IN/OUT Design Magazine of India

By Shubhojoy Mitra

February 2000 issue

 

What has Art with a capital A got to do with digital technology? If you ask most artists, they will probably look at you as though you were one of those weird young generation-x smart alecks trying to sell yet another gimmick in the name of Hi-tech. Even to many avant garde artists as well as critics and connoisseurs, the recently held exhibition titled "The 1st INDIA International Digital Art Exhibition" celebrating the arrival of Y2K hosted by the Oxford Bookstore - Gallery possibly sounded as alien as the infamous "bug" that techno-savvy nerds everywhere never tire of talking about.

First of all we must escape the narrow of confines of connotation that the phrase digital technology imposes on us. If you rewind to the ancient days of human civilization, artistic expression was one of the most, magical and technologically advanced feat that our ancestors ever performed. And even today we find that magic preserved on the cave walls. They bring back to life the daily toils of the earliest human beings on Earth and the very roots of religious beliefs and social rituals.

In the last few decades, digital tools, with the simple principle of binary coding has evolved to such an amazing level of complexity so that today, at the threshold of the next millennium, most people living in the "civilized" world simply cannot directly or indirectly do without computers.

Today, in the age of mechanical reproduction, it is only natural that artists are using the versatile machine called the personal computer and its resources for the purpose of self-expression. Software tools created primarily for the printing and publishing industry has become as sophisticated as other graphic tools which have been used by generations of artists to create both art and "graphic art" like Hokushai's woodcuts, Rembrandt's etchings or Toulouse-Lautrec's lithographs. Andy Warhol, by whose name generations of the Sixties' avant garde swore by, used the latest techniques of graphic printing like silk-screen to churn out the images of Campbell soup cans and proclaimed it as Art, demonstrating self-consciously the thin line that separates Fine Art of the museums and graphic image creation in any advertisers' studio.

Not surprisingly a number of artists across the globe has been working away with affordable technology called the "PC" to fulfill their lust for image-making. Sooner or later they have found that digital image-making has is own idiom, distinguishable from other media. While computer software today allow a range of effects approximating traditional media like oil on canvas, watercolour, even impasto or pointillistic brushwork, there is also a wide range of digital effects that look to the contemporary world and the future. You can x-ray your images or burn them with solar radiation, duplicate them like in any old photocopy machine or make them luminescent as the neon lights, — all which are deeply etched in our consciousness today. So, Digital Art is essentially any image created using software tools available on the the computer for the purpose of artistic self-expression.

In the nineties, a new space evolved with surprising speed, as if through a network of digital neurons, touching lives of people all over the world. This space is what we call the Cyberspace, a virtual frontier-less world through which anyone can reach out, talk, interact, exchange information or ideas and also make commercial transactions. Beyond the hype of e-commerce, chat rooms and virtual reality, is a growing multitude of people both old and very young who take part regularly in a new cultural space to socialize, seek entertainment or information or just meet others of the same species, and in the process, search for their own true identity and vocations in an increasingly shrinking world. Here is the global village they talked about during the previous decades no more limited to the select few who can fly overnight on jetliners across the continents. All you need is a PC, a telephone line and an equally affordable Internet account to get started!

To make art for this cultural milieu, or to draw inspiration from this virtual life, seems to me to be the next most natural thing to do for digital artists. The Oxford Bookstore – Gallery show was possible because of the cyberspace. It is was the foresight of Pygoya, the digital pioneer who dreamt of the idea and Oxford Gallery's help and support as hosts that made the event a success. The Maui Giclée Art Prints Company, Hawaii, local Internet Service Provider (ISP), Caltiger and the US Consulate also extended their support along with organizational support from local cyberartist, Shubhojoy Mitra and Mumbai-based artist Yogi Chopra to this unique event showcasing the work thirteen artists who exhibit regularly in their virtual galleries and museums on the Net.

