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Year 7: Boston Cyberarts

In Art, Feature, Interview on April 28, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Premiered by George Fifield in 1999, the Boston Cyberarts Festival was launched with generous seed funding from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. The biennial event is the only festival in the world inclusive to all art forms–both visual and performing, film, video, electronic, literature, public art and web art.

Boston Cyberarts Festival screenshot

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The 7th Annual Boston Cyberarts Festival

by Max Eternity

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The 7th Annual Boston Cyberarts Festival occurs April 22 – May 8, 2011, and with so many happenings coming together as a single occasion there is much to hear and see, like the work of the Urbano Project, an organization run thought MIT’s Urban Arts Institute. Heidi Kayser, who is an artist-in-resident and youth programmer for the Urbano Project says that “Urbano’s mission is to facilitate public art in public spaces.”

“In achieving this, the youth involved of all ages have 5 different programs they can be a part of,” she says.

The Axiom Center for New Experimental Media presenting an exhibition curated by Kayser entitled Move Me: An exhibition of Contemporary Kinetic Sculpture. Brandeis University will also have a presence at this year’s festival, presenting the “BEAMS Electonic Music Marathon,” which features electronic and computer sounds by an international roster of musicians and composers on April 30th from noon till midnight.

“Dreamtime” by Tom Haney (Image: Tom Haney and Boston Cyberarts)

Having a focus on digital art, this year more than 50 events and exhibitions will be showcased. An excerpt from a recent press release reads:

CyberartsCentral, the 2011 Boston Cyberarts Festival headquarters located at Atlantic Wharf, will feature exhibitions, music and dance performances, augmented reality, and real-time rendered audiovisual demonstrations…

Speaking to some of the audio/visual events, like “The Get Together” and “Cyber-Pool,” which combines installations and performances. Fifield says, “One of the distinctive features of the Boston Cyberarts Festival has always been its inclusiveness… from the beginning we have sought out events and exhibitions in all art forms, including not just visual art but a variety of performing arts as well.”

In an special interview, Fifield shared more of his thoughts on this year’s line-up of events.

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Max Eternity (ME): George, there’s one event that I want to ask about first, The Egyptian Oracle.

George Fifield (GF): The Egyptian Oracle – it’s a virtual reality project, which will be an archaeological accurate moment in Egypt, with an Egyptian high priest avatar controlled by an engineer. The audience can interact, asking questions.

Virtual reality is different from augmented reality. The institute of Contemporary art is going to be filled with augmented reality art. So it’s like this, when you put virtuality in real space, you can look at that real space through your smart phone, for instance, and the augmented reality will show up. Manifest.art is doing this project.

ME: Could you talk about what Greenway Conservancy is doing?

GF: The Greenway Conservancy is on blocks of what’s being called “occupation forces”… little signs and symbols. You will see standing around the symbols, little tiny spacemen that have taken over the planet, but nobody knows it because they are invisible.

ME: That’s curious. And there’s also a Festival of Art, Science and Technology.

GF: Yes. This year’s festival coincides with the 150th anniversary of MIT. They are doing a conference on dance and technology, and the other [event] is a daylong event with Autopinie–the founder of sky art. He’s doing one of his sky art sculptures.

At the List Visual Art center is Juan Downey.

“America is Back Together” by Juan Downey (Photo: Marilys Belt Downey)

ME: Wow, that sounds really interesting. And finally, tell me about the show you curated, “Drawing with Code: Works from the Anne and Michael Spalter Collection”?

GF: I used to be curator of new media there for 13 years. I met this couple who lives in Providence, collecting this work for the last 17 or 18 years; focusing on the early days–graphic prints from people who were working on mainframes and punch cards. This was the time when you said your work was made on the computer. But then, people said if the computer is doing it, then who are you?

Manfred Mohr, Frieder Nake, Daniele Laposky and Ken Nolton were some of those people in the 1950’s.

This show is one of a number of shows that talks about our history, because It’s important to have some discussion about the history. The Goethe institute is showing a collection of early German art.

ME: I do think it’s important to tell some of these historic back stories, especially when talking about how digital and new media arrived in its present state.

GF: This idea of balancing the most cutting-edge, with history, is always important to me.
The art world is finally paying attention to these pioneers. Computers were thought of as so differently back then.

