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96 CUT AND PASTE For digital artist Johnny Smith, Instagram was an unlikely gateway into the gallery. BY JANELLE ZARA PORTRAIT BY SAMUEL FROST LOS FELIZ-BASED ARTIST JOHNNY SMITH had no idea his work would go viral when he posted an image of Rosie O'Donnell's face blended onto White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon's head. But that's exactly what happened earlier this year in February; the morning after he posted it online, O'Donnell had taken the parody image as the avatar of her Twitter account, bringing it to the attention of Vanity Fair, Breitbart and countless social media pages. "I heard about it through a barrage of texts from friends, some of whom I haven't spoken to in years," says Smith. "It was pretty exhilarating! And then it was over. It lasted a cool 24 hours." Such is the unpredictable nature of the Internet, Smith's primary exhibition space. His work, such as "Rosie Bannon," comprises images collected online, cut out and deftly remixed entirely on his iPad. Body parts are embedded into landscapes; innocuous outlines of flowers seductively combine with snippets of pornography; Julie Andrews, posed in front of the Alps in that iconic cover image from The Sound of Music, is suddenly holding a selfie stick. In their vibrant colors and subversive tones, they evoke the works of John Baldessari, Superstudio and Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari's ToiletPaper magazine. Smith's formal training was not in art though, but in film; he came to Los Angeles from his native Texas in 2004 to pursue movie production. Collage was simply a hobby that began on his iPhone before graduating to an iPad. Gallery exhibitions, such as his upcoming group show at Chainlink Gallery in July, and a solo show at Eric Buterbaugh Gallery in November, have come as surprises to him. "I never thought of myself as someone who would be a gallery artist, but why not?" Smith says. "It's exciting to see my work framed on the wall and not behind a computer screen." Smith's work, however, still feels most at home on the Internet, an experimental lab where he's constantly testing the boundaries of acceptable online behavior. "I'm obsessed with Johnny's work—he's a mad genius!" Buterbaugh says. "I've been following his Instagram, and I especially love his naughty collages juxtaposed with the classical elegance of perfumery." Despite the attention they've garnered, Smith's collages are for the most part a therapeutic activity. "It calms me when I have anxiety," he says. Sometimes, however, there are still frustrations that come with his hobby. In January, one of Smith's anti-Trump collages was quickly flagged for its graphic nature and removed from Instagram, while another one of his works—which replaced a woman's pupils with a pair of nipples—was allowed to stay. It was staunchly pro-"Free the Nipple."

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