A NEW ART FOR A NEW MILLENIUM

Kristine Bucar


"The computer is just a fantastic machine, " says
Claude Horan, a computer artist who started the ceramics
department at the University of Hawaii and retired after 30
years teaching. He and many other local artists have
joined the cyberspace revolution and embraced the
computer as an art tool. They produce vastly different
creations that put them on the crest of the computer art
wave.

Horan and his wife, Suzi Pleyte, started using an Amiga
computer in 1986 as a tool in the creative process. They
agree that the computer saves them time and money, is
less messy and makes it is easier to save images or erase
them. Pleyte says, "A person in the art field who isn't using
a computer is missing the boat." They use a digital camera
to capture an image and transfer it to the computer. Once
in the machine they can manipulate it as much as they want
or as little. When they are satisfied with the semblance,
they use a single-lens reflex camera to photograph the
image on the monitor. They use a Canon color
photocopier to enlarge the developed photo and copy it
onto art paper. The final result is not only quite different
than the original, but two people can take the same
beginning image and produce completely different
creations (see accompanying photos). Even though the
process relies heavily on high-tech equipment, Horan
notes "The important thing is the final image. It doesn't
matter if you made it with a crow bar or what."

Dr. Rodney Chang, born and raised in Hawaii, started
using a computer to create art in 1985. He is "working
behind the scenes (by living in Hawaii) to pioneer a new
art vocabulary." Chang has coined several computer art
terms such as "paint out" which is a take off on "print out,"
and refers to printing out a computer image and then
producing a painted rendition of the image. Chang hires
other artists to do the painted version and acknowledges
that their interpretation influences the end result. He also
recognizes the partnership between the machine and the
artist with another term—pygoya. He signs his creations
"Pygoya."

"Relativism" is a term Chang uses to explain how a
holistic lifestyle and the cumulative life experience influence
a work of art or personal art style. Any art he would do
now, he mentions, would turn out angular and woody. It
would be influenced by his current big project—a home
art museum called The Pygoya House—that he is building
from the ground up. Chang says the challenge in building
the house is creating a successful transition from a classical
architecture to the presentation of high-tech computer art.
Chang is also known as the "Disco Doc" because of the
disco he had installed in the waiting room of his dental
office. He was featured in the 1981 Guinness Book of
World Records as the person with the most college
degrees—10.

Larry Lovett, a 22-year resident of the islands and
former Kapiolani Community College computer graphics
instructor, is credited with bringing the first computer art
tools to Hawaii in 1984 in the form of the Lumena
software. The system gives him 6.7 million color
possibilities; 350,000 of which can actually be on the
screen at one time.

Lovett notes part of the computer artist's dilemma is
"getting it into a frame." He no longer makes prints. He
presents his creations in a different form—on television.
He's the producer and director of E-Gallery, a half-hour
show dripping with fluid, cyberdelic images which airs at
9:00 PM Sunday on Olelo, the local public access station,
cable channel 22. Lovett uses a 386 computer with a
stylus and tablet to create images and then shoots them
through an encoder which translates them from
computer-made into television-ready. E-Gallery first aired
in July 1992 and this year won a national award in
Computer Art category at the 1994 Home Town Video
Festival sponsored by the Alliance for Community Media.

Lovett explains that part of the reason the art world is
reluctant to accept computer art as fine art is because
most computer printers use paper and inks that last at the
most 50 years. Museums and collectors buy art as an
investment—traditional painting materials like oils and
canvass and serigraph paper and inks can last hundreds of
years.

Lovett is also challenging the traditional sense of how
art can be viewed and accessed. He exhibits his work in
KaleidoSpace, a virtual art gallery on the Internet, the
intertwined global web of computer networks.

Jim Erickson and Margo Goodwill use the computer
keyboard as a canvass. They've produced 36 pieces of
"computer keyboard art." They started the series when a
friend who uses specialized key caps to customize
computer keyboards showed them a trash container filled
with defective keyboards. Erickson decided to create a
truly customized keyboard by painting it. They've had their
computer keyboard art displayed locally and at the
Hewlett Packard Corporate Headquarters in Palo Alto,
CA, and other Hewlett Packard facilities. One of
Erickson's compositions was presented to Vice President
Al Gore. In the future he would like to use an entire
computer to create a work of art.

The computer has become an integral part of the
creative process, influencing art as well as our perception
of art and how we view it. Given the increasing
pervasiveness of computers in our culture, it's an art form
that's not likely to fade away. If you want to see what
computer art looks like for yourself, beam over to the
Lane Gallery at Honolulu Hale for The 6th Annual
Hawaiian Computer Art Exhibition sponsored by Hawaii
Computer Art Society and The State Foundation on
Culture and the Arts. It runs the entire month of
November.

Originally published in The Honolulu Advertiser.