TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW WITH MODERN ARTSY AFICIONADO MAGAZINE
Modern Artsy Aficionado (MAA): It’s a great pleasure to be interviewing you here in your studio – thank you so much for having us.
DamnPhotoArtist (DPA): Yes
MAA: Is this where all the magic happens, or do you have a laptop or a tablet you use sometimes? I noticed a nice garden with a fountain and a fire pit in your backyard; looks like a wonderful place to create art.
MAA: Okay. All your work is accomplished on this desktop computer then. Can you tell us how it’s configured?
MAA: It must be especially powerful to render the images you create.
DPA: I don’t know.
MAA: You have it playing music, too; some spirited alternative Rock, I believe. Do you always play music when you’re creating, and do you always have it playing so loud?
MAA: Just for this interview could you turn it down a little?
MAA: Please? I want to make sure I can understand you.
MAA: Pretty please?
MAA: Well, moving right along then; tell me about the moniker you use, ‘Damn Photo Artist’. Where did that come from?
DPA: I don’t know.
MAA: Don’t you? Well, according to your agent, it’s a name you use just to aggravate more traditional art critics who object to the use of computers to create art. According to your agent, it’s consistent with your feelings that so many things you’ve done in your life has flown in the face of ‘tradition’; that your work has always challenged the status quo. Tell me about that.
DPA: I don’t remember.
MAA: Do you enjoy aggravating your critics?
DPA: I don’t know.
MAA: If I understand correctly, all your work is created using your own photography.
MAA: Do you consider yourself more of a photographer or more of an artist?
MAA: I’m going to take that to mean you don’t put any more emphasis on one than the other. Let’s talk about your process because there have been so many questions about how you create the art you do. You’ve been previously quoted as saying you apply filters to a photograph in layers and then blend those layers in different ways, using different transparencies to generate art you call ‘abstract realism’ – art derived from a real-life image that abstracts reality.
DPA: I don’t know.
MAA: I’d like to use your work titled ‘The Paint Crew’ as an example. The subject of the image is quite clear: a group of men on a scaffold painting the side of a building. But the way colors shift and fade, seem to streak and overlap, oversaturate. It includes just what the eye would see, but not at all what the eye would see, within the same composition. It both interprets reality and warps it.
DPA: I don’t know.
MAA: I spoke with your agent about this work as well; he compared it to a previous work you’ve exhibited, ‘The Chalk Artists’, which won first place in category at a recent showing. He said the techniques employed were similar, though you spent much more time on the background for ‘The Paint Crew’.
DPA: I don’t know.
MAA: And about that background work, I’m told for a work like ‘The Paint Crew’ you zoom into an image and begin selecting small pieces of the photograph to work with independently, often pulling them into a separate canvas to apply vastly different techniques than the rest of the image, then copy the finished result back into the original image where it’s blended and filtered again to create a new whole. One of your finished works that started as a single photograph has been pulled into multiple images that are recombined into a single image again. Can you tell me if this is accurate?
MAA: Can’t or won’t?
MAA: What are you working on right now? Do you have new work coming out you’re excited about?
DPA: I don’t know.
MAA: You generally exhibit two new works a week on your blog; sometimes three. How far ahead are you working?
DPA: I don’t remember.
MAA: I should tell you I’ve talked with a friend of yours from your past – do you remember Sinole O’Leary?
MAA: The two of you had a real falling out, didn’t you? He seems to believe he is responsible for your creative inspirations and that your entire career is based on the foundation he laid, but clearly trust issues have developed between the two of you.
DPA: I don’t remember.
MAA: If I tell you he told me not to believe a word you say and that he intends violence if he ever sees you again, how do you feel about that?
DPA: I don’t know.
MAA: Doesn’t the threat of violence frighten you?
MAA: I notice you’ve turned the volume of your music up significantly. One more question and we’ll get leave you alone. Are you on drugs?
DPA: I don’t remember. Yes and no.
Just as I’ve gravitated to the use of heavy filtering and blending modes to move further into color abstraction, I’m pulled to those same techniques in noir work, albeit with more subtilty. I submit that today’s work is just as ‘abstract’ as one of my color works, say Picking Vegetables. Instead of flowing gradients of color, here I’m using defined straight lines and high contrast. Both are highly stylized variations on what the eye sees, and both can juxtapose reality and fantasy along a continuum as subjective as the mind the eye is tied to.