ME: Sure, so much has changed. George, thank you for your time.

GF: Any time, Max, thank you.

Bonny Lhotka’s Digital Alchemy

In Art, Feature, Interview, News on March 14, 2011 at 4:39 pm

“Book Place” (phantogram)

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“Way back, when Walt Disney came out with the movies in theater…the first time I saw Tinkerbelle go up to the screen …I decided I wanted to do that” says Bonny Lhotka of one of the early experiences that inspired her as a child to grow up and become an artist.  Lhotka, who graduated in 1964 from Bradley University–having been schooled in printmaking and painting–did just that.  She became an artist, and has since gone on to exhibit her unique form of digital and mixed-media prints worldwide.

Lhotka’s art has been commissioned by and/or resides in the collection of several hundred patrons, including United Airlines, Lucent Technologies, Wells Fargo, Charles Schwab and The U.S. Department of State.

She is the winner of a Smithsonian/Computerworld Technology in the Arts Award, and in 1997 Lhotka organized Digital Atelier: A printmaking studio for the 21st Century at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, which included her being an artist-in-residence there for 21 days.

Lhotka has used her impressive wealth of talent and her pioneering skill set to inform others through speaking engagements, educational forums, in her prose and visual art , and recently published is her book Digital Alchemy: Printmaking Techniques for Fine Art, Photography and Mixed-Media.

Last year Lhotka exhibited at Walker Fine Art in a group show and this year will exhibit solo there in an exhibit entitled Horizons , and over the six months via email, post mail and phone conversation, she took the time to share her heart’s artistic passion—the pulse of her life’s work.

Digital Alchemy by Bonny Lahotka

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Bonny Lhotka’s Digital Alchemy

by Max Eternity

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Max Eternity (ME): Hi Bonny, thanks for taking the time to speak to me on behalf of The Huffington Post and AD MAG.

 

Bonny Lhotka (BL):  I’m glad to do it.  That’s a very nice magazine you have online.

 

ME:  I want to ask about your early beginnings as a traditional artist, then how you became a digital artist.  What inspired you to be an artist?

 

BL:  Way back, when Walt Disney came out with the movies in the theater.  The first time I saw Tinkerbelle go up to the screen and the image fell out of the brush, I decided I wanted to do that.  The other thing was a field trip to the art institute of Chicago.  I saw an exhibition of Seurat, Cezanne and Monet.  Seeing those original oils in person, I remember that to this day.  That luscious surface as opposed to what I had seen in a book.  I was just drawn to that.

 

My training in college was in printmaking and painting.  I did acrylic and collograph prints, and oil painting.  I worked like that through 1990.  Then in the Denver, the art market plummeted.  There were no sale, little interest. I decided I would give up my studio, or expand and create something beyond traditional media.  At that time HP [Hewlett Packard] had come out with the first color printer.  When I saw a print at a MacWorld convention in San Francisco,  I knew at that moment the direction I wanted to go.

 

At MacWorld I figured out what I needed to go that route; it was about 1992.

 

Had life been different,  I would have ended up being an accountant or going into medical research.  At one point I thought to be a speech therapist.  But it made more sense to stick to my training in fine art.

 

ME:  How did you go from there? What did you start out doing first?

BL:  I heard about a workshop that Dorothy Krause was giving called Beyond the Digital Print.  It was a workshop combining traditional printmaking with inkjet.  I met Dorothy and Karen Schminke.  The three of us from that day on began a collaboration to gain access to equipment and test it for fine art applications.

 

We have written hundreds of articles about the research.  Even today we continue to explore; getting feedback to artists and companies of what we’d like to see in the next generation of hardware.

 

I think what’s important is that none of us liked the straight digital print, so because we came from the traditional background we were missing that experience.  That’s what drove us to create all these new techniques of mixing traditional and digital.

 

“Party Friends”

 

ME:  In the past we have referred to artists who work in multiple mediums as multi-disciplined artists.  But a few years back I came up with the term TADAE, which stands for Traditional And Digital Artist Engineer, because it occurred to me that some artists weren’t just working in a variety of media, they had also become entrepreneurs, writers, programmers, engineers, inventors, editors, publishers, educators and the like.  You’re working on a book right now.  You’re also an inventor, and you’ve got your own line of products, called DASS.

