John Scane’s Life During Wartime series of paintings examines themes of violence, patriotism, disconnection, and virtual reality through the lens of the video game. This series establishes a new mode of painting that might be called ‘Virtual Realism’ because it uses some of the traditional strategies of realist painting but rather than applying them to the natural world it takes the artificial, digital, virtual world of online computer gaming as its subject. These paintings present a new and unique way of communicating about the virtual and real worlds- through the archaic process of painting, Scane analyzes the strange world of online gaming and the mediated human interactions between gamers.
Popular online games often mimic recent and ongoing military conflicts, creating a richly realized virtual facsimile of the real world. In this way a kind of non-physical parallel plane of battle, a ‘virtual theater,’ has been created. It is within this digital virtual theater that participants experience seemingly real events and interactions taking place across vast distances of physical space, across borders and nations, blurring the lines between nationalities and time zones. These simulations of real war feed contradictory feelings of competition, domination and bloodlust as well as teamwork, accomplishment and camaraderie. The experience facilitates a profoundly obscured distinction between reality and fantasy, which is mirrored in both form and content of these contemporary paintings.
Imagery from the Life During Wartime series is executed in a warm tone overall, suggesting the yellowish glow of Old Master paintings or the patina of age which reinforces the historical references to European paintings of battle across the centuries. In fact, for Scane, the whole endeavor has become as much an examination of the history of war paintings as it is an exploration of computer-based games. The resulting narratives and situations are at first familiar yet become more ambiguous as one continues to look: the viewer will find there is no specific story being told, rather a suggestion of something subtly bizarre, somehow both sinister and humorous. While the imagery and composition of these paintings reference classical painting, historic photographs, recent events and familiar subjects, the viewer is left wondering what exactly is taking place; teams are mixed, notions of good and bad are absent, expectations are thwarted and intentions are blurred. We are left with an absurd and somehow tragic non-space, obfuscated by both technology and human imperfection…kind of like war.