I can remember the first time I heard Ed Sheeran’s 2017 earworm “Shape of You.” I was with my wife, in a taxi, in Puerto Rico, and the song would be inescapable for the ensuing sweaty summer weeks. Its bouncy melody was infectious in the true meaning of that overused word—and also already familiar, mainly because Sheeran had plucked it from the TLC song “No Scrubs,” an appropriation that would later lead him to give writing credits to the original’s creators. There was something boldly hateable about the single, and yet it was also fascinating in its idiocy. “I’m in love with the shape of you, we push and pull like a magnet do,” Sheeran keened, content to slaughter grammar on the altar of rhyme. Elsewhere, his attempts at romantic banter play like those of a teenage boy who has recently learned English by reading a book called How to Talk Sexy Fast & Now! “Last night you were in my room,” run these tender, Shakespearean lines, “and now my bedsheets smell like you.”
Not to be completely superficial here, but my complicated enjoyment of “Shape of You” was only heightened once I saw Ed Sheeran: that wild swoop of ginger hair; his pale torso, which doubles as an archive of the world’s worst tattoos, including one of the Heinz Ketchup logo. An unlikely pop star, indeed. A small role in 2016’s Bridget Jones’s Baby plays on his unremarkableness, as Bridget and a friend hang out with Ed Sheeran before an actual Ed Sheeran concert, and have no freaking idea who he is. The man is puppyish; moody, shirtless portraits only underscore a harmless braggadocio that’s cute, not threatening.
Which all brings us to the absolutely incredible Shape of Painting, Summer Hit
(2017) by the German artist
. Here we have a grinning Sheeran in extreme close-up, each detail—eyebrows, nostrils, incisors—rendered lovingly. While the style inches toward the hyperrealistic, there’s a certain melted quality that recalls Photoshop’s “liquify” function. Sheeran is smiling, blindly optimistic, his bright eyes directed at something off-canvas, giving the painting the feeling of
. Confoundingly, he appears to lack eyelashes. (I have stared and zoomed and still can’t make a determination here; it’s unclear whether the painterly gestures next to his eyes are wispy lashes or flesh-crinkles.)