 

BL:  I’m an inventor and I apply my creativity to get to where I want to go.  I see an end vision—working backwards to a starting point.  I draw on common everyday observation in material and experience to find a solution to create the image that I’m after.  When I wanted my digital prints to look like they were on plaster, I researched frescos, how they were made; the chemistry of it.  I applied that research with what I had in my kitchen, putting together the gelatin and calcium carbonate.  I found that any liquid I could convert to a gelatin state, I could lay [a print] on it and the image would move to the gelatin.  You could never do this with an inkjet.

 

That gelatin can be made with marble dust, sand, ground up gravel, and other things.

 

So it’s that treating the inkjet print on film as the plate.  That would be parallel to a traditional ink plate, which can be treated a variety of ways, making part of it scraped away to create one of a kind pieces of artwork.

 

ME:  But of course, as you probably know the art world can be sometimes be a very conservative place, often resisting change.  Have you experience with this?

 

BL:  I still think there’s a resistance today amongst collectors thinking of digital prints of something of value.

 

We had our first exhibit of digital prints in 1994 at Sandy Carson Gallery.  It was the most people she had ever had at an opening.  And when we did the event at the Smithsonian, people show up angry and hostile, saying that it was not art.  The curators didn’t know what to think.

 

ME: So, has this mentality changed at all?  What’s stopping collectors from taking digital prints as seriously as they should?

 

BL:  [sighs] The ease at which an artist can use the editioning process, and the lack of a guarantee, it’s just too easy to make them.  And I think that’s what has driven me to combine the hands-on, because the digital part of it is just a step to get to where I’m going.

 

ME:  Art forgeries are historically legendary.  There’s the real possibility of fakes, with oil paintings and other traditional media?

 

BE:  It’s a lot harder to fake an oil in quantity.

 

I have seen very few signed limited edition digital prints, and certainly photography is 98% of the market.  And photographers have never really limited what they did.  So fine art artists are fighting that paradigm set up by photographers.

 

Certainly, prior to digital imaging, artist could only integrate photography into collage or a transfer method that was very toxic, similar to what Rauschenberg did.  Artists were sampling and collaging from newspapers and magazines.

 

What I find very curious is that 5 years ago I had an an exhibit in Denver, to discover i had been voted the best experimental photographer in Denver.  And I was like okay, I’m a photographer?  That is hung around my neck that I’m a photographer, but i don’t know why, because I’m not a photographer.

 

I think it’s strange how the marketplace has to put a tag on someone.

 

ME:  So how do we work to remedy this?

 

BE:  When we first started i came up with the term unique edition.  That edition was an edition of a one-of-a-kind print that came from the same matrix of the computer.  And, I will say that with my cured ink flatbed printers, there is a difference how the artwork is perceived.  These prints are much more accepted by collectors.  They commission them.

 

ME:  But many fakes do exist with traditional media, so doesn’t it go back to trusting the dealer and the artist for authenticity?

 

BE:  Yes, that’s what it’s about.  You have to know who you’re buying from.

 

I’ve heard stories of traditional artist signing blank pieces of paper, later to be printed by whomever.

 

Me.  Yes, me too—specifically about Salvador Dali being one of the ones who was supposedly notorious for doing this. Okay…so, tell me about your new book.

 

BE: I’m writing a book named Digital Alchemy:  Techniques for Fine Art, Photography and Mixed-Media.  It’s going to be about all of the products and recipes I’ve made for creating digital art.

 

It’s strictly process; it will not tell people how to be artists.  I’m just giving people tools to go beyond that digital print.

 

“Blue Memories”

 

ME:  Anything else new and exciting happening?

 

BL:  A gallery in Denver, Walker Fine Art, will have an exhibition that I’m in, and that work will be new work with lasers–laser flatbed.  I’ve taken these transfer techniques, where i can get my digital image on wood or metal.  I sent that to the laser and it transfers that into a print. Also I’ve devolved a process of putting digital images on crystal colorless glass, which look like daguerreotype. There’s an example of those to be in my book.

 

ME:  You have some very informative tutorial podcasts on Youtube, many of which I’ve seen.  Great ideas, it’s very inspiring.

