On view at Simchowitz in Downtown Los Angeles, Alic Brock’s latest exhibition, Cadillac Jack, explores the nebulous space between the digital and the real. Because of the self-taught, Atlanta-based artist’s rigorous process—which involves manipulating pop images of sexualized figures, jewelry, and florals pulled from his memory and online sources before before painting them on canvas—his photorealistic works appear to be the clumsy approximations of generative AI models. Up close, however, the artist’s nearly invisible brushstrokes and careful attention to shading and texture reveal the works to be masterful tricks of the eye.
By contrasting the artificiality of the digisphere with the physicality of paint on canvas, Cadillac Jack straddles the gulf that separates traditional painting and digital art, mimicking what it can feel like to move through our digitally-saturated world. His saucy subject matter—close crops of intermingling nude bodies or a figure in leather garb clutching a string of pearls—nods to the types of consumerist imagery that bombard us every day. By confusing the boundary between digital and real, Brock also captures the ways the lines between our physical and digital realities often blur.
The hairless, muscular, and heavily-bronzed bodies locked together in Palm Beach Tan #1 and #2 (both 2022), for example, cannot be real. Leaning in to get a closer look at each painting, it’s clear each limb is visibly disjointed from the other, as if both figures had the bodies of Barbie dolls. And yet, if this image were to appear in an ad on social media—a blip in my feed—my immediate reflex would not be to critique how heavily the image was edited. Instead, I would want to be in the image. I would want that image to be me.
This sense of desire lingers throughout the work, ultimately undermining itself when the viewer realizes the subject matter’s impossibility. In Upskirt (2022), for example, a kneeling figure slides their hands up the miniskirt of another. While the moment feels incredibly intimate, the painting’s jagged edges, pixelated surface, and dramatically foreshortened perspective recreate the plastic feel of digitized images, undermining the believability of the interaction. By toying with distorted proportions and discordant textures, Brock emphasizes the distance between the digital and the real—a distance that can be easy to overlook when many of us depend on digital platforms to connect with others.
While we usually understand paintings as removed from reality, reproducing a memory, experience, or image of the world without capturing it exactly, the same is not always true for images posted online. In swiping through images on Instagram, we aren’t as likely to categorize what we see as an edited or stylized reproduction of reality. In Brock’s work, the boundaries that divide the digital and the real dissolve, highlighting the ways that digital editing tools can warp reality beyond recognition and offering an important critique of the ways digital platforms depict the world.