H O M A G E
Contemporary Art in Digital Media
by Joe Nalven and Jim Respress
Homage is a good beginning for connecting traditions in art as well as pointing the way to contemporary understandings about picturing the world around us. Based in San Diego, California, the Digital Art Guild [DAG] is an international organization currently presenting a touring group exhibition of digital art prints, which opened July 9th at the Partnership for the Arts Municipal Gallery in Escondido, California, and will travel on September 11th to the Art Institute of California – San Diego. The show bears the title Homage.
For the exhibition, which showcases what is a longstanding tradition in the history of art, artists were asked to create pieces that represent a celebration of persons or ideas that have influenced their lives; using computer software, the most recent of artistic media.
“Homage in art is useful for looking back to those upon whose shoulders we stand, connecting us to a diversity of visions about the human condition”
A large portion of art throughout history has paid homage to earlier artists and their work. Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez, painted in 1656, has often been the subject of homage. Pablo Picasso painted 58 variations of Las Meninas more than 300 years after the original, using it to explore color, movement, form and rhythm. Another of Velázquez’s paintings, “Portrait of Pope Innocent X”, became the source of many variations for Francis Bacon. His well-known “Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X” is often referred to as the Screaming Pope.
The styles and art context for Velázquez were quite different than for Picasso and Bacon. Velázquez lived in 17th century Spain and became the court painter to King Philip IV, a despotic ruler and sometimes thought to be the cause of Spain’s decline. For Picasso and Bacon and their respective homage, in an outpouring of variations, occurred in a time where various art movements had sprung up. But for both artists, their interpretations were part of an emerging European expressionism, or perhaps neo-expressionism, following World War II.
Homage in art is useful for looking back to those upon whose shoulders we stand, connecting us to a diversity of visions about the human condition. But what makes an artistic homage interesting and not a mere copy? What makes each an anecdote or a poor rendition of a cultural icon?
“In art as well as in science, almost everything we create is homage to those who have created before us”
Members of DAG prefer to be in the first category not in the latter, delivering meaningful works of art, not mere copies. That was the challenge that the Homage show presented. Having been formed in 2003, and having members with experience in digital media for a much longer period of time, DAG wanted to exceed its previous exhibits with a STATEMENT.
Creatives constantly need to build from something in order to synthesize new ideas. The stimulus for new ideas rarely comes from a single source but rather many; sometimes often seemingly unrelated sources. In the area of digital art, for example, we owe as much to computer science as we do to traditional forms of art.
In art as well as in science, almost everything we create is homage to those who have created before us. Although, we may not always be aware of the nod. We might even need to have it pointed out to us by another observer. When, on the other hand, one sets out intentionally to create a work of art that pays homage to someone or something, the task is quite different.
“No ideological cliché need apply, but rather a muscular engagement of intellect and spirit, in the continuing adventure of art”
The starting point is the object of homage, be it a person or perhaps an idea. The challenge then is to create something that hopefully does not copy the object, but utilizes some attribute or element, as such, that the viewer can recognize. And the end result should be a piece of artwork that stands on its own, while at the same time bows graciously to the honored idea or person.
In this exhibition we present forty-nine new pieces of art created in digital media that express homage in their own way, acknowledging a single source of inspiration. Though collectively, the combined works also serve to acknowledge the arts and humanities contribution from the ever-developing field of digital media. This is a gentle way of making a statement that the tools of the imagination can be paint and paintbrushes, Brillo pads, thrown paint, mixed media objects embedded in the surface or art created with a computer. And in that regard, this digital-aged homage informs that we are no different than Velázquez, Picasso or Bacon.
It requires the viewer to pay attention to the image–its vision, composition and impact, not the tools of the trade. No ideological cliché need apply, but rather a muscular engagement of intellect and spirit, in the continuing adventure of art.