What I’m even more recently coming to, as in Stardust or Scrutiny, is the effect of combining the two, the color with the noir.
* * *
I’ve had the pleasure of late to be reading a wonderful new biography of Andy Warhol by the arts editor and critic Blake Gopnik. Spanning a thousand or so pages, it’s is superbly written and researched, with almost every paragraph properly attributed to established sources. I’m struck by a number of aspects of Warhol’s career, the first being his use of technology, even mechanical processes in his art, namely silk screen, blotted ink, and his use of photographs as a base for developing art. Please forgive my presumptions in drawing a link from it to photo art. Another presumption: As Pop Art dawned, Warhol likened it to recognizing the ordinary things around us, and here I’ve been advocating “the art of ordinary things”. Again, please forgive my assumption of a parallel. Gopnik’s extensive attributions also point out rather glaring inconsistencies to the Warhol narrative – as the artist’s self-generated persona asserted itself Warhol seemed to tell different people different things, as though he were packaging his message depending on who he was talking to. Gopnik offers context differentiating the realistic from the absurd, but I still get the feeling Warhol not only prefaced modern celebrity he prefaced modern politics in all its dysfunction.
If I’ve a skepticism of Gopnik’s writing it would be his contention that Warhol’s art was intrinsic to his sexuality, as opposed simply to his sexuality contributing to his art, and I’m just not sure I buy that. He seems to be saying Warhol was a homosexual first and then an artist. Was Picasso a philander first and an artist second? See the distinction? Finally, and this depresses me a little, it’s clear that success in art is substantially being in the right place at the right time, that right place firmly being New York. And not in some sedate, rural, ordinary Midwestern town. At least, not yet.
Appropriate credit: the subject of today’s work is a sculpture called ‘Dissident’ by artist Ben Pierce. Facing this direction, the circle frames the Missouri State Capital. Facing the other direction, the circle frames one of the old Missouri State Penitentiary guard towers. That juxtaposition is deliberate. It sits in front of an empty lot where once stood a squat, brick building completely out of place with the historic nature of the neighborhood. Fifteen months ago a tornado rendered it uninhabitable. At the time the building was being used, in part, to exhibit art. After saving the art, bulldozers flattened what remained of the building.
Think of the tornado as a virus.
It took months staring at this photographic capture before I knew how to create a work both appreciative of the sculpture itself while also offering its own vision.
* * *
I should expand on my last post, which I think emphasized the trend (we live in times when one pandemic will follow another and even after we develop a vaccine for this one we can expect more to follow) and only hinted at its impact. An economy for many consumer and essential goods can be cobbled together using on-line and socially distanced dissemination points. What is not surviving are the cultural elements of that economy – theaters, movies, museums, music, galleries, and of course spectator sports. Restaurants may only hang on if they can do a heavy curb-side business, which removes that cultural experience as well. The sports leagues are desperate to open up; games in empty or nearly empty stadiums will at least satisfy their television contracts this year but won’t achieve sustainability going forward, at least not under current salary structures. Of course, it’s sports around which so much angst is expressed; movies and music and art are one thing but to lose football, OMG!!
It astounds me that so many think of next year as though all will be “back to normal”. Just like that – like magic. Whose silly idea was that?
Story in my newsfeed this morning about art galleries in New York reopening. By appointment only. No mass reopening’s and no frenzied crowds packing in on the first day of a new exhibit. Experiencing Art, like everything else, becomes a controlled activity.
Over the last century and a half the consumption of Art has been a branch of mass communications, like rushing to see the new movie or listening to the new album. Not universally, of course; Exuberance for Art remains a niched enthusiasm, confined to the great centers of culture. Much as my local galleries – really, anybody’s local galleries – might have hoped their receptions for new exhibits would have attracted broad swaths of the public such gatherings were mainly attended by the artists themselves. Every community generated “movie-nuts” and such. “Art-nuts”, not so much. But in the cultural centers new Art has been events, and the rest of us, while not there to experience it, heard about it. The new Renoir, the new Picasso, the new Warhol, impressionism, cubism, abstract expressionism, modernism, pop art; as those things emerged we heard about it, saw pictures of it, read critiques. It was news because those openings were events. They were happenings. They had impact. Eventually, waves of it rippled out to the rest of us.
