CGI Blues & My Thoughts On Painting

schrodinger and hawing sitting in a treeOn the one hand I embrace my research on technology, but at the same time, I seem stubbornly out of time. I keep painting. I keep reading that "death of painting" was all a big mistake, and suddenly there are a ton of editorials embracing paint. While I am an artist and the creative process is sacred to me, these pronouncements leave me a little cold. I've been painting for over twenty years and my friend, it's a tough journey. Don't expect accolades if you want to keep experimenting and refining your technique. That's just too long for a twitter grab. Point. Click. Bye. Indeed, it's not something you can film unless you own a copy of Warhol's film Sleep.

Behind my stubborn retention of traditional painting techniques lies a deep frustration with the current paintings that represent technology. It's as if the medium, as McLuhan wrote, became the message. Painters have always reflected both their own inner states and that of the world around them.  For me, those tensions between what I know and what I see requires me to use elements of the familiar essentially in another landscape. They are still landscapes, but of the mind, and no less filled with rivers of meaning and mountains of challenges.

I learnt to paint outside of the art school process. I was lucky in knowing many artists starting out and benefiting from their generosity in time and advice. I use their advice when furthering my own painting, but as each new barrier falls, I am reminded of those hours with these artists. It reinforces a sense of history and community with other painters in way that I think I wouldn’t have if I had entered into the formalism of art curriculum at an early age. When I worked at Bridge Gallery in the early 90s, we had so many 'off the wall' artists coming through, un-schooled and formally trained, mixed together into a pastiche. Raw energy.

But I found when I wanted to apply my observations of the internet to my painting; the aesthetic references were very few. The options out there, printing pixels from an imaging software program to reproduce a Mona Lisa out of a thousand tiny faces, just don't appeal to me. But I have tried to adapt the paintings all the same and found the process oddly satisfying. Merging my printmaking with painting on the canvas has given me a way to make painting relevant to the way we communicate today.

I always loved screen-printing at college, and in the 80s I was part of the Xerox band-poster brigade plastering underground posters in the inner city. We played with iconic meaning-making in ways that we didn’t realize back then. And in the last 3 years I have brought that meaning-making back into my painting process while integrating the computer and the Internet in sourcing images. The images are manipulated on screen and transformed into screen prints. So in a sense, they are both new and old media combined. I can also apply them in unison with my life drawing and physical painting process.

As a painter, my work since 2008 has been about merging the technologies of today with the techniques of yesterday. But I don't want to become digitized myself.  I don’t want to lose those traditions while embracing new technologies. I can use my mind for interaction as much as a console. And if I apply research and reflection sensitively, these technologies can produce much greater insight than illustrating some avatar.

Without a doubt, new art forms are being created. It's great. I think motion-sensor technology will especially morph with narratives into something quite prolific. But don't embrace all invention and social change uncritically or without reservation like a kid in a candy store. And I suspect many will take this path and form new communities. Instead, I want to continue to push the idea of painting in the themes and content, while safeguarding the principles of painting, of artisanship, of decorative history – of that thing which is under threat – Beauty. For beauty has always been part of – and beyond – the final finish. Beyond our misconception of perfection.

Digital psychology today seems fixated on the integrity of mathematical rationalism. If all we wanted was drawings, sculptures and architecture based on a ‘golden section’ then homes would be filled with Grecian antiquities. How dull. We learned in the last war when disturbed ideologues, obsessed with Aryan perfection and Greek and Roman architecture, try to replace the realities of naturalism with an idealized aesthetic it's never quite human. I was really struggling with this when I was sketching out ideas from a reading of equations that were sent to me by Assoc Prof Caslav Brukner at The University of Vienna. He completely got where I was going and was very generous in helping me get inside the narratives behind the maths. And it took me back to a sort of Garden of Eden of Creation when I painted Schrödinger and Hawking Sitting in a Tree in 2005 [left].

But I see around me, in the CGI visual cultures of today and in some of the aesthetic movements that are led by the gaming industry, a return to this idealized perfection. In the sweat running off the characters in PlayStation games, the soul is missing in action. It looks so real, it's un-real, because life doesn't have a pause and rewind button. When you live that knowledge - sweat feels different.

Gaming narratives are great tools for fun and learning. But that fun and learning, I notice is also a prerequisite for piloting armed drones. Science fiction is a visionary creative tool, but it is also the primary source of ‘innovation and creation’ for engineers and physicists who work on DAARPA funded projects at our universities. Ideas and art still drive technology, but we are far less discriminating about where those ideas come from and their use. And the internet has become a validating tool. More than one article has observed that if Abraham Lincoln was alive today he would never be elected. A man who suffered from depression, he would be dumped before he got to the Primaries.

From where I stand each night in front of my easel, let's face it, painting is analogue. Isn't it strange that in a binary code world, to be analogue is almost a new form of sedition?

[image: my studio floor; and a close up from my new painting, Jan 2010; "shrodinger and hawing sitting in a tree"]

 
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