For an artist, the ubiquity of creative software can be both a blessing and a curse. Fun and useful, yes; but it has also radically changed the game. The impact of digital art is well documented, as, clearly, the limitless capabilities of this software have thrown a curve-ball at High Art notions of craftsmanship, medium and subjectivity. A few hours of play with an Adobe Suite, for example, and you can create your very own masterpiece, mimicking any major artistic movement of the last 100 years, give or take.
Nothing has been spared the paw-swipe of the digital kitty. Our relationship to space has been completely ruptured, but the status of the image seems most subverted. Apart from a thousand words, a picture also tells the truth, right? Well, artists have been debunking that myth since the pictures era of the 1970s (Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine). And now, with swift manipulation, not only can Sarah Palin’s face be seamlessly Photoshopped onto the body of Ted Nugent, but a photograph can also be shifted to look like a painting, and a painting is clicks away from becoming a photo. This is all rudimentary Photoshop, but where does it leave a painter of images?
- Erin Anfinson’s Confrontations
- Through August 27
- Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
- Charleston Heights Arts Center, 800 S. Brush Street, 229-6383.
Tennessee-based painter Erin Anfinson embraces this intersect. Confrontations, currently at the Charleston Heights Arts Center, offers a sampling of the artist’s digitally inflected paintings.
While roughly four visibly different bodies of work are represented, the method of production is fairly similar. In a spin on the custom of painting from a photo, Anfinson manipulates one or more images digitally, utilizing the subsequent computer-generated collage as the visual source for the final painting. Done mostly in acrylic or encaustic, the resulting paintings look … pretty much like paintings copied from Photoshopped pictures.
The artist’s preoccupation with nature and animals is well served by this process. Monochrome works such as “Squabble” and “Territorial Clash” have a camouflage-like curiosity, and dominate most of the installation. In variant shades of sepia and blue, it is almost possible to make out hidden bears and clashing rams amidst the flora and fauna. Through digital processing, the edges of shapes are blurred to look painted, and the image becomes fairly indecipherable. The value structure as rendered by the monochromatic, or single-color, palette helps to flesh out what’s really going on, but fluctuates between defining space and simply creating an attractive pattern of darks and lights.
The fun of searching for recognizable shapes makes up for the relatively tame experience of the paintings themselves. Perhaps the artist is using the digital intersect to critique our contemporary engagement with the natural world, or lack thereof. But content is numbed by the paint-by-numbers-like translation of the source image. The shapes appear blurred, but the artist definitely “stays in the lines.” Even Anfinson seems a little bored. Don’t get me wrong, the show looks really smart and clean. It’s just not the most exciting painting ever.
Several pieces from 2006—“Disagreement” and “Little Cats”—are more experimental, and rewardingly so. While discernibly animals, the shapes appear more abstract than in the previous series, in part due to the broader color palette and less visible value structure. Pastel shapes stack and attack. Offering more variety in paint technique and application than the monochromatic pieces, the result is loose and lively.
Other works successfully break from this paint-by-numbers aesthetic. The small encaustic-on-paper paintings from the two series “Testing God” and “Collapse” are quite beautiful. Microbial entities float atop built-up layers of dreamy color. Delicately painted in white graphic line, each appears quite similar from a distance. A closer peek is rewarded by uniquely intricate and lacy line work, kind of like looking into a microscope. Each painting is a portrait of a single microbe, and with a repeated dimension of 13 inches by 16 inches filling the walls, there is something deliciously viral about the series. In repetition, the florid handiwork becomes ornamental, a nice back and forth between the bacterial and the baroque.
These days, it is no longer remotely shocking or particularly notable to encounter an intersection of new and traditional media. From analog to high speed, artists seamlessly integrate a variety of media into their bags of tricks to obliquely critique or praise our open-source existence (Paul Chan, Wade Guyton). But sometimes a full-on engagement with the digital seems unnecessary at best, gratuitous at worst. Where is the artist using these tools and, more importantly, why? Well-used, the digital applications accentuate Anfinson’s ideas; otherwise, it’s just fun with Photoshop.