From the Diary of Rodney Chang

September 25, 1986


Falling In Love With the Computer


I have spent many years positioning myself to becoming an individual who is receptive to the multitude of interests in life and in turn create things (art) that are rich with this mulitfaceted approach to both subject matter and medium.

My approach to making art has been personal experience miling the "creative potential", in order to give birth to new tangible objects that further extend the artist's development and serve as errorless expanded understanding of the sociology behind the reaction of people to the presence of art and in general, what art is. I approached the subject like a determined and committed doctoral graduate student. I have studied for a long time the individual response of discovering oneself in an alternative space, aimed to be a fantasy to escape the reality of --- being in the dental office. Patients danced their anxieties away before sitting in the dental chair. Then after those working hours there were studio time to practice the arts of painting and sculpting.

It's been awhile to reach the point where I feel assured of my work as an artist. After all, the artist is his worst critic. He knows when it's not just right for he must be always the perfectionist. The artist is so sensitive to this work that every piece in the studio at any moment could be ranked according to quality and degree of achieved success of the original attempts. Plus there is this love-hate relationship with one's own work. Afterall the best of art is automatically an extension of the personality. So, with all this behind me, I was ripe to be picked to have a computer encounter.

I love to paint. The splish-splash of the brush, water and paint is so direct. The response of the canvas to the layering of wet pigments is exciting as each stroke becomes an building block of the final appearance and visual energy of the piece. Then there's all kinds of painting theory, which serves as guide for art historians . My favorite studies were on the interaction of painting with the space that it is displayed in. I did all types of art work to enable me to experience the visual continuity or discontinuity between painting, frame and wall. I belong to a painter's club.

I also love to sculpt. In fact, before the computer came along, I started to identify myself more as a 3D artist than a 2D one. I was having a great time unravelling the peculiar aesthetic visual qualities intrinsic to different specific 3D media. In other words, it was great to work in clay, i.e. play in mud like I did as a child, and end up with art that felt earthy, made-by-hand, and fired in the ground. On the other hand was the challenge to create bronze pieces that not only captured my aesthetic questions about the medium but also reflected the noble and masculine sense of power of bronze. Then there was mixed media and rules that sanctioned it was OK to take any object in life and place it into a new situational context and declare it "art." Clothespins, unused art materials and even their packaging, mousetraps and even dead cockroaches made their way into my mixed media pieces, becoming a part of original Rodney

Changs. I figured why not roaches if fellow Honolulu avant-garde artist Doug Doi used dead rats sculpturally to make a conceptual point. After everything is glued together, composed with an artist's eye, encased in Plexiglass and placed on a sculptural pedestal, the enshrined contents indeed elicit a (if not shocking) aesthetic response by the audience of my works.

So with all this stuff going on in my artistic life there wasn't much time to ponder life after encounter with a computer. Probably like most other artists I was above the threat. A machine, I reasoned, could never equal the touch of man making the art. It would always be limited by who programmed it, and its application to making of art would be severely limited by the duration of the software state-of-the-art. All "compuer art' would be superficial art, with all its boxy shapes and jagged lines. It'll always look like a commercial. Computer capabilities may just enable a commercial artist to be more productive by passing on drugery work to the machine. So when Noreen Naughton , another artist friend of mine, invited me to come along with her to her next computer graphics training session, I politely agreed to go with her with the hope of leaving with enough time to still have lunch on this work day.

I arrived late and they had already started at Digital Associates. Larry Lovett was explaining to Noreen a new "brush" available with the computer. The place was really profesisional - air conditioned, carpeted, receptionist, computer graphics station/section and background music. But because four companies share the space and rent there was a lot of rushing and yelling, as Norren meekly tried teh new "brush."

