PYGOYA'S ART IN THE CONTEXT OF EVOLVING ART HISTORY DURING THE INFORMATION AGE

 

 

Introduction by Larry Lovett, M.S.Ed in Art Education,

Columbia University, NYC

From the book, PYGOYA OIL CYBER-PAINTINGS  VOL. II  (2010)  


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     It is all around us – the creeping takeover of every facet of modern life.  With the Internet, there is no escape.  Even in remote regions such as the Amazon River, wireless connectivity via satellite brings the online global village potentially to any spot on the planet.   We have embarked into the Information Age at the turn of the millennium. 

     So is the resistant stronghold of traditional visual arts under siege?  To be present and therefore relevant online, major past historical works have to be digitalized to be uploaded to web sites.  In other words, masterpieces such as that of Picasso are represented by productions composed of digital pixels.  Museums globally upload their collections as catalogs of their acquisitions as well as to generate interest in their “brick and mortar” existence, limited to their geographic location.

     Digital artists have taken flight to the Internet, having lost the battle for credibility of their medium in the physical world.   Not much ground has been taken away from the traditional media, such as painting and sculpture, since the personal computer first became available as a new art tool in the mid-1980s.   But with the advent of the Internet, artists like Rodney Chang of Honolulu, realized that the playing ground for visibility and promotion of their work was leveled online.   Pioneers like himself established web sites to present, in front of the world view, their visual galleries and museums.  His “Truly Virtual Web Art Museum” at LastPlace.com was among the first (1997) virtual museums to seriously attempt to build a “permanent collection” online – of digital art. 

     Along with Ingrid Doyle of Bavaria, Germany, Chang launched an online manifesto that professes digital art, made for and displayed on the Internet, as a new art movement.  Webism is defined as “online art that is conceived and displayed on the Internet for the sake of contributing and building a global cyber-culture.”  Digital art is identified as the primary art form of the movement since the medium is consistent with its vehicle of display – electronic and digital.   The complete manifesto is found at www.lastplace.com/webism.htm.   It continues to recruit a band of artists who champion the same cause of democratization of art that knows no borders or the limited perspective of inbred nationalism.  Webists consider themselves free spirits who create for all mankind with the hope to promote understanding and harmony among all men.  Noble goals for idealistic artists.

     Rodney Chang jumped ship from bronze sculptor to digital mouse manipulator in 1984. It has been over twenty years since his first attempt to make “real art” with the limited color technological capacity of his beloved Commodore Amiga 1000.  Back then he worked with the restrained color palette of 16 colors and monitor resolutions of low visual resolution that invited ridicule by "real artists."  But with the knack of turning limitation to opportunity, Chang dubbed his early blocky images Pixelism.   In fact his '80s works magnified the pixels and “jaggies” effect to identify an early digital style.   As he predicted back then, today's software and hardware produce imagery that convincingly simulates traditional art media, such as watercolor, oil, pencil, and even stain glass. At the beginning one had to be a competent artist to simulate traditional art media with pixels.   Today the effects are built into the sophisticated programs.

     From the beginning, Chang was most concerned with the contribution digital imagery could make to the field of painting.  He pursued this special interest by creating digital imagery with a painterly quality and outputting his “design”  works on the monitor as actual painted canvases.  Chang's sensitivity of the painterly quality possible through  manipulation of software effects is grounded in the attainment of a master's degree in painting back in 1975 (University of Northern Illinois).  Since he spent all of his creative time on the computer, he early on decided he could not advance in image development by sacrificing time to render his monitor images into actual paint.  Plus painstakingly reproducing what he had already conceived as completed works of digital art was not compatible with his personality.  So, as part of his artistic process, he has been commissioning  artisans, great painters in their own right, to render his digital into oil.  He recruits “only the best in the world.”  Over 200 canvases were completed, at a cost of over $85,000 including warehouse storage over the years.

     The works in this folio book of art is the culmination of this process.  To succeed in building this collection of hybrid works (digital imagery rendered to actual paint on canvas), Chang had to reject many traditional notions of art, such as authorship and identification of a sole medium.  The artist has evolved to a new conceptualization of understanding of these works of art.  First, there is NO artist to take credit for authorship.  Instead they are results from a team concept.  The major player is not Chang, but is identified as the computer!  Yes, the origin of the imagery has to be conceded to the awesome image generating capability of the machine.   Hardware engineers and software programmers are both given credit for the advance of the complexity of the images over the years.  Unlike the traditional artist, Chang  considers himself team leader, project manager, or art Conceptualist (a Post-Modern art movement).  As an “experimental- art psychologist” with a Ph.D., he mines the potential of computer systems to ferret out imagery.  Much of what is harvested is through mindless image processing, many times without him in attendance.  Many a night Chang has left several PCs running all night, instructed to do automatic image processing, with graphic parameters selected by the artist.  Random effect is insured by image generation not being hindered by the limiting human decision as to what is historically considered to be “good” art.  Then, upon critical review, all image processing results are juried.  Most (in the hundreds) are deleted except for a few.  These survivors of the process, in turn, are digitally reworked, or fine-tuned, into polished completed works of art, according to the aesthetic values of Chang.  Then the digital works are delegated to a team of painters, anonymous and working for pay.  After the canvases are completed, they are re-digitalized in order that Chang can edit them with his finishing “feelings.”  The paintings therefore become an intermediate state for the finalized digital images, which are imported to online cyber-culture or made into high-end limited edition prints.  The actual images in this book are the end results of this process.  You might say they are the “doctored” digital imagery of the oil paintings, now infused with the final layer of expression.  So the image making process actually starts, and ends, with Rodney Chang.  To advance the imagery beyond their canvas painting existence (the final product in traditional art), thousands of dollars were further invested in his exploratory artistic process.  Chang had no historical precedent to guide him on his aesthetic journey into the unknown, having no final destination in mind.  He felt like Columbus on a voyage to discover new uncharted territory in the art world.

     In a broader context, “Pygoya” can be considered a group effort to produce new art from the computer.  The team comprised of computers, painters, and an individual with the theories and visions – Dr. Chang.  The sandwiching of output to actual paint and canvas between digital beginning and end take the works beyond the digital and give them a hands-on quality, that of traditional painting.  It also erases the argument that because the art is digital, there is no tangible artwork.  Well, now there's a painting that is rendered as an intermediary step, so now what?   This forces all to rethink art categories with rigid conceptual boundaries.  Because the paintings are subsequently edited with graphic software, they come surrogate to the more important artistic goal of merely visualizing new art, no matter what means are undertaken to achieve it.

     Chang's LastPlace.com historically documents the evolution of digital art through the decades even as it serves as a major web stop for visual arts cyber-culture.