Now, there are no happenings. Virtual exhibiting, like virtual movie premiers, have limited impact.
We dodged five bullets over the last 20 years on our way to Covid: SARS, MERS, Ebola, avian influenza, and swine flu. The sixth one, Covid-19 got us. All these things happened due to climate change and its accompanying human encroachment on the natural world. Biodiversity loss creates opportunities for certain viruses, bacteria, and parasites to spill over into humans.
All this is going to happen again. After a vaccine is developed and disseminated for this pandemic, another is on a conveyor line towards us.
There’s irony that we use florals as a way of marking great events in our lives. Events we perceive as life changing. Events we INTEND to be life changing. And we mark them with magnificent florals at the peak of their brilliance with full knowledge that that brilliance will fade.
… so we’ll just buy more, right? Roses grow back. And life changing events are followed by more life changing events, often changing the outcomes of those events that passed before it. Ain’t no thing, just move on!
No … no … surely I misspeak (damn liberal). Roses grow back and may reinforce that life changing event, thus legitimizing an approach to life that is unchanging. An unbroken sense of ‘normal’. A worldview that is forever. A rose that sits sacrosanct in its vase to lamentations as the brilliance inevitably crumbles.
* * *
I lapse into a wonderful Nicole Atkins song (click to follow the link).
This work began as something quite different, refused to go there and morphed into something else, and then morphed into something else again. That, perhaps, reflects a certain artistic immaturity, which I freely admit to. On the one hand it can lead to indistinct, forgettable works of indistinct style. On the other hand, it can also, once in a while, break new ground that defines a completely new and innovative style.
It usually takes me a while to figure out which of those has happened.
* * *
There is an illustration floating around on social media of a rural family – man, woman, and child – holding hands, backs to the viewer, gazing off into the sunset, with the caption ”I just want to live in the America I grew up in”. Seen this, right?
It’s among the dumbest things I’ve ever seen.
In the first place, that idyllic America never existed. Rural American families – particularly the farm families depicted in the described illustration – were generally dirt poor, hard scrabble, and grossly uneducated to anything outside their peripheral. They worked their asses off; there was no time or energy for empathy. Health care, infrastructure, schools, and economic structures were generally lacking, and we’re not just talking historically – it’s STILL like that. Remembering some idyllic childhood is to ignore the reality that, as a child, ignorance is bliss. And in those rare instances when, indeed, life was sweet, it was achieved on the backs of others; others who were even poorer, or people of color. People who had been robbed and/or disenfranchised.
That said, it frames the problem. We have evolved into a population of grumpy old men complaining that everything was better back in their day.
In the America in which I grew up, I thought there were only a few handfuls of those old codgers, and we could laugh at them, then ignore them (I was wrong – see how that works). Now, it’s upwards to at least a third of the population. That’s roughly 120 MILLION people living a rationalization. A fantasy. We’ve simply come so far so fast, so many changes sociologically, technologically, economically, that an enormous number of our neighbors and relatives are unable to cope and have thus invented an alternate reality.
And they have no compunction from adopting an authoritarian, even fascist ideology as a means of imposing that fantasy.
There are parallels in Art. Episodes when artists so pushed reality as to overwhelm traditionalists and leave them behind.
The hue and cry created by Picasso.
The hue and cry created by Jackson Pollock.
The hue and cry created by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns.
Thus it’s clear. America is The Brothel of Avignon.
I’ve been playing with various forms of inversion techniques for years as they can occasionally produce striking results. For me, the problem is that those results are usually also strikingly fake.
Point of reference: Abstract is not fake. Abstraction in art is about enhancing perspective. Fake is taking reality and just making it look different. The puzzle for me has been using an inversion technique in an abstract way, which is why I rarely use one. Among my earliest blogs a couple years ago (no, I can’t find it) I said that the creation of photo art is not about simply sticking a watercolor filter on an image and calling it done. Applying an inversion layer or filter seems to me to invalidate, or perhaps overwhelm, any artistic strokes before or after it. In my work, I use multiple layers, multiple filters, multiple blends and transparencies in concert with each other, often directed at just a few pixels, to create abstract realism. Inversion techniques don’t seem to play nice with anything.
