oils between digital buns
Pygoya Chang, Ph.D. (Art Psychology)
May 27, 2008
There is a difference in my creative
art process between “copy” and “replication.”
Let me explain. As artist I
start off with digital tools, use oil paints as an intermediate step, then
end up with a digital derived final product.
So how does this compare and differ from the commonplace procedure of
reproducing paintings by copyists? I’ll
try to clarify so here goes-
I started off in painting and sculpture,
earning a master’s degree in Studio Art (Northern Illinois University, 1975).
This developed an affinity as well as artistic sensitivity for the
expressive powers of the paint medium. But
with the introduction of the personal computer (PC graphics) in the 80s, I
decided to emerge along with it as digital artist. I abandoned my paint tubes
and brushes. In the beginning I was a purist, never scanning or importing
photographs (of course back then there was no digital camera).
I took pride in starting with clusters of pixels on an otherwise blank
monitor screen. But times have
changed and my attitude and approach has evolved along with the medium.
My work now is truly “multi-media” or as they said before, “mixed
media.” I am now free to use whatever resources are available to make
Which brings me to the issue of
“original” and “reproduction.” How
do these terms relate to my idiosyncratic approach to producing art?
Other artists who create a painting may have
their work later duplicated by another individual, whether willingly or not.
The first painted image is the “original” and the subsequent effort(s)
is a “copy.” In this case the
medium is the same. Both are paint on canvas.
Today because of economics and the advancement of technology, the
original can also be “duplicated” through digital photography and digital
printmaking. Archival quality print
editions called “Giclees” can be offered at a more affordable price to many
collectors instead of just one. The
original painting so popularized by the multitude of identical print imagery
thereby also appreciates in value, or price.
My art making process differs. I start off with a completed digital image on the
computer monitor display. My
“original” is represented virtually by photons of light called pixels that
are directed in visual attributes by computer data stored as files. My
“original” is actually a bunch of numbers in a computer data base.
Its display as a picture on the screen is merely temporary.
When the image file is closed or the computer turned off, there is no
picture. There is no
visual/visible art. In the “early
days” my digital art was either printed or photographed off the monitor.
The latter method was used to frame hardcopy prints for my 1988 solo
exhibition at the Shanghai Art Museum. It
was by the way, the first digital art exhibition in China, thereby making Chinese
But from this standard way of capturing the
digital image and being able to touch it, frame it, and display it, my work has
evolved. Maybe it was because of my
earlier studio work in painting and drawing at Northern Illinois. Besides, after remaining the purist as a digital artist, it
started to feel stale. I wanted to
experiment outside of conventional digital imagery. Supported by an aesthetic theory and philosophy through years
of exploring the psychology of art, I moved on to develop my systems approach
that incorporated other media besides the digital.
My work also embraced a team approach, with me as primary artist and
I either start from scratch in front of the
monitor with a blinking light cursor waiting to be led.
Or I can load into ram memory a former digital image and take it further
or into a new direction. Alternately
I can use my professional photography skills and import imagery from my digital
camera. After manipulation with mixed bag of graphic software, I arrive with an
image that I judge with confidence in having made the transformation from merely
“computer graphics” to literally fine art. I go ahead and “save” a work
of art, still in its initial, or “original” state and form.
Somewhere over the decades I evaluated a
purely digital image to still be too machine-like, too technically perfect to
achieve my specific goal as a digital artist.
I aspire to achieve works that convincingly simulate the appearance of
paintings manually produced on canvas. So
in order to “soften” the unyielding calculated imagery generated through the
dictation of mathematical functions, I farm out my digital pictures to be
actually painted-by-hand. The task
is executed by selected collaborators who are masters in their craft.
Remember that in my case the digital image is the original.
Therefore the subsequent painting cannot be a “copy,” as this term
requires the existence of an actual painting.
So just what is the painting of a digital image, for the role that it
performs in my creative process?
It is a “replication” of the digital
image. It is also, however,
transient like the original. The
digital image disappears when the file is closed.
The knock off painting is merely a means to an end.
As good as the craftsman is in replicating the digital “blueprint,”
there is subtle variation from the original digital that cannot be avoided.
Such “error” in the translation between media is intentionally added
by me, the “digital painting designer.”
For one thing we are using a different media to transpose the digital.
The computer picture is projected dots of light into the human
retina. Color and form of a
painting are light waves reflected off opaque surfaces (of paint and
canvas). One image is made of
pixels of light, the other of paint. Then
there is human error that cannot be avoided, as the infinite amount of visual
information of a detailed digital image cannot be completely captured by the
limits of both the paint medium as well as the accuracy and skill of the
individual artisan. The human as
computer printer is imperfect. As I said before, this margin of error in the
replication process is not only anticipated but also desired.
Because of such deviance the high-tech, hard edge look of the digital
imagery can be “cut” or reduced, giving the secondary image a hands-on feel
and appearance. Through the hands of humans my digital picture is “softened”
and soothed. By using the
limitation of the paint medium, my simulated digital “paintings” are more
convincingly perceived as paint.
But the painting produced from the digital
picture is not the end of my process. The
object is digitally photographed, ironically converting the picture back to
pixels. After personally enhancing
the captured image with software, printing test prints to proof and doing the
subsequent adjustments, this final digital file of the original digital image is
offered as a limited edition Giclee print.
I define the print as “derivative” of the whole process.
I dub it “derivative” art and my artistic intent, process and final
imagery as the new art of “Derivativism.”
summarize, other artists have paintings “copied” or “reproduced.” I instead create a digital image, have it “replicated” in
order to “derive” a final digital (once again) print. It can be tossed (in 2006 I literally destroyed 175 canvas
paintings), or sold (they are beautiful and masterfully crafted) to an
admirer. Or, as documentary of my
long-term process leading to an extensive series of print editions, the
intermediary paintings could be exhibited in a hall of their own.
In such a paradoxical way would they compliment as well as elevate an
audience’s appreciation of the monumentally scaled (40”x50”) derivative
print collection. The Giclees would
be the featured works, installed as the main exhibition of my future
digital art museum.
Everybody expects artwork to be signed. So, you may ask, how is the art signed? I back off as Rodney Chang, multi-media conceptual artist. Instead I sign "Pygoya" for the team of Pygoya Productions.
"Sailing in Cyberspace," 2003 left: original digital right: oil painting below: 40"x50" Giclee canvas print
photo courtesy, V Salon, Manhattan, New York City, NY