 

BL:  Taking really old photography to contemporary media, it’s really unique.  Every day I get up is a new dawn, and I never have a plan.  Something starts.

 

I’m a little like a canoe in a fast floating river.  When I hit a rock, I just go the other way.  My mother said I collect solutions for problems I don’t have.

 

That’s why [I’ve written] the book.  I’m giving solutions to other people.

 

ME:  That’s wonderful.  I enjoyed speaking with you.  Thanks again.

 

BL: Well, thank you for the interview.

 

 

 

Art and Technology Enrich a Community

In Art, Feature, Interview, News on January 28, 2011 at 6:47 pm

WACTC Director, Felton Cogell (Image: Max Eternity)

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Technology is all around, in abundance.  And some might even complain there too much technology at our avail.  As with a tsunami or hurricane which turns the positive benefits of water into a destructive force, what good are stores filled with pricey techno-tools if those who most need it can’t afford to buy it?

Digital literacy is not always de jour, because in the world of technology, you have to pay to play.  Computers and broadband access cost money, and for those on fixed incomes, very low-income or no income, participating online can sometimes seem next to impossible.

Some non-profit organizations are addressing this issue.

In a neighborhood close to San Francisco’s City Hall is the Western Addition Community Technology Center.  It’s a place of community devoted to using digital photography, art and technology to transform and heal the lives of young and old alike.

At WACTC one can learn how to build a resume, use computers to learn about genealogy, search online for jobs, edit digital photos, paint in Adobe Photoshop, troubleshoot computer problems and develop a host of other useful skills.

Felton Cogell is the center’s director, and in a recent group discussion, he and a few of the center’s clients shared their thoughts about the WACTC.

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The Western Addition Community Technology Center

by Max Eternity

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A photo by Felton Cogell

 

Max Eternity (ME):  So how did the center come about?

Felton Cogell (FC):  During the late 1990’s with President Clinton, he allocated so many dollars, because he felt there was going to be a digital divide.  Many states had money, so we got support from the feds, the state and the city to open the center.

ME:  How did you get involved—why?

I’ve been seeking out this type of work since the late 90’s.  I had worked as a network administrator, and when I realized how much I knew, I felt like this is what I wanted to do.  A friend who knew me thought I would be a good fit, but they had hired someone already.  So I tried to get the next position; taking a position as an instructor.  Then I got promoted, working with seniors—the elderly.  I realized then that everyone works at a different rate, in a different way.

ME:  So, tell me about your connection to technology and creativity.

FC:  I’ve been a photographer for 40 years.  I’ve always had that artistic edge in me.  I’ve never been school trained, but I’ve been painting for many years.  I’d been using Photoshop for several years—growing along with it.  So, I teach courses that I have a lot of interest in.

I also teach genealogy.

I’m doing the things I like to do.  It’s not work.  I’ve established some great relationships.  A lot of people have come here to learn.

ME:  How do you describe the digital divide?

It’s people who don’t have access to the digital world by having a computer at home that’s working, and having access to the internet.  They miss out in those two areas; not able to come home and practice. A lot of homework has to be done online.  So, that affects homework, because there’s not computers and broadband at home.

Today the digital divide affects mainly the poor, who can’t afford a computer and broadband. And what makes it even worse, is that there are [physical] community divides.

ME:  How are you clients benefiting from what you offer?

Some people have gotten better jobs, and they’ve gotten promotions if they’ve already had jobs. This particular community has a lot of crime; a lot of people who were dealing drugs got a second start here.  I have personally hired people from the community who had been prior incarcerated.   Not all have had problems with the law, but many have.

I’m finding people in the 50’s are struggling, because they don’t’ know the programs—Microsoft Office, et all.  And they are competing with high school graduates. This group is in a tough place, but with the 20 to 40 crowd, I’ve seen a lot of success.

A photo by Felton Cogell

A photo by Felton Cogell

 

WACTC Students Comment


Louvenia Williams says:

I’m 81. I was here when they built the building.  I’ve been here 8 or 9 years, first learning general software, then Photoshop.  I found that I loved it–that’s been my focus ever since.   Some of [my] the old family photographs, I’ve tried restoring.  Because they were in black and white, I’ve added color to a few of them.