I don’t know that this work comes off any better, but I find that I’m satisfied with the result. So … toss it out there … see if it plays nice …
This work reminded me how much I enjoy working in noir, and how much I enjoy using the near-infrared technique. I haven’t engaged it much since last year’s tornado damage series, after which I went deep into extreme color abstract, which has dominated my attention ever since. I had a color abstract in mind for this work as well before the noir rose up and took over. And that, actually, is how it goes, or how it should go if the artist is open. The work itself will communicate, during the act of creation, what it wants to be. Sure, could be the artist’s own subconscious talking, but it’s still coming through the work.
There’s a whole ‘creator vs. creation / God vs. human’ level going on here, but I shan’t digress thusly …
Take a look at my most recent post, then come back and look at this one and it’s clear the two are meant to complement each other – they’re meant to be displayed together. They’re both the same proportion, the same subject matter, essentially the same style, with lighting and effects that create balance. They’re easily envisioned decorating a kitchen or a dining room together. Complementary works of this nature is something I don’t do very often. Compare them to the second to the last work, similar subject, but quite different arrangement, lighting, and color. That’s more like what I do all the time; varying each work at least a little bit from the last one. Every work is a new exploration.
Many artists, though, specialize in a particular style or technique, and create entire portfolios of complementary work. Those artists are more likely to be commercially successful. Decorators looking to achieve a certain atmosphere are more likely to draw from imagery they’ve seen often enough to be familiar with; they can simply pull a catalog and there’s umpteen works in a consistent style. A designer turning to my work would be engaging in a much more adventurous approach.
There’s nothing wrong with the work of either artist. I completely respect the complementary approach. What I do may be more fun, but the other way, after all, may pay the rent.
* * *
An extra post this week; as I had three works of basically the same imagery, these last two intensely so, it seemed appropriate to exhibit them together.
I was reminded recently of something I did years and years ago which at the time I thought was wonderful, but which was actually pretty crappy and juvenile. Of course, at the time I was pretty much a juvenile, and pretty much crappy in a juvenile way besides. If I look back too closely I see a whole bunch of stuff that falls into that category; not necessarily juvenile because at a certain point one no longer carries an age which affords that excuse, but certainly crappy. Fortunately, I don’t look back that much.
Once there was a story of a guy who was given the opportunity to relive his youth and fix his mistakes. Having done so, he returned to the present to discover he was a shadow of whom he once was. There had been no impulsive risks or selfish dreams, no mistakes, which had to be overcome, His life had been an exercise in prescribed, established procedure. He never learned to draw a line from which, after forgiving himself and everyone around him for everything that happened prior, he could move forward. His purpose was past-procedural, and he had no future.
Since at least the impressionists 150 years ago art has been about disrupting ‘normal’.
In this Season Of Covid I keep trying to reconcile the phrase “getting back to normal” with the facts which tell me there is no normal. Has never been an applicable, universal ‘normal’. There are routines, and there are social structures and constructs within which people function. In my social sciences degree these were called systems, and systems are fed by paradigms, or ‘value sets’ that define those functional parameters. Even those highly institutionalized labels defined a process of injecting new information prompting a paradigm shift which creates systemic change and ultimately influences to a restructuring of the whole. But now I’m just showing off. People want to get back to their routines which defined their sense of ‘normal’.
Here’s the deal: Once the routine, the ‘normal’, has been disrupted there is no fully going back. Life will always be just ever so slightly different. Maybe even a lot more than just slightly. This will drive certain individuals whose economics and control issues are derived from absolute unchanging structure right out their water. This is what I meant when I recently suggested that Covid is just a further extension of the technological, social, and economic changes that have already driven certain individuals towards advocating moving society backward by use of authoritarian measures. A century ago, we saw the adoption of such measures in full force.
Prior to the impressionists, art seemed to be all about finding normal, all the way back to da Vinci whose revolutionary uses of perspective redefined the way we see. As of the impressionists, then through all forms of modern art since, it is as though our collective sight has moved past normal into the subliminal; past the overt and towards the light we cannot see.
Art appreciation may be just a question of attitude.
A year ago I routinely exhibited at four local galleries, all of which were seeing declining sales. When people stop buying art it’s a good sign an economic downturn is in the wings, so, you see, I knew a year ago that a recession was coming, even before Covid-19. One of those four closed for economic reasons in the weeks before the virus hit. A second has gone down because of the virus, though it could eventually reopen in some form. A third is undergoing a change in directors and is exhibiting nothing during the transition. So I currently have work exhibited and just a single gallery, and it’s the gallery I’ve had the least success at. I’m actually grateful for even that.