Before I knew it Noreen said she had a headache and di not feel up to drawing anymore. She offered me the electronic pen connected to the color monitor and ultimately, THE COMPUTER. I said, "Nah, I'm not interested, just came to watch - I've never done this." Larry and Noreen, as if in some preconceived conspiracy, were now both working on my case. Before I know it there I was, sat down, looking at the blank black monitor screen in my face. I had no inkling what I wanted to draw or do. So I just jumped in - moved that pen in circles, played with the different sizes of brushes and pens, gasped in awe at Larry's suggested varieted colro gradient color fill brushes. I watched as my drawings shrunk and then expanded, stretched out like a rubber band, and erased in a section in a few seconds only to repaint the total surface completely with a new palette of colors from another picture! WOW! - now that's power I remember thinking, totally amazed at the dazzling and changing colored lights in front of me.

From that first picture attempt I was hooked. This is no enemy but an ally. A friend that is quite intelligent and capable of doing great art - with proper directions (hate the word "commands") from a creative and experimental mind. And yes, I was satisfied that I could express myself through this vehicle, my personal art style could come through and not be overwhelmed by the digitalization of machinery. I had a chance to be able to elevate visual ideas above the attention of the mdoe of transmission (the computer look) for the eyes of the beholder. I could make real art.

All of a sudden I did not feel the pressure to have to identify myself with a singular medium of making art. I didn't feel comfortable describing myself as a "painter", "photographer", "ceramist", "printmaker" or "sculptor." I sort of did it all and enjoyed experiencing the assortment together. Towards that end my "pre-computer" art work was bundled as "mixe media." In other words, my work was collectic and not the emulation of a particular medium. Suddenly from the homeliness of "mixed media" I found my involvement with things made into art ready as input for computer manipulation. So much for mixed media. I was now on my way to becoming a "multi-media" artist.






I first started working on my computer graphics illiteracy by trying out the basic forms, lines, colors and other compositional tools that were readily available. After experimenting with those visual elements I attempted to start developing my own digital painting and drawing style. Old works were photographed for input into the computer via a video camera. Did the same thing with my existing sculptures. I felt extra confidence of the power to control the look and content of my computer work through the assurance that my hands on art gestures would not be lost through having to use a wired down electronic stylus. Now I feel like a composer who produces an orchestration of what pleases the eye, where it is possible to see and place old works into new aesthetic digital renditions. I actually think I place replicas of formerly produced sculptures and paintings into a new and expanded work of art, the simulated environment of the computer screen that contains the composite smaller images. The final aim for this mixed media approach is to derive strong multi-media output art works that wouldn't have been possible without the computer

More fundamental and simple than this is my curiosity to isolate the basic and smallest unit of computer graphics imagery - the pixel. That's one dot on your television or computer monitor screen. I have discovered that with denser dots per area of the screen you pay bigger and bigger bucks. "Resolution" (number of pixels per horizontal and vertical lines on the screen) is everything." With 200 pixels per line the work looks amateurish, cheap, and a reminder or association to computer graphic games for kids. With 4000 dots a line one's works looks convincingly like air-brushed painted realism. One has to go up close to the comptuer photograph output print to see the tell-tale pixels.

So to go against the grain I've fallen in love with glorifying the unitary pixel, vaulting its stature by isolation, magnification and materialization of it in other media. It's like looking under the microscope and seeing first hand what something invisible to the naked eye looks like. I sometimes like to exaggerate, so I say I compare it to the atom, as the basic invisible, building block of my computer art.

As a painter I am intriqued with the opportunity to "digitalize" my work done with traditional art materials. I plan on landscape series of places I've lived and visited, intensifying my color senses through rapid testing of alternative color palette sets. I hope to develop an individual styel on the computer that projects all my aesthetic concerns and objectives. It's my new art research tool as well as my "brush." The work's final form is secondary. Once the image is created on screen, output is possible as so many alternative "products" for the market.

As a sculptor I dream of someday discovering new forms to express later in bronze, glass, resin or clay. These could be mathematical transformations between two original sculptures (metamorphized) , or a beautiful intermittant distortion of an orignal being elongated or skewed. Or possibly a luck visual "accident' when manipulating software commands.

I love to inject humor in my work. The computer is a natural extension to add this element. Through juxtaposition of unrelated subject matter, the meaning of a piece can also change. The beginning of a work of art using the computer can start with an observation, a lecture, a warning, a manipulated balance of tendencies or even a joke. Of course, all intentional.


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