When viewing artist Matthew Grabelsky’s work, you’d swear you’re looking at a photograph… until you see the elephant in the room—or cheetah or zebra. The Los Angeles-based hyperrealistic painter fuses human portraits of New York City subway riders with the heads of animals, transforming the underground into a surreal jungle of its own.
The characters in Grabelsky’s paintings act as if there’s nothing out of the ordinary about their appearance. They don business attire, brave the rush-hour commute, and pass the time by perusing the latest GQ magazine. The inclusion of their furry (or scaly) faces adds an element of the extraordinary to events that occur every day.
While these figures bring some unexpected fun to a crowded ride, they’re imbued with symbolism. The man/beast dyad is seen throughout history in mythologies and religions around the world. Here, Grabelsky has applied a pop-culture aesthetic to a long-standing concept, using it to represent what’s going on in the hidden subconscious of these characters. For an idea of what’s beneath their human mask, we only need to look at the animal representing them—their temperament, desires, and motivations are revealed through the spirit of the creatures.