Seven years of grief

Diary is American artist Vinnie Hager’s new digital work: a powerful, illustrated history of crushing familial loss

We’ve all been there: venting into your journal, sticking it in a drawer, digging it out ages later and then, well, cringing.

Vinnie Hager’s been there, too. But his journal is his drawings. And not only has the Baltimore-based artist fully embraced the ick of his past feelings and musings, he’s also published them in a beautiful digital art project titled, with appropriate upfront-ness, Diary.

“[I’ve taken] a look back through all the stages’ or eras’ of my artworks,” says the 26-year-old. He found that, with his old drawings, just like listening to a certain song could transport you back to a time and place in your life, each of these artworks do the same for me”.

Hager’s collection — an open edition digital artwork with 100 lucky owners set to receive an original drawing to match – is undeniably intimate, focusing less on what looks​“good” and more so what feels right. His unmistakable style consists of experimental mark-making. Bold lines, shapes and patterns connect through their form and structure like a jigsaw puzzle. They create a personal visual language, used in the collection as a response to the turbulence of loss and grief that Hager was experiencing in the seven years covered by his drawings.

As the press release explains, every digital artwork purchased will stand distinct, drawing from 12 diverse aesthetic categories and multiple colourways… Striving for universal accessibility in the art market, each piece in the open edition is priced at $86 and owners of these digital art works can further claim a physical print of their purchase at a later date.”

This, then, is a personal, intimate diary, shared as a phygital” experience.

Good to meet you, Vinnie. Can you give us a bit of background about yourself please?

I was born in Maryland and raised 30 minutes outside of Baltimore. As a kid, I was always surrounded by artwork and encouraged to create. I spent a lot of time alone as a kid – my mum wasn’t around too much and my dad was always working. Due to this, a lot of that alone time allowed me to create my own fun [which] fuelled my love for art, specifically drawing.

Growing up, who and what influenced your creative practice?

My mother definitely played a huge role in encouraging me to create in all facets, always reiterating that I keep all of the artwork I created, whether I deemed them good” or not. Her creative influence and echoing motivations stay in the back of my mind. Like so many, I was a product of YouTube and its wide variety of art related videos. They were a constant inspiration…from graffiti to skateboarding, fine art, and memes.

What was your trajectory into the art world like?

With an almost addictive tendency to draw and create, I naturally gravitated toward art classes. I attended Maryland Institute College of Art [and graduated] in 2021. Due to the pandemic, I was naturally spending a lot of time online, which led me down the rabbit hole of digital art, NFT’s and web3. I have yet to fully dive into the art world in a traditional sense.

Diary is boldly autobiographical. Can you talk us through some of the experiences that have driven the work?

Drawing to me is very therapeutic and a pure escapist outlet. Over the last six years, I have dealt with very personal family loss: my dad passing away in 2016 to cancer, my half brother to suicide in 2017 and my mom to complications of COPD and addiction in 2019. It was a dizzying emotional blur of a time but my artwork tethered me to something positive.

Diary is just that, a body of artwork underpinned by personal story. This output allowed me to get my emotions out on paper, literally, in a constructive and beneficial way during my toughest times. It was important in shaping my daily visual language.

You juxtapose vibrant imagery with phrases like help”, please”, emo” and not blood”, conjuring feelings of grief and violence. What’s the thought process behind this?

My inclusion of those words were a bit tongue in cheek, but with that comes a sense of truth. Words like help” or please” were most likely how I was feeling due to the loss of my parents at a pivotal moment in my life. I always juxtaposed those harsh words with light-hearted characters, symbols and colours to try and hide the fact that I was hurting in those moments. I was always in search of balancing heavy emotions with a sense of hope. I was writing out my thoughts like one would in a diary – but my diary was my drawings.

Trying to juggle the natural emotions that come with grief while experiencing positive emotions [that come with] creating [an] artwork is what Diary is about. Jotting down expressive words paired with vibrant imagery allowed a balance in my work and ultimately my mental state at that time.

This collection of works span a seven-year period. What particular progressions or developments in your artistic journey do you see?

It’s been a trip down memory lane. I see my artwork go from very, very intricate to simplified and structured. There are times of experimenting with negative space, text, mixed-media elements and scale. This period of time has now been elevated by my exploration into the digital space. For Diary, I categorised my physical drawings into 12 sectors, each pertaining to visual similarities and likeness. These categories are used for the digital portion, where we use a generative algorithm and a variable library of colour palettes to create new artworks from these 12 baseline digital drawings.

How did you feel when you finished working on the collection?

I felt pride [as] putting this collection together signified the ability to overcome hard times. I’m hoping [that] by having such a wide digital exploration spanning from the original artworks, paired with such an inclusive price and claimable physical print, that this positive message can reach as many people as possible.

Launching exclusively on OpenSea, powered by Creature Labs, the sale spans 24 hours, starting at 2pm EST on 7th September. Coinciding with the release is a short documentary that delves into Hager’s artistic inspirations and personal journey. For additional details on Vinnie Hager’s upcoming art collection and his collaboration with OpenSea, please visit twit​ter​.com/​v​i​n​n​i​e​hager.

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