DERIVATIVISM

-sandwiching oils between digital buns

 

Rodney Pygoya Chang, Ph.D. (Art Psychology)
May 27, 2008

 

 

    There is a difference in my creative art process between “copy” and “replication.”  Let me explain.  As artist I start off with digital tools, use oil paints as an intermediate step, then end up with a digital derived final product.  So how does this compare and differ from the commonplace procedure of reproducing paintings by copyists?   I’ll try to clarify so here goes-

     I started off in painting and sculpture, earning a master’s degree in Studio Art (Northern Illinois University, 1975).  This developed an affinity as well as artistic sensitivity for the expressive powers of the paint medium.  But with the introduction of the personal computer (PC graphics) in the 80s, I decided to emerge along with it as digital artist. I abandoned my paint tubes and brushes.  In the beginning I was a purist, never scanning or importing photographs (of course back then there was no digital camera).  I took pride in starting with clusters of pixels on an otherwise blank monitor screen.  But times have changed and my attitude and approach has evolved along with the medium.  My work now is truly “multi-media” or as they said before, “mixed media.”  I am now free to use whatever resources are available to make innovative imagery.

     Which brings me to the issue of “original” and “reproduction.”  How do these terms relate to my idiosyncratic approach to producing art?

Other artists who create a painting may have their work later duplicated by another individual, whether willingly or not.  The first painted image is the “original” and the subsequent effort(s) is a “copy.”  In this case the medium is the same. Both are paint on canvas.  Today because of economics and the advancement of technology, the original can also be “duplicated” through digital photography and digital printmaking.  Archival quality print editions called “Giclees” can be offered at a more affordable price to many collectors instead of just one.  The original painting so popularized by the multitude of identical print imagery thereby also appreciates in value, or price.

    My art making process differs.   I start off with a completed digital image on the computer monitor display.  My “original” is represented virtually by photons of light called pixels that are directed in visual attributes by computer data stored as files. My “original” is actually a bunch of numbers in a computer data base.  Its display as a picture on the screen is merely temporary.  When the image file is closed or the computer turned off, there is no picture.  There is no visual/visible art.  In the “early days” my digital art was either printed or photographed off the monitor.  The latter method was used to frame hardcopy prints for my 1988 solo exhibition at the Shanghai Art Museum.  It was by the way, the first digital art exhibition in China, thereby making Chinese art history.

     But from this standard way of capturing the digital image and being able to touch it, frame it, and display it, my work has evolved.  Maybe it was because of my earlier studio work in painting and drawing at Northern Illinois.  Besides, after remaining the purist as a digital artist, it started to feel stale.  I wanted to experiment outside of conventional digital imagery.  Supported by an aesthetic theory and philosophy through years of exploring the psychology of art, I moved on to develop my systems approach that incorporated other media besides the digital.  My work also embraced a team approach, with me as primary artist and image-making visionary.

     I either start from scratch in front of the monitor with a blinking light cursor waiting to be led.  Or I can load into ram memory a former digital image and take it further or into a new direction.  Alternately I can use my professional photography skills and import imagery from my digital camera. After manipulation with mixed bag of graphic software, I arrive with an image that I judge with confidence in having made the transformation from merely “computer graphics” to literally fine art. I go ahead and “save” a work of art, still in its initial, or “original” state and form.

     Somewhere over the decades I evaluated a purely digital image to still be too machine-like, too technically perfect to achieve my specific goal as a digital artist.  I aspire to achieve works that convincingly simulate the appearance of paintings manually produced on canvas.  So in order to “soften” the unyielding calculated imagery generated through the dictation of mathematical functions, I farm out my digital pictures to be actually painted-by-hand.  The task is executed by selected collaborators who are masters in their craft.  Remember that in my case the digital image is the original.  Therefore the subsequent painting cannot be a “copy,” as this term requires the existence of an actual painting.  So just what is the painting of a digital image, for the role that it performs in my creative process? 

     It is a “replication” of the digital image.  It is also, however, transient like the original.  The digital image disappears when the file is closed.  The knock off painting is merely a means to an end.  As good as the craftsman is in replicating the digital “blueprint,” there is subtle variation from the original digital that cannot be avoided.  Such “error” in the translation between media is intentionally added by me, the “digital painting designer.”  For one thing we are using a different media to transpose the digital.  The computer picture is projected dots of light into the human retina.  Color and form of a painting are light waves reflected off opaque surfaces (of paint and canvas).  One image is made of pixels of light, the other of paint.  Then there is human error that cannot be avoided, as the infinite amount of visual information of a detailed digital image cannot be completely captured by the limits of both the paint medium as well as the accuracy and skill of the individual artisan.  The human as computer printer is imperfect. As I said before, this margin of error in the replication process is not only anticipated but also desired.  Because of such deviance the high-tech, hard edge look of the digital imagery can be “cut” or reduced, giving the secondary image a hands-on feel and appearance. Through the hands of humans my digital picture is “softened” and soothed.  By using the limitation of the paint medium, my simulated digital “paintings” are more convincingly perceived as paint.

     But the painting produced from the digital picture is not the end of my process.  The object is digitally photographed, ironically converting the picture back to pixels.  After personally enhancing the captured image with software, printing test prints to proof and doing the subsequent adjustments, this final digital file of the original digital image is offered as a limited edition Giclee print.  I define the print as “derivative” of the whole process.  I dub it “derivative” art and my artistic intent, process and final imagery as the new art of “Derivativism.”

    To summarize, other artists have paintings “copied” or “reproduced.”  I instead create a digital image, have it “replicated” in order to “derive” a final digital (once again) print.  It can be tossed (in 2006 I literally destroyed 175 canvas paintings), or sold (they are beautiful and masterfully crafted) to an admirer.  Or, as documentary of my long-term process leading to an extensive series of print editions, the intermediary paintings could be exhibited in a hall of their own.  In such a paradoxical way would they compliment as well as elevate an audience’s appreciation of the monumentally scaled (40”x50”) derivative print collection.  The Giclees would be the featured works, installed as the main exhibition of my future digital art museum.  

     Everybody expects artwork to be signed.  So, you may ask, how is the art signed?  I back off as Rodney Chang, multi-media conceptual artist.  Instead I sign "Pygoya" for the team of Pygoya Productions.


          

"Sailing in Cyberspace," 2003          left: original digital     right: oil painting    below: 40"x50" Giclee canvas print

photo courtesy,   V Salon, Manhattan, New York City, NY