Well, since I am retired, I feel like a family here. I look forward to coming to the center.  We have our picnics, field trips…we celebrate birthdays.

It keeps my mind active to be involved.  I walk to the center, so it’s good exercise.  It benefits me in many ways.

James Smith says:

I’m 75 years old.  I’ve been coming here since the first of the year.  I found out about it through one of my lodge members.    I need to learn about computers, and about taking pictures.  Every time I go somewhere people ask me if I’ve brought pictures back.  I never did, but now I’m trying to play catch-up to bring pictures back.

I’m meeting my expectations.  I enjoy the camaraderie of all the people here.  They’ve all been helpful.  Sometimes the students tend to help with the instructors.  It is beginning to be like a family.  When someone is missing, you miss them.  You get used to them being here.

I had been buying computers for my children.  I didn’t want to get involved myself, but I reluctantly decided to switch over.  I’m enjoying it too.

Doretha Albert says:

I’m 72.  I’ve been coming here since 2002.  I worked as a registered nurse for 36 years and at that time I had secretaries doing data input.  Once I returned, I knew nothing about computers. I knew nothing about email…or nothing.  One day I was at church and they announced they were opening a computer center, and I enrolled.  I came and learned how to do emails.  At the time we learned how to do copy and paste. We had different programs, like Publisher.  We learned how to make mailing envelops, and how to do business cards. The class did a newsletter. This was in the first year.

I enjoy working on computers, using Photoshop.  It’s my pride and joy.

For more information about the WACTC, contact Resource Manager, Melanee Hall @ 415 431 2206

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The WACTC blogspot, which has images of student’s work can be found here.  and a PDF document showing the WACTC February schedule of classes and events can be found here.

Art as a Freeing Experience

In Art, Feature, Interview on December 28, 2010 at 5:11 pm

“Holy Cow”

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“Allowing the creative process to uncover questions regarding my own true nature and my relationship to the world has become a freeing experience” is what Michael Welch says of his internal art-making methodology.  Welch has been involved in visual art in one form or another since childhood and he see art as a vital instrument—since the time of antiquity—that happens intuitively, perhaps even unconsciously; in a way that benefits the whole of society in positive lasting change.  It’s transformative, he believes.

In a recent SKYPE chat, Welch pondered his own body of work, the art world at large and humanity’s collective psychology.  This dynamic he relates directly to the life of birds–a subject he’s been drawing inspiration from of late–saying that “While people spend their whole lives struggling to find security in an increasingly insecure world, birds seem to live carefree embracing the moment not worrying what the future will bring.

Here’s what else he had to say…

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Michael Welch: Art as a Freeing Experience

An Interview with Max Eternity

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“Beyond Reason”

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Michael, I’d like to start by looking at what you state in the first sentence of your artist statement, when you talk about this: “Allowing the creative process to uncover questions regarding my own true nature and my relationship to the world has become a freeing experience. Through the recognition of my personal role as an artist, I have learned to trust in the varied and unpredictable ways my work manifests itself.” Could you explain further how the creative process frees up your relationship with the world?


I think that like anything else, if I look at my artwork, it has totally evolved over a period of time what’s a stating to happen for me, in the beginning it was hard for me to trust the process.  I used to use a lot of other people images, yet the more ai allowed myself to become very honest in my own process, I was more and more able to just let go of these crutches/bridges.  I find now that I just don’t need those bridges.  There’s this force, this creative energy, and to sit in that when I was younger was quite painful  there is this question that comes up:  Am I really an artist?”  What am I supposed to be doing here? What’s my next step, but  I’m starting to trust that process, that ground of who I am.  Art has been a target for me for that ground.

 

The beauty of digital art is that for me it’s done with pixels made for electronic media, yet now with all these great new printers, I can do these prints that are just gorgeous.  I can send my work out on the internet and yet I can make all these digital prints. For me it’s a medium.  I can sit in a coffee shop with a laptop and create and its finished work.  I can store thousands of prints on my computer, and all I need to do is go to a printer and print out my work.

 

What were you doing before digital?

