This might be the geekiest Steve Jobs portrait ever

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A familiar face to Apple fans made from familiar technology.
A familiar face to Apple fans made from familiar technology.
Photo: Jason Mercier

Cult of Mac 2.0 bugApple fans felt a deep sense of mourning in 2011 when Apple founder Steve Jobs succumbed to cancer. With the fifth anniversary of his passing approaching, Cult of Mac looks at the artistic tributes that followed.

Artist Jason Mercier is yet another creative person to use Apple devices — and maybe the only one to literally break them into pieces for his work.

Mercier has made a name for himself around the San Francisco Bay Area by creating mosaics with trash befitting his celebrity subjects. So when his cousin commissioned him to do a portrait of the late Apple founder, Mercier knew he had to construct it with the very products and components Jobs had a hand in creating.



Using glue and staple guns, Mercier affixed nearly 20 pounds of old, discarded personal computing debris to form the thoughtful likeness of Jobs from the now-famous Albert Watson photograph.

It took 20 pounds of personal computing artifacts to form the face of Steve Jobs.
It took 20 pounds of personal computing artifacts to form the face of Steve Jobs.
Photo: Jason Mercier

Getting to know his subject

“I didn’t really know that much about him,” Mercier says of Jobs. “I watched some of the movies on him and got the full scope. That’s when I became really interested in him.”

There is a growing body of artwork around the world inspired by Jobs that sprang up after his passing in 2011. He has been the subject of tattoos, bronze statues, an Oscar-nominated movie, an opera and even a paint-injected bubble-wrap portrait.

You could say Mercier’s work is like macaroni art on steroids. In fact, his first few portraits were done with noodles and legumes, but he quickly moved on to trash and other found objects. He has several portraits made from colorful candy, like licorice and gumdrops. He even has a series of collaborative portraits where he asks a celebrity to send them their junk so that he can incorporate it into their portrait.

Steve Jobs under construction in Mercier's San Francisco home and studio.
Steve Jobs under construction in Mercier’s San Francisco home and studio.
Photo: Jason Mercier

For the Jobs portrait, he had to seek out much of the material from tech friends and a salvage store that carries piles of old keyboards and various internal components.

Power chords, Apple software disks, computer keys, a mouse and an iPod are just some of the elements glued or nailed down to the Jobs portrait. His mock-neck sweater contains a lot of non-Apple pieces, such as old flip phones, perhaps an acknowledgment to technology Jobs was trying to make better, but also because the stuff was in the color Mercier needed.

3D jigsaw puzzle

Lots of broken circuit boards and other electronics fragments add color, shape and familiarity to the face. The jawline was shaped with broken bits of iPhone. The final piece measured 3-feet by 4-feet.

“I have the picture I want it to represent and then I treat it like a 3D jigsaw puzzle,” Mercier said. “I sort it out by color, size and shape, and play with things to see what works best.

Mercier is a prolific self-taught artist who has created “hundreds” of trash portraits over the last 15 years. He makes his living selling his work and taking editorial and commercial illustration assignments.

To be the subject of a Mercier mosaic suggests you have achieved some status in pop culture, good or bad. Yes, he has made Kevin Bacon out of bacon.

For his celebrity collaborations, Phyllis Diller sent him distressed tubes of anti-itch cream. Heidi Fleiss mailed him a box full of chewed-up bird toys. From comedian Amy Schumer, he inherited her dental dams. Any and all mundane artifacts he received became colorful, identifying features.

Comedian Margaret Cho  at home in front of a Mercier original.
Comedian Margaret Cho at home in front of a Mercier original.
Photo: 111 Minna Gallery
Mercier with a completed portrait of reality TV star Honey Boo Boo.
Mercier with a completed portrait of reality TV star Honey Boo Boo.
Photo: 111 Minna Gallery

Prefers ‘celebrity trash’

But Jobs is likely the last tech titan he takes on, he told the tech news website recode in 2014. He finds greater interest in pop culture figures, like “Real Housewives” than those in technology.

He told recode that while he is more of a visual artist, the message behind the Jobs portrait is “to think twice.”

“I don’t even have an iPod,” he said. “But there’s people where that’s the most important thing in the world. It’s just a piece of white plastic to me. Expensive white plastic. Hopefully, that sparks some kind of thought.”

Mercer currently has an exhibit called Celebrity Trash that runs through May 28 at the 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco.

Check out the video below to get a sense of how he works as he prepares for a 2014 show featuring famous movie characters done with Red Vine licorice.