IN FOCUS
By JD Jarvis

Of the 173 works on display in Focus Gallery, about 101 (58%) of the work appears to be rooted in photographic explorations, but this is to be expected, given the history of the development of digital art making tools. Unlike most every other art making tool or medium, Digital got its start in the commercial art world of magazine and advertisement layout. Works such as Pat Crawford's, Seefood ... from Puerto Rico clearly exhibit this layout approach in its theme and composition which leads the eye unswervingly to a specific spot where, if this were not art, would certainly contain the text for the advertisement.

When I began writing about digital art about four years ago, I set out to identify certain genres of digital art that I saw developing. Photo-Manipulation being then, as now, the most pervasive. Under this general heading, is Collage, an artform that, thanks to digital art making tools, will never be the same. The photograph has become so malleable as to be the instrument of sheer poetry. Works such as Anna Ursyn's auMonday Morning and Don Thorpe's A portrait of a man are two of several good examples in Focus Gallery of collage which appears to be close to traditional work of this sort, but have been expanded by the control of color and the ability to scale original photographs to fit the composition, not vice versa.

The integration of divergent photos has become so seamless that the term collage has been augmented by a new term composite. In this work, Reality as it is represented in photographic imagery is no longer sacrosanct. The camera lies quite skillfully and seeing, rather than believing, is much more akin to dreaming. Bruce Zeines (Warrior) has become a master at creating this sort of statement that has relit the fuse of Surrealism in the Fine Arts. And Randy Little has a piece ... Untitled ... in Focus Gallery that recalls the themes expressed in Chaplan's Modern Times, but with an updated twist.

Before I go on to other genres, I must mention two works that demonstrate the lighter touch to Photo-Manipulation. Raymond St. Arnaud's, Then we had Lunch on Saltspring and Marilyn Dalrymple's Sumi; show what real control can accomplish with just one simple photograph. Both artists have taken precise control of their color palettes and delicately applied digital filters and textures which move their base images beyond photography into the realm of sensitive visual poetry. Each piece vibrates between the photo and some strange mixture of traditional artmaking means, resulting in work that could not have been done as well by any other means than the computer.

Another genre of Digital Art, which could absolutely not be made without the computer, I recognize as Machine Art. A somewhat controversial term because it suggests that the art making is automatic. But, for anyone with even a small bit of experience with the tools, the term Machine Art or Algorithmic Art applies quite nicely, without raising such uninformed paranoia regarding the authenticity of the work. The imagery of this genre falls into two distinct categories; 3D modeling and Fractal/Filter based artwork. Of these, the 3D Modeling is most akin to Photography, since the output, through character and object modeling, along with landscape environments, atmospheric rendering, light placement and ray tracing technology yield an image that often appears strikingly photographic. Tomas Lindholm is aware of this quality of the 3D rendered image and uses it to his advantage in his composition, The Plant. By taking an environment that he has created in a 3D program and pasting several versions of a modeled object seen within the background environment into the composition with appropriate frame-like boundaries, he treats his 3D image as if it were fodder for a more traditional photographic collage. Atman Victor's Crash of Shapes is a good example of how 3D rendering tools can effectively render an abstract design with all the elements of light, perspective and environment to create a virtual sculpture with a monumental feel.

Digital artists who look deep into the digital tool for a means of expression that did not exist before the invention of the tool itself are asking the important question: "What is it that this tool does that no other can?" We find an answer in integration and iteration, the ability to compute and to plot pure data into a graphic display. Fractals and filters, so called Algorithmic Art offers one means to this rich visual field, but there are pitfalls. The risk being that taken purely in and of itself this sort of imagery hovers on the edge of appearing trite or at least lacking in human warmth. But, where the artist takes special steps to add personal touches or to combine several such images into interactive layers, the heat of human imagination yields significant and new imagery to the world of Fine Art. Some good examples of this are seen in the works of John C. Macpherson and Ansgard Thomson. Macpherson's Kansas it ain't, Toto is a tour de force of Fractal pyrotechnical color and shapes, which suggest the basic structures we see in nature and offered together create a visual parody of the hallucinogenic cinema classic referred to in the title. Thomson's, Golden Age of Stars is a rich assemblage of image altering filters and texture generators that create a piece of deceptive depth and energy.