 

I was doing graphic design and illustration, using traditional illustration tools—pastels, pen and ink, scratch board, acrylic, etc.; also using the computer as a tool, Adobe Illustrator.  When my daughter was born I didn’t have a lot of room, but I had a computer.  So, I started messing around with the paint tool in Photoshop and really fell in love with it.   Photoshop made it really cool, because I can mess around with colors, I can use curves.  I can work in huge detail if I want too.  I can blow a small thing up and use my whole computer screen, I could never do that when I was painting traditionally.  I have more options.

 

“Mockingbird 2”

 

I notice you edition 20 or less of each print that you make.  How did you arrive at that determination?

 

I think that, just to try to create value in certain pieces, if somebody was collecting they would know there were only 20 pieces.  With electronic media, they would know that they were buying a piece of fine art; distinguishing something that is publicly owned and something that has value because of its limited nature.

 

I could see it 2 different ways. There’s a part of me that it just goes out, and there’s value in that…the public domain.  Shepard Fairey is a perfect example of that.  The other is that at the same time, it is fine art.  There is value in the print itself, so it’s not any different than any type of print.  You limit it and by doing that, it creates value.  If people want to collect your work, you’re making this promise that…look, that’s it.  Anything that has value, part of that value is its limited nature.   Art has value, the value is intrinsic.

 

Elaborating on that, could you speak more to art’s role in society?


In the indigenous world, when things went bad in societies, art would come to the forefront.  A lot of times artists don’t even know why we’re doing it. I think again, that’s finding a ground, our central nature that we share with someone else.  A lot times artist create from that place, a we perspective.  The dancers in a tribe, the shaman—when there was a sickness put together a dance to share the feeling that the tribe may have had.  That came from the arts.  It doesn’t exclude the intellect, but it’s not just an intellectual process.

Where does this stuff come from? That’s a great question that people can’t answer, and I think that it’s great that people can’t answer it.  When people weren’t making money from art, a lot of important things were being said that were important for people to hear.

 

Commerce is fine, but greed…just the few people that have a lot of money have gained control over global politics.  When times are trying–like they are now– that voice comes out stronger.  That’s just one of the first places that these messages come from, in spite of commerce.

 

And could you talk about what you mean when you say: Although my skills have evolved since childhood, my communion with form and color has remained consistent and beyond explanation?

 

I’m just wondering as an artist if you can relate to this: I remember just the color of this green bench that my parents had in the backyard.  Just being a toddler, I remember that.  I remember these very tiny flowers that were orange, being immersed in the color.  I have never gone beyond that sense of mystery.

 

How is digital different or the same as traditional art—painting?

 

For me, it’s just another tool.  I don’t think it’s any different than when artists began to use photographs.   I think artists know that.  It’s just another medium, it’s just another tool.  It has its own characteristics.  I don’t think of digital art as being digital art, because for me it’s just a tool.  I still paint; I still do a lot of work on panel.  I still paint traditionally, because I appreciate both tools.

 

Michael, thanks for taking the time to speak with me.

 

These are excellent questions; just asking them kinda puts me in having to look at these things again.  I feel very appreciative of the questions you’ve asked.  You’ve made me think about these things again  There’s a lot of appreciation.

“Guardian”

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An Interesting Space

In Art, Feature, Interview on October 26, 2010 at 4:23 am

“Somewhere Near Bliss”

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In our latest AD MAG feature, contributing writer, Andrew Reach, conducts an oral history with digital art pioneer, Steve Sherrell.  An artist and educator, Sherrell is one of the digital art world’s standout creatives, bringing to the fore a wealth of knowledge about the technology and the people involved, whose influence has shaped  contemporary, new media and digital art.  And tracing his artistic roots back through the contemporary, to pre-war Modernism, he holds a firm belief that core truths put in motion at the Bauhaus school nearly 100 years ago, are alive and well today, saying of digital art:

“When I started working with that first Amiga, I realized that if Kandinsky were alive at that moment, he would have been a computer artist…in today’s world the computer is used for all sorts of permutations of visual art, but in reality the computer uses binary numbers to do everything…inherently it is Bauhaus, if you think about it…aesthetically, that is still an interesting space”

 

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An Interesting Space

Andrew Reach Interviews Steve Sherrell

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“Heart”

 

Andrew Reach (AR): Hello Steve. Welcome to the Interview.

