Frank Dorrey is an artist for the digital age, whose surrealist pieces, which blend digital collage and illustrations, are created on his iPhone using the PicsArt app. The astounding pieces which have asserted themselves at the forefront of innovation in contemporary art and solidified themselves as quintessentially Black, are created by the 25-year-old Linden, New Jersey artist on his phone in the comfortability of his home or wherever he finds time to create (past accounts have cited his tool of choice as an iPhone 8 but it’s hard to imagine there hasn’t been a recent update considering the iPhone lifespan).
As absurd as that may seem, the artists’ heavily celebrated artwork is revolutionary in process and product. Dorrey’s artwork pushes the bounds of how we conceptualize Black art and the gaps between how individual communities find ease and intimacy. Currently based in New York, the New Jersey artist creates work that embodies the Black diaspora, pulling from his Haitian heritage to influence his colour schemes and his visualization of the fantastical. His work is unique and personal to him and his loved ones and yet, as he rightly expresses in an interview with VICE, it carries “some sort of a collective understanding”.
Dorrey’s work is familial. The images in his collages are mostly sourced from pictures of his friends that are then stretched and misshaped, giving them a 90s animation feel (think Susie from Rugrats meets Angela Anaconda). Creating illustrations from a young age, Dorrey’s artwork has matured in a way that still pays homage to the inner child that first fueled his creativity.
Dorrey’s inspiration comes from life. Nothing is ever forced, and his artwork is based on spurs of inspiration ignited by moments with friends and loved ones. The artist doesn’t create unless inspired and once inspired, he creates as soon as possible. Though his illustrations are wonderous in colour and character, the narratives woven within them feel trustworthy. The authenticity in his work is a byproduct of his process and the accessibility of his medium is the key. Everything is immediate with Dorrey. Like a child crawling towards walls with crayons, creativity exploding onto the most readily available medium, Dorrey’s creativity is uninhabited. It carries with it all the playfulness and innocence that this world has rarely been afforded to Black children.
It is no wonder that Dorrey’s illustrations have been so well-received. His artwork has come a long way since he first began posting publicly in 2016. Before solidifying himself as a creative with a catalogue of commissioned work for artists such as Steve Lacey, Amine, Mykki Blanco, and brands like Mowalola, Dorrey dabbled in vibrant crayon sketches and making deep-fried vocal tracks that he released on SoundCloud under the name Dorris.
One thing that remains constant across the artist’s portfolio is his play with surrealist distortion. Dorrey has expressed in previous interviews that he is much more concerned with what is implied than what is for certain. His early drawings and music, like his digital work, play with ambiguity as well. There is a fascination with obscurity on his part; an attraction to the less-than-sure. It isn’t a yearning for things that have yet to be conceived but rather a magnetism towards all the uncertainty of the right here and now.
Dorrey’s use of collage with a decidedly electric palette is visually arresting. His vibrant illustrations with alarming visuals and familiar subjects is entirely and incredibly human, conveying a narrative of community and relationship. Whether a single subject or many, his methods deliver movement and dynamic connection. Playful and humourous, powerful and somber, the artist is giving us what we desperately need in art right now. His reliance on both a digital medium and inspiration from time invested in his offline relationships confronts our current navigation of this incredibly digital age. Dorrey has found a way to give into the pull towards the digitalization of community while also holding steadfast to the realness that is human connection. A battle that many of us have found ourselves losing, post-pandemic. For those of us uninspired and lost in how our world is progressing, Frank Dorrey’s artwork is hope and a liferaft.
Hannah Verina White is a Montreal and Toronto based writer. She has a deep love for the melodramatic and nostalgic, both of which influence the way she writes and the subjects she chooses to write about.