An unusual craze has swept Reddit after a boy uploaded a picture of his Mum to the site. It all began when 55-year-old teacher Cindi Decker from Jackson, Florida, returned home from an art class with a painting of a swan. When her son posted a photograph of her shyly holding her artwork with the caption, “My mom painted this and said no one would like it. It’s her 2nd painting”, Swedish artist Kristoffer Zetterstrand recreated the photo in a painting.
Zetterstrand had noticed a trend of photos of mothers showing off their paintings on Reddit and told the BBC: “I thought it was cute, and had the idea that I would paint one of those photos just for fun.”
The resulting mise-en-abyme – Zetterstrand’s photo of him holding his painting of Decker holding her painting – garnered 120,000 upvotes and hundreds of positive comments in just five days.
Then, in an unexpected plot twist, another Reddit user, ‘lilyofthenight’, painted a photo of the Zetterstrand holding his painting of Decker holding her painting of a swan. This received 112,000 upvotes in 72 hours. From there, things just snowballed. There are now lots of paintings of paintings on Reddit all spawning from Decker’s original swan picture, with some users even creating flow charts to track the development. “It’s really weird,” Zetterstrand admitted to the BBC. “Last I counted there were over 40 paintings. I keep getting smaller and smaller.”
This painted meme is in homage to the Droste Effect, which is essentially a painting within a painting within a painting. Art historians named it so after Droste’s Cocoa, a Dutch brand of tinned cocoa powder from 1904, that depicted an image of a nun on the tin, holding a tin with an image of herself and so on. Many brands have employed this effect of implied infinity, from Laughing Cow cheese to Tayto crisps.