 

Steve Sherrell (SS): Thank you, Andrew. It is my pleasure.

 

AR: Give us a little background about yourself. Where were you raised and could you give us some insight to what led you to decide to devote your life to the arts?

 

SS: I was born in Muncie Indiana, at the midpoint of the 20th century. At this point in time there was very little contemporary art in the United States, and what art there was a contemporary nature was being done in New York City. My father was a window trimmer for an upscale department store located in the small town of Muncie. The store was owned by the Ball family who also owned the Ball Corporation that made canning jars. They also founded Ball State University, which is also in Muncie. At that time windows were very important to department stores because there was a much greater pedestrian presence in towns and my father was regularly sent to New York to look at display windows.

 

My father was an artist also, so while he was in New York he took time to see the latest trends in art. This helped him as an artist and also helped the company because his display work was up to date. It also introduced me to the notion of ‘cool’ before it had reached my town through the media.

 

I grew up without much pressure and I really didn’t get a lot of training as an artist when I was young. The art that my father was doing was very contemporary and all around me.  I grew up with many books around the house about art but the local school system was rather backwater and didn’t really understand the type of art that I was looking at. I was looking at Modigliani and Picasso, Pollack and Pop when the other kids in my school were looking at, well honestly, not much of anything. You have to realize that out there in America in the 50s, even someone as traditional seeming as Reginald Marsh would be considered outrageously progressive. Someone like Jackson Pollock had not even been derided by Time magazine as “Jack the Dripper” yet.

 

Art was not common. I came to my seventh grade class with an abstract drawing and was told by my art teacher that “we don’t do those kind of things”

 

So from early on, I was a rebel. Art was not really important to me at that point so I concentrated on rampant curiosity and running wild, much to the chagrin of my parents. But in the late 60s my rebelliousness helped me, considering the cultural climate. In 1968, after I went to Woodstock, of course, I thought I’d take a drawing class at Ball State where I was enrolled at the time and while doing my second drawing I had an epiphany. I completely realized that I was an artist and that I would be the rest of my life.

 

Then it was just finding a place that fit. That place was the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I moved to Chicago in 1972 with my wife and my baby daughter and started attending classes in 1973. I finished my bachelor’s degree in 1977 in painting and drawing in my Masters degree in painting and drawing in 1978.

 

AR: Max Eternity, founder and publisher of Art Digital Magazine coined the acronym TADAE which stands for Traditional and Digital Artist Engineer. We see a shift where artists are embracing science and technology and expanding their arsenal of tools beyond the paint brush. You have a traditional artist background and have expanded from paintings and mixed media to digital photography and digital art. Could you fill in the blanks as to how this transformation happened?

 

SS: I remember talking with one of my teachers in the late 1960s about the potential for computers and the notion of design. At that point computers were only punch card systems that basically formed perfunctory math and business tasks. But my studies as an artist took precedence over my curiosity as a budding computer engineer and for 20 years I studied the art of painting and drawing while showing pretty extensively in the Chicago art scene.

 

I come from a background of hands-on designers who considered craftsmanship and old-school technical skills as a prerequisite to any kind of art. Things like being able to build something square or being able to join things together that look nice or being able to cut a line were of great importance. I spent a lot of time learning how to hand letter signs, for example. But I also spent a lot of time studying art history and looking at the physical way that art was made. I’ve always believed that art is a handmade entity ultimately, even digital art.

 

I was teaching painting and drawing in the late 1980s and the school had one Macintosh computer. I was fascinated with the computer although the fellow who controlled it was not very cooperative about me playing with it. It really didn’t matter because at that time I was trying to get a job in painting and drawing and it really didn’t seem to me that learning the computer was so important. In the early 1990s a very good friend of mine was studying printmaking at the University of Wisconsin. He had access to some very high-end computers and was very excited about the future of computers. We spent a day discussing the possibilities at the Art Institute of Chicago while walking around the collections. He convinced me that I should look into Amiga computers and I did. When my Dean told me that my future as a teacher would be greatly enhanced with computer experience, I started to get excited about the possibilities. I purchased an Amiga 1200 with a 60 meg hard drive and 1 MB of RAM and started working with Dpaint.

