Oil paintings by Japanese artist Teiji Hayama that consider what it means to be famous in the digital era

Rainbow Jane, 2019 © Teiji Hayama. All images courtesy of the artist and Unit London

Central Saint Martin alumni, Teiji Hayama has unveiled a new body of oil paintings that examine what it means to be famous in the age of digital celebrity.

On show at Unit London from 16 January, the artworks in FAME are inspired by Truman Capote's novel Answered Prayers and his lead character Kate McCloud, a caricature of a contemporary celebrity based on Marilyn Monroe. Hayama attempts to capture the peculiar aura of fame and bewitching effect of Kate, encapsulated in her statement, "I’d never again belong to myself", through his oddly distorted series of portraits.

Hayama depicts some of Hollywood's most historic and glamorous faces but presents them in a way that emphasises their imprisonment within the digital world, subjected to an exhausting existence of maintaining appearances under the spotlight.

In Rainbow Jane and Liz II (2019), for example, the ephemeral nature of this existence is emphasised, echoing Warhol's prophetic saying, "Everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes". The flicker of a camera shutter or rapid, oversaturated succession of images on the social media feed can be read through the illusion of multiple layered translucent images. "The effect is a kaleidoscopic portrait that doesn't hide its inability to memorialise itself but is still hypnotic in effect, demonstrating societies obsession with the two-dimensional image over any three-dimensional reality," says the gallery.

Hayama also explores the psychological labour of achieving and maintaining fame. "The illusion of coloured filters in works such as Goldie and Hulk Marilyn starkly emphasises the disembodied quality of the figures and inherent tension between a constantly disintegrated physicality and desperation to maintain a veil of performance and glamour," adds Unit London.

Teiji Hayama is a Japanese artist currently living and working in Switzerland. He grew up in Kumamoto, a city on the Japanese island of Kyushu. At the age of 18, Hayama left his home country to attend Central Saint Martins. After graduating, Hayama pursued a career in fashion for five years before realising and pursuing his love of painting.

Yellow Marylin, Oil on canvas, 125x115cm © Teiji Hayama

Yellow Marylin, Oil on canvas, 125x115cm © Teiji Hayama

Bowie II, Oil on canvas, 90x83cm © Teiji Hayama

Bowie II, Oil on canvas, 90x83cm © Teiji Hayama

Green Marylin, Oil on canvas, 70x80cm © Teiji Hayama

Green Marylin, Oil on canvas, 70x80cm © Teiji Hayama

Goldie, Oil on canvas, 70x80cm © Teiji Hayama

Goldie, Oil on canvas, 70x80cm © Teiji Hayama

Blue Janet, oil on canvas, 70x80cm © Teiji Hayama

Blue Janet, oil on canvas, 70x80cm © Teiji Hayama

Lady Grace, oil on canvas, 120x110cm © Teiji Hayama

Lady Grace, oil on canvas, 120x110cm © Teiji Hayama

Double Twiggy, Oil on canvas, 125x105cm © Teiji Hayama

Double Twiggy, Oil on canvas, 125x105cm © Teiji Hayama

Lucky Bunny, Oil on canvas, 120x120cm © Teiji Hayama

Lucky Bunny, Oil on canvas, 120x120cm © Teiji Hayama