Gay hookup app Grindr isn’t known for its charming or sweet interactions—texts between eager males usually skip the romance and subtlety and tend toward "send a dik pic, plz" or "white guys only."
But London-based web designer and artist Ted Sterchi provides a sweeter perspective on the app that makes finding anonymous sex easier than shopping for shoes and has begun to play an increasingly important role in gay dating culture. In January, he began painting portraits of Grindr profile pics and posting them to his Tumblr Grindr Illustrated. He’s now painted 52 dudes, accompanied by their Grindr taglines (like "Sexy Stud" or "Likes penguins and spooning.")
The idea just came to him one day, he says, but he was also inspired by Selfless Portraits (the popular Facebook profile-pic drawing project I wrote about in March.) He says he wanted to do something different, though—not crowdsourced and with a unified aesthetic.
The resulting blog is a fun commentary on digital gay culture, translating guys’ carefully produced selfies from pixels to paintings, and at times, disarming their attempts to represent themselves as fiercely sexual by rendering them in a medium prevalent in any grade school art class: watercolors.
"I thought it would be funny to make something innocent and pretty out of this app that isn’t always innocent or pretty," he says. "[The photos] are pretty harmless, I think, even if you’re looking at the topless shots. They’re pretty inoffensive. I think there are so many porn blogs out there—I don’t want to sound like a huge prude or anything—I kind of wanted to counteract that, I guess."
He says he usually sends the paintings along to their subjects (via Grindr’s messaging system). The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and at times, "frightening" for the amount of attention he’s getting. Some men (and women, too) have sent in their pictures, asking for a portrait. Sometimes he obliges; other times he refers them to his online store.
As for Sterchi’s personal use of Grindr, he says he’s painted a few people he’s gone on dates with but "nothing serious." "I’m pretty much just on Grindr to paint people," he says. "I’m lucky in a way that I have a long commute, so I guess I get to see a larger swathe of London." (Grindr just reveals men in the immediate vicinity.) "If I see someone that I think looks interesting to paint, I usually just favorite them and save them for later."
His chosen subjects tend to have interesting details, like glasses or tattoos. He also favors old guys ("They obviously have more wrinkles and stuff") who stand out on Grindr. More often than not, his subjects have beards. Sterchi says it was "probably subconscious, probably that’s what I’m attracted to." He admits sheepishly, "I tried to keep it varied as much as possible, but sometimes I forget to unfortunately."
Grindr can be distracting like that.