[Above is a gallery with details of the image, and below they appear again with context.]
[Note: 12/1/2014 I’m revising this one right now.]
I’m pleased with this piece, and think I’ve brought together several approaches I’ve developed in other pieces and integrated them into something new. Though this is “digital art”, it’s in the tradition of fine art painting.
People familiar with the painting of the last half century may recognize the artistic influences for this piece. It’s not the main thrust of the art, but there’s an art-aficianado’s inside joke here. The major influences are Frank Auerbach and Glenn Brown, the latter of whom I’ve defended from hastily formulated attacks here.
Auerbach is a British figurative painter who lavished the thickest paint on his canvases.
In the beginning I had the idea to attempt to create the illusion of such thick paint digitally. The reason for doing this wasn’t to trump impasto oil painting, but to incorporate my love for richly painted surfaces into my digital art. Many will ask why I don’t just use paint and brushes, or they suggest I make paintings of my already completely digital art. The answer has a lot to do with technology, money, space, time, and where I live. In a nutshell, I’ve lived overseas for over 6 years, in three different countries (China, Vietnam, Thailand), and the best option for making ambitious art on limited means, and in guesthouses and small apartments, was my laptop computer. I knew that with enough persistence and ingenuity, one could achieve whatever effect one wanted using a computer.
My early paintings of over 20 years ago incorporated impasto paint, as well as washes, dry brush, and sanded textures [see details below].
No, I didn’t learn to paint this way in college, just as I didn’t learn to use Photoshop in college. Only the last three of a series of twelve paintings were done in my first quarter at UCLA, where the teacher openly rejected them as irrelevant (she believed figurative art had died with the invention of the camera). I got a “B+” for the course. When you are trying to become a fine artist, a “B+” in your chosen medium is a condemnation to failure. Oh, just remembered that the same teacher told me, “You’ll never make it in graduate school” [I did].*
Below are the 3 paintings I produced for that beginning painting class for undergraduates.
Looking back at these early paintings, it’s surprising how similar they are in some ways to my new work. The point of all this is that I actually have a painting background, and love painting, which is also WHY I’m able to do it digitally. No, there’s no magic filter, buttons or sliders that do it for me. I do it with a drawing tablet, and every stroke is made by hand.
Back to Frank Auerbach, Glenn Brown. and the inside joke.
So, Glenn Brown made paintings OF Frank Auerbach paintings. He didn’t reproduce them by imitating Auerbach’s process, but rather made meticulous, and smooth versions of them. Instead of rich, buttery paint, Brown did something more like trompe l’oeil: he painted the illusion of impasto paint, flatly.
A lot of people were outraged by Brown’s paintings of famous paintings, insisting they are nothing more than plagiarism. I reject their criticisms on the grounds that: 1) He actually painted them himself (unlike the paintings of Jeff Koons). 2) It must be extremely difficult to make such paintings. 3) He changed them. In fact he makes what look like paintings of HIS own paintings of Auerbach paintings, eventually leading to paintings that only vaguely resemble the original inspiration. As I said before, I wrote a detailed defense of Brown against his assailants here. I wouldn’t stop at merely making a version of another artists work, myself, because I like to make my own imagery. However, I was attracted to the idea of creating the effects of the best impasto painting in another process or medium.
As for the inside joke, see below.
Yap, I made a digital reinterpretation of Auerbach (though that is only a small part of the image). In fact I didn’t know Brown had used this exact same painting until a few minutes ago when I did a Google image search to quickly grab an Auerbach painting to share. Someone blogged about the paintings here. I do like slapping myself into a triptych with these big name artists whose canvases sell for millions.
Because my interpretation of the head is digital, I’ve achieved a different feel. The paint looks impasto, but also three dimensional. That dark band that looks like a wide zig-zag paint stroke, to the left of the chin, also looks like it bends in the air, and is floating. The yellow drip to the side of the left eye casts a painted reflection on the wide green paint stroke behind it. The technical term for this type of effect is bas relief, though here it is created through illusion rather than sculpturally. This helps ad another dimension to the image, which is wholly appropriate to the content.
Up close the technique I’ve developed looks more like a Van Gogh painting. I think to fully appreciate the image one would need to see it printed out, preferably quite large. Because I made it at 300 dpi, and 2.5X6 feet (@76X183cm), it can be printed out as large as 5X12 feet (152cmX366cm). A large print would allow one to see it as an image from a distance; and as an impasto (Van Gogh-esque) canvas up close.