One genre that is not heavily represented in this collection is Natural Media, which I define as work that takes advantage of the computer's ability to mimic nearly all traditional means of art making. This simulation of the visual appearance of paint, chalk, pastel, pen, and air-brush, along with some tools never before seen in the tradition of making marks on a prepared ground is quite revolutionary in itself. The painter paints with pure light and nearly all the image qualities of traditional tools, from pen to oil paint, flow from one stylus. Compositions, no longer hampered by the preciousness of the materials are worked and re-worked without fear of losing elements that have been resolved. This not only gives the artist more control, but more opportunity to explore and choose and polish the work to a higher degree. An angel with help by Tobin Eckian presents a series of three images that illustrate how similar the process of using these digital tools is to that of traditional means, with the image being built up overtime with layer upon layer of line, color and texture. And Ileana F. Grillo demonstrates in She Surrenders what happens when a talented illustrator picks up the stylus. Grillo does a fine job of combining hand drawn elements with all the sensuous line and delicate color of traditional drawing tools with the energetic color and sharp contrast of foliage brought into the composition using photo manipulation and collage techniques.

Finally, Ileana's combination of hand drawn and digital techniques hints at the fourth and final genre I see developing in Digital Art; that is, what I call Digital Media. Beyond photography and paint, past the algorithms and automation there lies the true power of digital art technology, the power of synthesis. What is important about working digitally is not in the replication of traditional tools, nor the expansion of existing processes. What has been and always will be important in Art is evolution of creativity and the age-old question: "What's new?" The strength of computers lies in synthesis, in bringing together existing forms in such innovative ways as to yield completely new ones. The mix of photo, of fractal and the human hand, virtual 3D modeling composited into virtual paint holds this answer. Artists are moving in that direction, now more often out of necessity in order just to get the work done or to make that transition between elements just a bit more seamless. But, what is truly digital art is the work that begins in the mind of the artist with this notion of synthesis. Using all the software tools and all the traditional processes together to make something that has not yet been imagined. This is the power and the challenge of working digitally to make Art.

In the current Focus Gallery, I see this trend toward synthesis in Afanassy Pud's, Butterfly; Angelo Di Cicco's, Fertility and John A. Labadie's Marine. Wherein these artists have employed a complicated combination of image manipulation filters, texture generators, in conjunction with hand drawn compositional elements and delicate details to create their unique work. And, in Jochen Brennecke's, Between the Worlds and Dieter Grossmann's, s1-04 where 3D renderings are combined with photographs and hand drawn elements, where texture and tiling filters reflect virtual light and deep human imagination flickers throughout the compositions. In these works, I see all the tools of artistic creation, ancient and modern serving the soul and vision of the artist.

In one of the first articles I wrote about Digital Art, I drew a comparison between the art one found on the Web and a vast, trackless jungle. My point being that one had to hack thru a lot of useless undergrowth before encountering something of real value. While there appeared to be no lack of computer skills or knowledge of the software, what was missing was knowledge of Art. The ability or desire to set-up a controlled and selective palette of color, to employ compositional theory, create line and rhythm and then tie all this up into an image that supported or elicited an emotional or philosophical response was either absent or way down on the list of priorities in this work. After viewing the works offered on Focus Gallery, I might, happily, have to renege those words. These works reveal real control not just of the tools, but genuine thoughtful expression and manipulation of the image. Creativity has not been shackled by restraint and control. It has been focused into highly crafted and powerful statements.

JD Jarvis
info@dunkingbirdproductions.com
www.dunkingbirdproductions.com