like that aspect a lot.

MARTIN: Now we've talked a lot recently on our show about the video, the recent video purportedly of a U.S. Marine throwing a puppy, allegedly, off a cliff. And it's certainly not as frivolous as the ones we've talked about earlier in this segment.

Mr. PALECEK: Sure.

MARTIN: Is that something that you've thought of as a subject?

Mr. PALECEK: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think there's definitely a place for all these different types of videos, because you know, I'm basically trying to keep these things immortal, you know, as little time capsules of a certain period of time, and certainly the puppy video was one that a lot of people found very shocking. Of course, the other aspect of that is I'm sure when I paint it, a lot of people will be like, well, does this guy like killing puppies? Is he some sick guy, you know, and they're like, that enjoys watching this video? So, you know, there's always that aspect to it, but definitely I think that they all deserve equal attention.

MARTIN: Now, you're currently hosting a "tell me what to paint" contest on your website, trying to solicit some ideas from people out there in the webosphere. You've done this before. How does it work?

Mr. PALECEK: Basically, I put out a video on YouTube, and then people, through the comment section, they give me ideas of what to paint, and I pick five of those, and I morph them into a painting. The last one I did had Flava Flav, Archaeopteryx, which is like a prehistoric bird that is supposedly evidence of a transitional species. What else? A 1981 Honda, and a De Lorean. I mean, I get a lot of ideas, and I'm actually working on a giant doodle as well.

MARTIN: A giant doodle?

Mr. PALECEK: Yeah. It's just like a giant piece of paper, and I'm basically just doodling all of these comments I'm getting on these videos. So it's just going to be this giant drawing of madness of Internet comments.

MARTIN: Very cool. Well, Jeremiah Palecek, painter, Internet observer, living in Prague, Czech Republic. Hey, thanks so much for being with us. We appreciate it.

Mr. PALECEK: Thank you.

MARTIN: Good luck.

STEWART: Next up on Bryant Park. It has been one year since a former FBI agent went missing in Iran. His family is still looking for him. Where is Robert Levinson? A conversation with his wife, next. This is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

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