By Lee-Anne Goodman
TORONTO (CP) Artist Oli Goldsmith wants to make it perfectly clear – his mission to create 999 Borat portraits is not the work of a deranged Sacha Baron Cohen fan.
"It could have been anybody, I guess," Goldsmith, 27, says from his west-end Toronto studio where he has finished approximately 250 original works featuring Borat.
The Toronto-born artist adds that he didn’t even particularly like last year’s hit film, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan."
"I was a fan before the movie," Goldsmith says. "I guess it’s like any other thing that works as a skit but doesn’t really work as you pull it out into a narrative.
"It did have its moments, but ultimately I had gotten to know Borat through ‘Da Ali G Show."’
Instead, Goldsmith says, he had a far grander point to make artistically when he embarked upon the project: "I was interested in in exploring the mass-media phenomena and fleetingness of ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ celebrity. With Borat, there was something particularly appealing because he’s the epitome of a manufactured celebrity; he is actually an art piece unto himself."
Goldsmith has certainly made Borat seem like the perfect artist’s muse in the portraits he’s completed so far (available for viewing at www.999borats.com.)
Each piece is markedly different in form, created using a range of both digital and traditional techniques.
The fake Kazakh journalist is portrayed in some pieces wearing gym shorts and knee socks, others in his trademark baggy grey suit waving an American flag, and still others in his neon-green thong.
In some works, he’s clearly recognizable _ in others, he’s an almost camouflouged Borat-esque figure amid strokes of colour, texture and sampled imagery. Some are almost cartoonish and graffiti-like, while others have a much more traditional artistic sensibility.
On a recent sunny day in the bright apartment and studio he shares with his wife and fellow artist Caroline Bacher, and four friendly housecats, the dark-haired Goldsmith _ reed-thin with a goatee and remarkably long, dark eyelashes _ almost looks like he could be Borat’s younger brother. He smiles at the observation, but vows never to be seen in his muse’s green thong.
"When I started this project, people kept asking me when I was going to get to the ones with the thong," he adds with a laugh. "Those were the ones people really wanted to see."
Goldsmith, best known for his work on the Our Lady Peace album "Spiritual Machines," aims to have all 999 portraits done in two months’ time. They will be available for purchase at $100 each exclusively through Goldsmith’s main website (www.oligoldsmith.com) where his prolific body of artwork is on display as well.
Every day, Goldsmith says, he expects to hear the phone ring with either Baron Cohen or his people on the other end of the line.
"I haven’t heard from anyone yet, but I am assuming that the way things are going, I will," Goldsmith says of the online attention that his Borats are getting from people around the globe.
"I’m hoping that Baron Cohen would appreciate my interpretation in the work while sharing the playful sense of the absurd as much as I do."
Goldsmith describes his work as "pop surrealism," and serves as the
administrator of the pop surrealism group on Flickr.com, where many working artists congregate and display their work online.
He credits his Flickr.com audience with encouraging him to expand his "fledgling idea and turn it into something a lot more major."
"Basically, it started as just a kind of a crazy idea that I thought of, but one that seemed well-suited to exploring the Internet as an art venue. I’ve always been inspired by Andy Warhol . . . my 999 Borats is certainly following an Andy Warhol type of pop-art tradition, but with the clear distinction that each work takes a radically different approach to its form and presentation."
Goldsmith’s art is exhibited in Canada by Gallery Jones in Vancouver, and Parts Gallery and Muse Gallery in Toronto.
"I don’t have any plans right now to show them all together, but if
some crazy gallery approached me and wanted to do it, I might," he
says. "With this project though, experimenting with new ways to exhibit art online is something really captivating me."
With more than 700 Borats to go, does Goldsmith fear he’s going to rapidly tire of his subject?
"Maybe I’ll be sick of him at the end of this in some sense, but I’m somebody who really likes to experiment with my work and so this project is giving me a chance to do that, for sure," he says.
"The vastness of it actually appeals to me, partly because I’m drawn to such crazy, daunting challenges and also because it gave me the freedom to really experiment and try quite a few different approaches to a common thread."