Pygoya, a.k.a. Dr. Rodney Chang, is the curator of the Webmuseum (http://www.lastplace.com) hosted from Hawaii, USA, which is dedicated to digital art or rather, cyberart. Over eleven years this man with formidable talents, which includes designing interiors like that his own dentists' waiting room in form of a disco, has led the movement for art with digital tools like a true leader. With a career as colourful as his cyberpaintings exhibited at his webmuseum and interiors, Pygoya set his eyes on India and Calcutta particularly to promote the cause of talented artists across the world — an exercise to preach this Net life, its culture, its tremendous possibilities and specifically its emerging treasure houses of artistic creations. His Truly Virtual Web Art Museum at www.lastplace.com, with 250,000 online visitors in the first two years, showcases, in virtual reality 3D galleries, the best digital art selected from among online global digital art sites. A main attraction is the Pygoya Webmuseum of Cyberart which documents the lifework of Pygoya (a.k.a. Rodney Chang). Meeting him on the Net last August was the beginning of relationship that made possible the first brick and mortar exhibition of cyberart with the participation of group of artists spawning almost every generation between the youngest, twenty-year-old student, Yogi Chopra from Mumbai to the oldest 74-year old cyberartist, Ansgard Thomson from Canada.

 

In his work, fifty year-old Dr. Chang, Chicago trained artist (MA, Northern Illinois University) had started experimentation in 1985 to transfer drawing, painting and sculptural qualities to electronic imagery with the advent of personal computers. From digital created imagery effort was made to investigate the dynamical relationships of computer/machine and user/artist (for example, Gestalt psychology, Darwinian theory and Chaos theory applications to the computer art) and original digital art and its creator in collaboration with painters using traditional paint and canvas (theory of Paint Outs, reproduction of electronic imagery as hard copy original-reproductions). Initiated with the historic 1987 exhibition in New York City that unveiled the original first six "Paint Outs" (6'x4' acrylic on canvases), the total of digital works rendered onto canvas by many painters now numbers close to 200 works. Painters of the "Pygoya Art International" group included artists residing in Chicago, Hawaii and Shanghai, China. Today, his cyberpaintings are available as high quality Giclée prints on special paper with Iris printers by the Maui Giclée Art Prints Company in Hawaii, the second such printing company in United States.

 

Before coming to Calcutta, Pygoya created about 12 paintings inspired by the dream visions of the country and city he had never visited in real life. One of his paintings called the Cyber Lullaby, as Larry Lovett (MSEd, Columbia University), colleague and pioneer digital artist form Hawaii observes, "is a floral abstraction cast in platinum and sprayed with fluorescent translucent colors!!! What a beautiful sight this one is, just like a Polynesian jungle in the moonlight as seen by a grasshopper!"

Pygoya himself beautifully puts forward the notion digital art with a haiku:

 

ART is -

Everything the computer

Cannot do

Without our touch

 

From Russia, Catherine Yakovina's painting Window to the Soul opens to a sunny world outside where the soul longs to escape. Inside a cold, blue world shelters a human form longing for the freedom of the greenery outside: an everyday image recurring as a dream in the unusual process of creativity that is digital art to the artist. With it, Yakovina feels she can change her art altogether. "I can create another space. I can do many unusual things which recall dreams."

Exploring the possibilities of using technology as a creative tool, John Rixon, an art colour theory lecturer from England, focuses on relationships and contrasts between colour and form. His paintings Stacking the Odds or Procession of Fools illustrates… "I feel that this mirrors life and our relationships with each other."

 

Parinya Tantisuk, a well-recognized artist from Thailand also uses the digital media to express his thoughts about various relationships. Strong, vibrant colours and symbols dominate his creations as in 50 stars exhibited in Calcutta. In contrast, Yogi Chopra from Mumbai delves in the mysterious world of transcendence and cosmic forms often with anthropomorphic imagery. His work Fractal Enigma is an infinite vortex of patterns spiraling into the heart of an unknown centre.

