Artist Alex Gross transforms 19th-century portraits into amusing mashups with iconic figures of popular culture. Using the sepia-toned photographs as his initial inspiration, Gross paints on cabinet cards (these were a style of portraits mounted on a 4.25-inch by 6.5-inch sheet that had widespread appeal after 1870). When he’s done, the anonymous men and women from yesteryear are retro versions of superheroes, villains, and famous figures from pop culture.
Gross is enamored with the past. “I absolutely love old photos and vintage pictures,” he says. “The Victorian era is the time when I would have liked to live.” His new characters take on a similarly vintage feel. Batman and Robin, for instance, don’t wear the shiny costumes we’re used to seeing in the movies. Instead, they don masks and a cape that you’d find in the live action version from the 1950s.
Painting more than just what they wear, Gross will also imagine the pop culture figures in fully-realized environments. Many of them correspond to the character, but sometimes, Gross will paint them into beachy vacation scenes—as in the case of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. In Gross’ painting, the two now get along.
Gross has several books featuring his paintings, and one of them contains a generous collection of his cabinet card artwork. Called Now and Then: The Cabinet Card Paintings of Alex Gross, it has 98 mixed media paintings featuring his work layered atop vintage photographs from around the U.S.