HBO’s “Room 104” is an anthology series in which each episode is a stand-alone story set in the eponymous hotel room. The stories range from domestic character-driven dramas to fantasy to something close to science fiction. Somehow all three genres seemed to collide in episode seven of the third season. In the show’s only documentary episode, we meet the father-and-son artist duo of Jimmy Ray Flynn and Gianni Arone.
As the episode opens, the two men immediately get to work. Claiming one box spring per man, they flip the beds up vertically against the walls so they become canvases. Side by side, they paint and collage upon their makeshift easels. The conversation falls in and out of banter between artist peers and advice from father to son. Arone, the younger man, takes a marker and draws a character on the wall. He signs it LOVEBEING.
Arone credits his father with fostering his love of art and providing a creative environment throughout his childhood. Their “Room 104” episode is peppered with home videos that show the audience that nurturing upbringing. As he got older, however, Arone began to struggle with addiction and mental illness. “Being born into a human body on planet earth didn’t make sense to me,” Arone said in an interview, explaining the dark path he followed as a young man. The HBO documentary was part of Arone and Flynn’s process of reconciliation. Art played a big role in that, too.
"I believe all artists, whether they know it or not, are creating self portraits,” Arone explains. “I mean this both metaphysically and practically. The characters LOVEBEING world are pieces of me.”
Diagnosed with a schizo-affective disorder, Arone says he’s prone to an imaginary world that can at times overtake him. But his digital art made under the tag LOVEBEING is more of a way to create an amalgamation of references—a system of expression—than it is an alter-ego or a pseudonym. LOVEBEING has the head of a Ray Johnson bunny; a striped shirt a la Pablo Picasso; Mickey Mouse’s shorts; and a pair of Air Jordans. LOVEBEING is an avatar of a mind trying to make sense of the torrent of information around him.
Through this lens, Arone can view his own life as an art installation. LOVEBEING is a single “module” in that installation. There are other pieces, like his most recent works, in which Arone presents a cast of characters that represent different dimensions of the same world. He calls these variants “vibrational iterations.”
Each being matures and becomes more refined through Arone’s iterative and intuition-based process. His expanding array of stand-alone characters are rendered in different styles with varying degrees of complexity. LOVEBEING’s SUNDOG is an example of one of these characters. Looking at the two dogs side-by-side, they’re the same character, but they look quite different from one another.
The first SUNDOG’s flat swathes of color emphasize its organic shape and subtle facial expression. The second SUNDOG has a more intense gaze, but its body dissolves into Miró-like shapes and lines. The tail even transforms into another creature entirely, facing the opposite direction, with a very un-doglike smile and upturned nose.
As the HBO documentary shows, Arone has a background in physical art. That experience informs his digital art process. He likens the layering of elements in Procreate to the layers of pigment in an oil painting. Some works are created completely on an iPad, while others are based upon hand-drawn imagery that is later scanned and manipulated. Arone does not distinguish between the two practices. He bends the rules of each to contribute to both.
The magic of Arone’s characters is in the depth of their world. Because they are his mechanism for processing, the world they inhabit is rich with references, relationships, and logic. The artworks enhance one another because each brings to light a new piece of the LOVEBEING world. Arone’s interest in collecting—both NFTs and traditional artworks—aligns logically with the world-building element of his practice. The more you collect, the richer your understanding of the system becomes.