Everywhere galleries are closed or restricting hours. We still have dimwitted nincompoops who refuse to wear masks, so entering an enclosed space of any kind remains a calculated risk. Where does one go to view art?
The answer, actually, is anywhere. The lines of buildings; the sculpted, painted sheet metal of automobiles; the stark shadows of an alley; the curve of the horizon against a blue sky; the colors in the supermarket. Art is everywhere if one is open to it; if one interprets life as a thing of grace and beauty and meaning. The person who figured out how to stack fresh vegetables in the most appealing way has created for us a gallery of exquisite visual imagery.
I’ve tried to emphasize just that in my work – the art of ordinary things.
How will the pandemic show itself through art?
Only a handful of works from the 1918 Spanish Flu are out there, paintings depicting isolation and despair that could be identified with any period of suffering. Photography is rich with images from the period, most as much documentation as art. The 1918 pandemic also coincided with the synergistic romance between Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe, resulting in Stieglitz most prolific period and some of O’Keeffe’s most sensual work. But a reflection of that pandemic – not really. An upswing in abstract art has been noted, as though artists were trying to push their work into a more emotional realm, but that has been attributed mostly to the rise of photography as an art form. That, again, much due to the influence of Stieglitz.
The Black Death clearly showed itself in 13th century art through the depictions of skeletons and death imagery – there is no parallel in art from the pandemic of a century ago. What art trends emerging were indistinguishable from the rapidly changing society around it.
Perhaps this pandemic is simply one more element of change, transformative but ultimately no more significant than ongoing economic and sociological shifts, We don’t see each other the same way we did just a couple decades ago, we don’t talk to each other the same way, we don’t work or play or eat the same way. Now we don’t breathe the same way.
A little more overt, each time. So moves the art.
Final in my series of monochrome works which, as with my most recent post, turned out not monochrome at all. These works, which I decided to combine into a single post to save time, are related to ‘Stardust’ posted just a week ago; but where that work was clearly monochrome, these are clearly not, though I did not add a single thing that I did not add to ‘Stardust’. I started with a noir work, then added an extrusion layer in a blue hue. The difference is that in these works I applied different blending modes. The computer was simply “blending” the layer with the blue hue against the grey layer. Differing modes resulted in differing hues emerging in the blend. I loved both versions, so I created separate works of each. Including ‘Stardust’ and the original noir, that gives me four distinct works from a single photographic capture.
It strikes me that it’s exactly this sort of thing that drives traditionalists nuts, and by “traditionalist” I’m referring to those whose hackles rankle when the computer is used to create art. A pen or brush artist would put in enormous work to create four parallel works, whereas I’m simply applying my ‘eye’ and the computer is doing most of the work. I can consider any number of alternatives in my creative process, whereas alternatives using traditional processes may be painstaking.
I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest there’s an analogy there to how one approaches life; to the labor intensity involved in change. When change requires an entirely new canvas versus a mouse click.
I said there were seven monochrome works in this series, yes? So this should be #5, yes?
Well, yes, but it looks like I lied. OK, maybe not lied; I misrepresented. This work presented itself as I created ‘Your Own Light’ – go back and look at it, and it’s clearly the same photographic capture, just colored differently and clearly not at all a monochrome. It emerged as I was in the process of creating a monochrome (the final two works in this series happened the same way).
It works like this: the photo processing software I use works in layers. Start with the original, duplicate it and hide it so it establishes a baseline, make adjustments to the duplicate, duplicate that and make more adjustments, duplicate that one and make still more adjustments, so on and so forth until a satisfactory result emerges, potentially dozens of new layers. If it seems to be moving in a bad direction, simply remove layers back to a particular point and start again.
Each layer blends with the ones beneath it. A normal blend simply lays on top. But there are a score of blending modes that combine with the layers beneath to alter the effect; darker, lighter, multiplied, more intense or softer lighting, reductions, color variations, on and on. Then by adjusting the transparency levels the artist can vary the effect even further.
The ability to manipulate the computer to create art is every bit as involved as the ability to do the same using a brush or a pencil; I’ll get an argument on that, but I strongly believe it to be true. The success or failure of a work still comes down to a combination of technique and artistic eye.
The software may duplicate layers, but not the eye. The eye is from whence the art emerges.
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.