Diane Flick, an artist based in Menlo Park, California, paints photorealistic paintings of idiosyncratic robots. Diane’s robots sunbathe, take bubble baths, roast marshmallows, and chew bubblegum. Through their quirky pastimes, they remind the viewer of the humor that comes with being a human.
Robots do not have favorite ice cream flavors. They are entities of function. Their streamlined “bodies” are made from cause-and-effect relationships (ex: push button A to achieve result B, light X signifies status Y). These relationships determine their shape and appearance. This overt functionality is what draws Diane to portray robots.
“Robots are blank canvases of humanity because they have no intrinsic personalities, intellects, or desires,” says the Diane. “They give me complete artistic freedom. I get to design them with the best bits of human nature rather than trying to see something that's already there and draw it out.”
These paintings are funny. The humor stems from the stark contrast between the functionality of robots and the un-functionality of fun. Her subjects appear one way, and yet act in another.
A robot will make any “human” scene surreal. In The Final Frontier and ‘Bot Descending a Staircase, Diane parodies the famous paintings American Gothic and Nude Descending A Staircase, respectively, by making the figures robots. Diane’s versions are not works of American Regionalism and Cubism (or, like many other parodies, ironic commentaries on the genres), they are surrealism.
However, Diane’s brilliance is not merely robotic appliqué. It is the robot’s unexpected actions that shine in the realm of surrealism. A hat-wearing, tea-sipping robot named Millie supports a peacock on her head. An antennaed, infant robot with an affinity for rubber ducklings takes a bath.
The surrealism, accentuated by the presence of robots, satirizes human beings and suggests that idiosyncrasies, tastes, and quirks are surreal. It would be a challenge to explain to a robot why we float artificial ducks in a bathtub. And, an even greater challenge to explain why it would bring someone joy.