5 Top Digital Artists Revisit Pop Culture, Comics, and Feminism

Pascal Campion

The warmest towel, Pascal Campion

One day seven-year-old Pascal Campion and his older brother struck a deal. Campion’s brother agreed to give him access to his comic books if Campion would copy the covers for him. This kickstarted a young Campion’s passion for comics and graphic novels like Asterix and Obelix, Tin Tin, X-Men and Spiderman comics. Throughout his career, Campion has worn many hats: online educational game developer, commercial 2-D artist, conceptual artist, and visual development artist. He has worked on film projects such as Disney’s “Moana” and Dreamworks Animation's “Penguins of Madagascar,” having come a long way. Comics are still an important influence in his work, which ranges from digital paintings with incredible narrative depth and story potential to sequential art depicting everyday happenings and musings drawn in several panels.

Perfectly fine, Pascal Campion

It was between 2005 and 2006 when Campion really started to find his own style and creating pieces daily, engaging in his art as if it were a personal journal. This saw his social media following increase and looking at his everyday vignettes built around a joyful, beating heart, it is not difficult to see why. Loose and minimalistic, his vignettes have a dreamy feel to them, they are inviting, and easy to read. For Campion, the story is king and it is often something most, if not all of us can relate to. Yes, he’s inspired by great artists like Renoir and Rembrandt but the heart of his stories is not in greatness, but in the little moments. They are about love, family, and friendship. “Sometimes it’s being at the supermarket or giving a bath to my daughter and she looks at me and smiles,” he commented, “it lasts for a second, but the memory of it stays with me for a long time. These are the things that interest me the most.” Campion’s work is intensely personal, but the subjects he tackles are universal. His images, however, are not shallow puddles, but deep lakes. There is richness there, numerous hints that point to a longer story. This, coupled with his use of lighting instils a sense of wonder. Room to explore as Campion explores himself and the world around him.

Vittorio Bonapace

Vittorio Bonapace, Commuting on Mars, 2020

For an award-winning digital artist, musician, and art director Vittorio Bonapace, art is a pursuit of beauty and excellence. He has had experience working in CGI, architecture and theatre design; now implementing his pursuit to 3-D and crypto art. Bonapace runs his own studio in London and explores themes such as the unusual coexistence of humanity with the artificial, and the relationship between humans and the planet. In a series of pieces looking at the different facets of what life on Mars would look like, we catch an odd but interesting glimpse into astronauts commuting. It shows the insides of a tube car, which apart from the fully-suited astronauts and astronaut-dog, looks like an ordinary tube car. One astronaut prepares to leave the tube car, another appears to look for a seat, while two others read the paper and stare at their phone. In movies, people go to Mars to do epic things, but not here. In another piece, unveiled and sold by Bonapace on Superrare in June as part of a collection of 18 artworks by several emerging Italian NFT digital artists, an astronaut watches TV. The astronaut also eats popcorn and drinks coke (Coca Cola, obviously). Bonapace’s view of life on Mars is that everyday life will go on regardless, as ordinary and consumerist as always.

Vittorio Bonapace, Up In The Air, 2021

Another image in this series shows an indoor zoo in which real-life flamingoes and leopards co-exist with robotic flamingoes and leopards (which are eerily similar to that unnerving robot dog from a “Black Mirror” episode). Here, Bonapace delves into the consequences of a relentlessly consumerist world on the natural world. In the prize-winning piece “A Day at the Races,” he imagines another dystopia in which people use a bubble over their heads to breathe, and kids participating in a race are not raising money to cure cancer or to help fund environmental NGOs like Greenpeace, but to be able to breathe again without a bubble over their heads. An overhead banner reads: “Save the Planet. Breathe Again. Do It For the Kids.” It is an ironic poke at what is going on today. Humans have bubbles around their heads, get it? Like “Black Mirror,” Bonapace’s environmental action inspired digital paintings aren’t so far removed from the present as one would like to believe; “A Day at the Races” is set less than fifty years in the future. It will be interesting to see where Bonapace’s knack for designing ingenious dystopias will lead him next.

Nicole Rifkin

Nicole Rifkin’s “Pride and Joy”

Nicole Rifkin realised she wanted to become an illustrator when she was 17, but her relationship with art began much earlier. Words are often thought to be the eminent mode of communication, but this wasn’t the case for Rifkin. Her mother and her family are Slovenian-Canadian, and English is their second language. Her brother was diagnosed with autism when she was young. She’s said that: “At one point, I realized that the one thing that bridges everyone together is the understanding of an image.” Having started off creating gig posters, Rifkin is now based in New York and has published several comics and zines, done editorial illustrations for clients like The Atlantic, Buzzfeed, The New Yorker, Vulture, and more.

