C33: Rasterramble

(Photo swiped from Emily C.)
The first pieces of art I ever bought were a pair of signed prints by Darrel Anderson, way back in, oh, I'll say 2001. I think how it came about is that I'd been re-reading my old copy of Count Zero and had become captivated by the cover illustration; I had a memory, too, of the cover of the first copy of Neuromancer that I ever read having had a strong effect on me (although the copy I subsequently owned was disappointingly different), so I was doubly motivated to search the artist out. The copyright pages sent me after someone named Richard Berry, and a quick internet search landed me on the Braid Media Arts website, where my mind was verily blown. In addition to discovering the work of Berry, who has remained my favourite contemporary painter, I was happily introduced to the work of Darrel Anderson -- Anderson wasn't responsible for those novel covers, but he was a frequent collaborator with Berry and turned-out to be the illustrator of the cover for the 1988 Neuromancer computer game. I was swept right up and made a kind-of impulse buy of the two prints: a variant of the Neuromancer game cover, and an abstract piece called "Arcpunc Quad" which is no longer available on the site.

The aesthetic of digital painting in illustration these days is fairly homogenous. It's differentiable from traditional media most of the time by a kind of slickness, lack of grit, and the way that everything looks like it's under stage lamps, but otherwise it does tend to look like painting. Artificial painting, perhaps, but it certainly doesn't look "computery". That's a good thing, sure -- the greatness in the potential of digital art is that it doesn't have to look like digital art -- but I happen to love digital art that looks digital. More generally, I love when the limitations or nature of any medium are exposed or exploited -- it adds richness and informational depth to a picture beyond what's being conveyed by the artist -- but I particularly like it in digital art.

The nature of digital art is exposed when we see two things: finiteness of information, and computation. By finiteness, I mean evidence of the individual quanta that make-up an image. This is most simply expressed when we see individual pixels, but also when we see copied-and-pasted arrays of pixels, or limited numbers of colours -- anything that makes us say "this information is being expressed within finite parameters, and we can express any part of it within those same parameters". Computation is exposed sometimes by things being "too perfect" -- geometry and gradients and  so-on -- and sometimes by things being "too perfectly imperfect" -- glitches and artifacts and weird colour curves and other evidence of manipulation, corruption, etc..

C33: DEGAS Elite drawing flipped and tweaked and layered in GIMP and Irfanview.
In digital painting for illustration, we usually don't see these things. Millions of colours in billions of pixels go a long way in hiding the finiteness of information, and manipulation of images is usually done in such a way that they don't look too obviously manipulated. One of the reasons I like using old computers and old programs and old methods in new programs for working with images is because there's no way to conceal the nature of the medium when you've only got a few hundred thousand pixels and a pittance of colours to work with. Berry and Anderson's older work is particularly interesting to me because they weren't ever trying to be "pure" digital artists -- computers were part of their workflow, but an image may have started as a digitized drawing, or it might have finished as a painted-over print. This is a very contemporary way of doing things, and they were pioneering the approach with personal computers in the '80s.

C33.1: A macro photo of a tiny pencil scribble smeared and painted into a face with GIMP, then palettized in Irfanview.
I stumbled across a site yesterday morning that informed me of Darrel Anderson's role in the continuum of development that resulted in 3D Studio and 3DS Max, and I was ecstatic to find a few screen dumps of Berry and Anderson images done with Spectrum 512 on the Atari ST -- among them, a very early version of the Neuromancer image that I now own a print of. Apparently, Antic published a couple of Spectrum 512 demo/portfolio disks with their work on it, and I'd love to find copies of them (PD9100 - Spectrum 512 Slide Show, SB9108 - Spectrum Portfolio), but that's a search for another day.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a fellow Portland digital artist and childhood Atari ST geek who was exposed to Berry/Anderson through their ST era work, was great to read this ^_^ I found what may be that Spectrum slideshow here http://www.atarimania.com/demo-atari-st-spectrum-512-slideshow_26152.html haven't tried to get it running yet.