• Kate Upton comes to life (SBS VICELAND)Source: SBS VICELAND
Meet emoji artist Yung Jake, TV's least charismatic star and also its most fascinating.
SBS Guide

26 Jun 2018 - 4:04 PM  UPDATED 27 Jun 2018 - 3:11 PM

This is quite possibly the most compelling half-hour of TV you will see this year.

While watching it, you will have no idea why you are continuing to watch it. And yet, by the end of the half-hour program, you will be glad that you went on the journey. Know that after watching the genius of Yung Jake at work, the way you view the world will irrevocably be changed.

Yung Jake, an artist, rapper, and internet savant is based in LA. He defines himself as an artist ‘born on the internet,’ and his work is heavily influenced by online fame, memes, and consumer culture. In Portraits with Yung Jake, the artist uses emoji's to bring to life artistic portraits of well-known celebrities. Featured in the first season is Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation), Kate Upton, and Kate Berlant (Search Party).

The process

When you first start watching the show, you will likely come at it with two key thoughts:

  1. A piece of art made with emoji's is stupid hipster nonsense.
  2. Yung Jake is incredibly awkward.

You will believe neither of these thoughts to be true by the end of the show.

As Jake talks about his process, you start to understand what he's up to. "I'll use these boxing gloves to give the lips more dimension," he tells Upton. 

As your thinking on his art becomes deeper, you still won't be able to fight knowing that the process is kind of silly. Try to supress a laugh when he explains that "I'm going to use these burgers because I like the way the light comes off the bun".

But then both marvel and laugh as it all starts to come together, with Jake revealing more about how he views his subject and how the everyday objects that make up an emoji collection can become part of a bigger idea: "See how all these emoji's are, like, this squirrel and these dogs, and the shit, and the pumpkin. They're all kind of going downward because, to me, that's the way her face is shaped. So when I lay down these cookies, if I follow those paths, when you look at the painting as a whole, it gives it more shape."


When talking about his methodology as an artist, Jake is insightful about his process, but he's really not one for chit-chat. Nor is he the most charismatic on-screen presence. But he makes it work. Filling the silence is Jake's pal Jordan whose reason for being on the show is to get the guest the occasional coffee and make small talk to keep the guest comfortable. Sort of. 

The thing with Jordan is that he's prone to occasional moments of profound consideration about his own life. In the first episode he tells Kate Upton that he should have pursued theatre when he was younger in life and now thinks about all the things he'd like to have done if he wasn't too scared to try. Soon after though, Jordan starts having trouble tracking the conversation. Because, as he admits, "Obviously, I'm high now".

The finished product

Throughout the session, you can feel that Upton is just as skeptical as the audience is that this is all going to be something other than very silly. And yet, when the camera pulls back to unveil the work, it's really something.

Paint along with Yung Jake at emoji.ink.

Portraits with Yung Jake is streaming anytime at SBS On Demand:

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