Twin Peaks promotional content, Nicole Rifkin

Centring around women, identity, everyday, and loss, Rifkin’s brightly hued visual melancholy are influenced by the cartoon styles found in comics, and the punk aesthetic. She seeks to convey the sense of limbo she would have as a kid, as well as finding the beauty in the mundane. There isn’t much action in Rifkin’s work, but there is plenty of contemplation. Her protagonists are pensive, lost in thought in the atmospheric spaces they inhabit. Among Rifkin’s many inspirations is cartoonist Adrian Tomine, author and essayist Chuck Klosterman, “Twin Peaks” creator David Lynch, comic creator Jamie Hewlett and artist Raymond Pettibon. In recent years, Rifkin has created promotional content for the 2017 revival of renowned mystery horror drama “Twin Peaks” and the cover for this year’s The New Yorker Pride issue. Rifkin, who identifies as queer and non-binary, illustrated a cover that is faithful to her characteristic style. It shows someone getting ready, a quiet, alone-time moment in which her subject is visible only to themselves.

Sonia Lazo

Bat Femme, Sonia Lazo

Sonia Lazo has always found the magical world of witches and demons bewitching. Recent artworks feature a batwoman, demonic women with horns and wings, and a chimera of zodiac signs. The Salvadoran illustrator and tattoo artist initially studied artisan product design before switching to graphic design and discovering illustration. Fantastical, bold, funny, and a little dark, her work features adorable and unique characters, among whom feature women and queer people. Lazo currently runs a successful Etsy shop and has worked on various freelance illustration and design projects. Her work has resonated in her home country as well as abroad, and she’s done exhibitions, talks, and workshops in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Colombia, the United States, and Dubai. In 2019, she published her first written and illustrated book: “Witch, Please!” (described as “a love letter to modern witches and all things occult”) and is currently finishing up her second one. Lazo has said that she is inspired by contemporary artists like Colombian cartoonist Power Paola, Spanish plastic artist Maria Herreros, and Argentinian illustrator Maria Luque.

U Don’t Have 2 Forgive, Sonia Lazo

Creating work that has a social impact is very important for Lazo, whose work is influenced by Latin American culture while celebrating queerness, rejecting traditional feminine stereotypes, and touching on themes like self-reliance. This is personal for Lazo, who lives in a country that has one of the highest femicide rates in the region and is highly dangerous for the LGTBQ+ community. She admits that she hasn’t always been proud of her heritage due to her country’s complicated reputation but adds that, “there’s also an amazing, rich culture that people don’t see because we’ve alienated ourselves. I always try to put that in my work, so people can see El Salvador in a more positive way.”

Filip Hodas

Canis Goofus, Filip Hodas

Filip Hodas is a 3-D and crypto artist based in Prague, Czechia. He started working in the industry as a graphic designer and has worked for clients like Adidas, Coca Cola, and Samsung. In 2015, eager to explore the possibilities of 3-D software like Cinema 4D and Octane, he set out to create a render every day. Hodas was not disappointed, and creating textures mesmerised him. Trash, moss, graffiti, rocks, pieces of wood, cables, you name it. Hodas sprinkles it over his pieces like confetti, like a cook adding finishing touches to his cakes. The results were earthy, atmospheric dystopias. Some are playful observations of the effects of climate change, his gaze as an artist bold and witty as he invites the viewer to look at a drawing of 6-pack rings wrapped around a 200 metres long moored container ship. Another shows huge Legos overrun by nature, which represents one of the primary themes in Hodas’s work: pop culture decay.

Bikini Bottom, Filip Hodas

Nostalgia is common in the here and now, but for Hodas, growing up in a post-communist country meant that the value of Western pop culture icons like McDonald’s Happy Meals and videogame characters Pacman and Mario was even greater. His artwork takes these icons and shows the many, many years from now. Among his most eye-catching projects is his Cartoon Fossils series. Hodas’s first NFT release similarly featured skulls, and was also quite popular and quickly sold out after dropping on Nifty Gateway. The Cartoon Fossils are realistic skull versions of Hodas’s favourite cartoon characters, ranging from Goofy to Scrooge McDuck accompanied by Goofy’s signature green hat for example, and are set against a flat background. The skulls are being displayed, and at the corner, you can see a card that reads: “Canis Goofus” and the date the skull originates from. It feels like you’re seeing all these contemporary pop culture icons in a museum, worn by time, just like a dinosaur skull. Hodas has also placed pop culture icons in the future for his Pop Culture Dystopia project, inspired by Simon Stålenhag’s work, which does something similar, but places robots and pop culture icons in the past. The nostalgia and appreciation of childhood memories are the same, and growing older seems to have little effect on Hodas’s loving treatment of the past.