I don’t know anyone else who does this kind of work. In a way that’s good, because I’m searching for novelty in my art: trying to find out what’s beyond the next bend. But, because it doesn’t belong to any clearly established genre, people may not know what to make of it.
Enough about the Brown/Auerbach influence (my own early paintings are equally influential), and on to the rest of the content.
There are some detials I’d want people to notice about the image.
On the far left there’s a head, which looks kinda’ like Neil Young (not deliberate, but I’m a huge fan), holding a rusty knife. He may be paranoid or insane. His knife casts a deep orange shadow on the yellow creature, which could be made of lava, napalm, fire, or some such incendiary.
That incendiary creature the man is hiding behind, looks pleased, and also like he’s reaching to touch, guide or stop the blade with a limb that is partly negative space. The black is an open recess behind the figures on the left.
I’m sure I didn’t need to point out the monkey-like skull. There are little technical things that happen in art-making that are not in the interpretation or the concept, such as the green/blue brush strokes on the edge of the wood facing the monkey/skull, but which are some of my favorite things in art, like beautiful notes in music. The teeth on the skull, particularly the backwards fangs in the upper jaw suggest he’s not benevolent at all.
The bent-up nail in the wood serves to pin the image down, like a pin through a butterfly in a collection. And I suppose another reason I do “digital painting” is effects like that texture on the green/blue/magenta wood. Though I work digitally, I’m a painter’s painter, and an artists’ artist. I like craftsmanship. And, by the way, I think factoring out craftsmanship to other artists, like Koons and Hirst do, is a cop-out (see my article about why I think that here: The argument against artist’s assistants. The doer vs the orderer.
Here I’ll just interject that my process is so all-over-the-place, including lots of experimentation, making mistakes, incorporating mistakes, and so on, that I can’t share it in a way that anyone else could follow it. Pieces like this evolve in the making and go in unexpected directions. Most of the final result was not preceonceived at all.
Above are the seemingly still wet, large and wide brush strokes coming from the side of the figure’s head, though this close-in one can see they are made up of smaller strokes. There’s a crimson shadow on the tip of the top, green swatch of paint, and the long yellow drip looks like the slung-over arm and shoulder of a surrealist, feminine figure. The left eye is a curled membrane.
I might as well admit that I called it “The Opening of the Ripened Mind” to alleviate the burden of the darker content. It IS about the opening of the mind, but not so much in the sense of having an “open mind” as in an opening of awareness, and there is the possibility that it might happen unwillingly, accompanying tragedy.
The red material elevating from the head is a phantasmagoria of various half-formed thoughts and images. It is the extraction of the mind from the head, on a powerful stream of green paint, like the stem of a plant (brain stem. get it?). But it is also a skidded brain one might imagine from a high speed motorcycle accident.
Whether the man is having a sudden awakening, or his consciousness is escaping a fatal accident, there is a kind of blooming of awareness in the paint-dripping large flower in the middle of the canvas. This is a recurrent theme in my art, and you can see similar “concepts” in my last piece, the header of my blog, or in my first serious digital image: Death, Dissolution, and the Void.
The “Opening” is reflected in the black space between the two sides of the image; in the tumult emerging from the head, and the flower (not a lotus, but not an entirely different idea); and in the otherworldly/other-dimensional quality of it as a whole. The scene is not taking place in consensual reality. That’s the important thing, not the interpretation (which isn’t exactly strict, and I haven’t mentioned that the man with the knife may have murdered the other man), but the overall sense of it. It’s an image of another perceptual dimension, while also being a digital image that creates a thick, painterly surface and a bas-relief effect. There are at least a few possible relevant stories or interpretations.
Here’s the whole piece again, if you feel like clicking on it and giving it a couple minutes to sink in.
See the rest of my new work here.
*Actually, not only was I accepted to grad school, I heard from one of the teachers that I was the first pick. In addition, I also got a $10,000 fellowship as an undergrad, in my senior year, based on a juried exhibition. And that teacher who told me I’d never make it in grad school happened to have switched to teaching at the university I did grad work at, and apologized for her former condemnation/prediction. She added that what I was doing was actually interesting because Jim Shaw was doing something similar. I remember thinking at the time that it was odd that just because some known artist was doing something somehow similar that my paintings were thus considered legitimate.