‘Swipe’ exhibit makes art out of Tinder photos

Carley Mullally’s art is inspired by men she’s seen on Tinder, a popular dating app.

Carley Mullally hovers over the long wooden table of the empty textile dyes and print studio of NSCAD’s Seeds Building in Halifax, patiently stitching up long cloth portraits under the buzzing florescent lights, putting the final touches on the pieces for her upcoming exhibition. As she leans over to adjust the music on her cellphone she checks her messages on Tinder, the source of much more than meeting possible companions for Mullally.

Mullally, 22, is a NSCAD student from New Glasgow, N.S., in her last year studying textiles and fashion. “Swipe,” her senior exhibition, will feature portraits of men in their early to mid-20s from the popular dating application Tinder. Mullally’s exhibition runs Feb. 2-7 at the Anna Leonowens Gallery.

Mullally got the idea for her exhibition last summer while visiting her cottage in New Brunswick with her grandparents. Bored and without Internet connection, Mullally took out her sketchbook to pass the time.

“I didn’t know what to draw, and that’s when it clicked that I could draw Tinder people. So I started painting [them],” she says.

Mullally, who has always enjoyed drawing portraits, realized that Tinder was the ultimate repertoire of “free faces.”

“I started screenshotting anyone who I thought had a cool or interesting-looking face…. I have a stockpile on my phone, so I hope I never lose [it] because someone will think I’m a stalker or something,” she says with a laugh.

The exhibition is meant to be positive and playful, according to Mullally, as she attempts to portray the fleeting nature of online dating through the featured portraits.

She found that Tinder users, especially men, often take face-on pictures for their dating profiles, making them perfect for portrait-drawing.

Mullally prefers to paint portraits of people she doesn’t know. “When I know somebody, I try to paint them the way they want to be seen…. If it’s a complete stranger, I’m just painting what I see.”

Mullally says she told her advisor, Frances Dorsey, associate professor of textiles at NSCAD, about the quirky hobby and Dorsey urged her to continue to hone the portraits and develop the concept into a series.

Since Mullally is not using the names or Tinder bios of the men, Dorsey says she does not see the exhibition as malicious or ill-intentioned.

“I don’t think their privacy was taken advantage of,” Dorsey says. “They chose to put themselves in that arena.”

She echoes that Mullally’s intention is not to expose or identify these people but to engage with the concept of strangers through her work.

Throughout the project Mullally has brought the portraits to life; taking images through numerous layers of translations and processes, yet rendering them identifiable to the original image “because of her skill,” Dorsey says.

“It’s a portrait series of strangers,” Mullally says. “They’re strangers to me, so I want them to be strangers to other people, too.”

To ensure this, Mullally uses two levels of distortion, paint and polychromatic screen printing with dyes to create the portraits. All of the portraits featured in “Swipe” are what she considers to be the most successful in terms of colour and representation, translating the paintings onto fabric.

Mullally’s artistic process from chosen profile photo to completed portrait is rigorous. Once a picture has been chosen, she begins a portrait by recreating the image using a watercolour and pencil in her sketchbook, followed by scanning in order to print it onto a transparency film page for screenprinting.

Using a silk screen printing frame, Mullally then paints directly onto the screen using dyes. Once the portrait painting is completed she leaves it to dry completely.

“It takes about five hours on average to paint one of the portraits. You have to wait for each colour to dry completely, so they don’t bleed into each other,” she says.

She then lays out the fabric and does the measurements to print from right to left, giving the effect of swiping away the image. She lays the screen down onto the fabric, printing the image three times, the first being clear and the following two fading. The process is called polychromatic screenprinting.

Immediately after printing Mullally wraps the fresh screenprint in plastic and places it in direct sunlight to allow the dye to set into the fabric. She often lets it sit for 24 to 48 hours depending on the climate. Upon unwrapping the screenprint Mullally washes and dries the portrait, in preparation for final details and stitching.

These eight portraits, along with learning and perfecting of the processes, has taken Mullally an entire semester to produce and refine.

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Mullally on Tinder while working on a portrait for “Swipe.” (photo: Allie Graham)

Mullally has only matched with and made contact with one of the men originally featured in the show. He has since requested to have his portrait removed from “Swipe,” which Mullally has respected.

She has only taken screenshots while on the app to recreate the portraits, having had no interaction with the subjects. Mullally has not reached out to any of the other men to inform them of their participation; however she says that, “If I met them, I’d like for them to see.”

“I don’t think I’m doing anything negative. I’m not representing them as ugly or unattractive…. They’re just faces with really cool colours and shapes,” says Mullally.

Mullally has met up with a few people through Tinder and describes it as a nice way to “put yourself out there” and make friends.

“I don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of to be on a dating website. I hope people aren’t ashamed,” she says.

Mullally says this project has helped her overcome the stigma of being on dating sites like Tinder, and she hopes that her exhibit will inspire others to be more open and honest.

She has begun to paint a series of women on Tinder as a side project.