For Linda Martin from Australia, a relative newcomer in the world of digital art, the new technology "has released art from traditional studios and gallery walls, into cyberspace, to be shared with others." She shares her own visionary work like the Resurrection whose "subject matter relates to the intangible, the unseen energies that influence and shape our lives... the mystery". Angard Thomson from Canada is the oldest cyberartist and at her age one of the most enthusiastic supporters of digital art. Cheers in Cyberspace shows her brilliant and glorious vision of the warmth of human interaction in the cyberspace.

Larry Lovett from Hawaii's work is unique visions of the natural surroundings of the tropical paradise in which he lives. The glorious colours of the environs is transferred as phototonic watercolours with the help of digital tools whose luminous qualities re-create and preserve the artists initial joyful response to the subject. He even attempts portraiture like Alenia with brilliant results both original and innovative as digital art. The same wind, sea and the sun that Lovett works celebrates perhaps also move young Tony Tseng across the Pacific at Taiwan. His Rain in the Sun uses digitally altered photographic image from the some urban skyline and beach and blends into it the sensitive afterthoughts of painter confronted with a pleasant natural phenomenon.

Yugoslavian artist Kolya Tatic's lives in another world which seem to await us in some futuristic land. It is always the same city, the same land where the feeling of departure and solitude lingers on in a strange, empty Courtyard, or unusual afternoon light reminiscent of early surrealists like Chirico. There is something sad about the Tatic's dreamscapes but at the same time there is hope and peace. Details like monumental architecture, elongated shadows or a lonely figure in a posture that is perhaps that of waiting in expectation for something to happen inexorably draws the viewers' attention.

 

Greg Hoose, USA, is a painter from a family of artists. Having studied sculpture in various countries, worked on pottery and later developed keen interest in Sumi-E technique and Chinese art, Hoose finally discovered the digital medium in 1990. This digital pursuit began at a special time when Gregory and his young family resided at a school of meditation; spending many hours in deep contemplation and blissful union with inner peace. Flying shows the image of man in yogic posture deep in contemplation of the cosmos no doubt inspired by the artists own experiences in meditation and research into Vedas and other Indian mythology. He writes: "All the world is starting to recognize India as the leader in digital insight in Asia. Many Asian countries are importing Indian mentality to further their own business and communications. It is proper that art should be enhanced in this manner. I am looking forward with interest to the people of India to see a new birth and resonance in the arts. There is much in Indian society that has been lost. But there is much in Indian society to be reborn. Cognition of the past is the brilliance of the Vedas. I look forward to a new boldness that will allow a bright Truth to evolve that will brush away the pettiness of the recent past. I feel that the people of India hold a very special truth inside them. It will be good to hear that truth in harmony in the song of life."

From South Korea, Song ki Sung, presented a single digital image called the Mechanism. A strange yet fascinating abstraction in black and white so appropriate since it approximates the visual equivalent of the feeling one gets when looking at the innards of today's complex machinery. From Calcutta, five cyberpaintings by Shubhojoy Mitra are a representation of various stages of using digital tools during the last four years going digital. Included is his first ever digital image which is a stylistic portrait deriving its idiom from abstract expressionism and impressionistic sketches and the latest which is about the emerging cyberculture in the city. With his personal discovery of the cyberspace two and a half years back and the first encounters with it, his art changed radically in form, colour and content. Even the conceptual basis of this whole new world out there drove his earlier instincts of a painter to a different logical decision making process. Effects almost impossible to achieve with traditional tools could be applied and replicated with amazing results almost as efficiently as a small piece of programming. The Net is one of his cybercreations depicting his vision of the cyberspace, a virtual purple zone that entices programmers, engineers, laymen, businessmen, students, even artists in search of more information, entertainment and pure knowledge.

The cyberartists derive their concepts and imagery from the world they live in, see and identify with — the cyberworld. And this is the world they are taking into the next millennium.

 

— Inputs from Shubhojoy Mitra

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