 

Amigas were amazing computers in those days.  They had spent much time developing their graphic capabilities and independent developers had developed very good graphics programs. DPaint, for example, had features in it that rival and exceed certain paint programs that are available today. The pictures that were created with DPaint were incredibly small, and I could fit eight to 10 of them on a floppy disk . This allowed me a flexibility of doing work that could be sent to places for entry into competitions for very little money and very little headache. This was long before the Internet was as versatile as it is today and long before the transferring of files was as easy as it is today. Scanner technology was expensive and touchy so I just made art completely with the computer without many filters or tricks. My work then was 640 X 480 interlaced.

 

So I started as a computer artist at a time when it was almost like being a child playing with a new toy. Considering the type of curiosity and creativity that I have, this was a good fit for me. Plus Amigas were almost impossible to destroy and were WYSIWYG, so I could play around with the computer and learn the way that computers worked without having to worry about hurting things or learning [Arggg] code. Shortly thereafter my Dean found out that I had been in some shows in Europe of computer art and asked me to teach graphic design. They gave me some money to buy a Mac and I learned how to use Photoshop, Illustrator and Pagemaker.

 

I became versed in Apple Computers and then learned how to use PCs.  I started with Photoshop 3 and a couple other programs and have worked ever since with a variety of different kinds of computers and software.

 

I developed one of the first computer art courses in the state of Illinois in the late 90s that I have taught ever since.  I’ve been making art on the computer for 20 years. I’m interested in all the possibilities of how you use a computer to make art, including printing, transfer methods, and just painting and drawing the output of the computer onto large format old-school art materials.

 

“By This River “

 

AR: Your work is of many varied themes, informed by many sources, especially art history, taking cues and making references to such varied sources as the Romanticism of a J.M. Turner Landscape, to the plasticity of Kandinksy to the dreamy transformations of the surrealists to name just a few. Could you expand on how you take so many disparate ingredients, mixed them all up in a big cauldron and create a wholly original Steve Sherrell?

 

SS: Originality is interesting question for an artist.  I’ve been looking and thinking about art my whole life and have lived through a time when the nature of art has evolved in very many ways.  For example I saw Robert Motherwell speak in the early 70s during the inception of of body art, Pop and Op, Performance and Fluxus and the dawning of conceptual art. Motherwell said at the time that objectivism had been solved by Bauhaus, the abstract expressionists had finished off subjectivism and the rest was Marcel Duchamp.  Considering that Motherwell was the person who brought the DADA papers into the New York art scene after they had been rescued from Germany I thought his observations were particularly insightful.  He said that the new artist would find a way to reconcile all these different ideas.

 

Coincidentally at this time I was studying with a New York artist named Jonathan Borofsky who was a conceptual artist that was starting to branch away from pure conceptualism and moving toward a sort of open approach to art making, where everything was allowed to happen freely. I was working on a large painting that was eventually shown in a large show at the Art Institute. He told me that the painting was great but he said there is much more to art than just creating things that the public would respond to. He told me that an artist should never hold back anything; that the new role of the artist was to be observer and creator without concerns for past work or current styles. So I started down the path of just doing whatever I felt like I should do regardless of the consequences.

 

At that time the gallery system demanded a signature style, so what I tried to do was work in groups or series so that if someone was interested in a certain type of work that I was doing I could pull together a show without much trouble. I adopted this idea 40 years ago and it has served me well ever since. This is now considered a postmodern stance but whatever the label, I have been doing it for a long time.

 

As for your observation about art history, that is interesting.  Many people today consider saying something looks like art or art history as a derogatory statement. But then when you look at their work most of the time it is stuff that I’ve seen many times in the past in an art context. For example one of my students has been gold leafing tools. Clive Barker did that in the 60s, Jeff Koons did it in the 80s, so originality is a treacherous subject.  I mentioned before that Motherwell said everything else was Duchamp. It seems to me that the reality of the situation is that there are certain artists you can be influenced by and certain artists you can’t be influenced by without wandering into the situation where people will say that you’re not original.

 

Honestly I don’t care if you see some Kandinsky in my work, how could an abstract artist not have Kandinsky in their work? I’m not ignorant of art history and I love it and my memory banks are full of it and I don’t care about influences, so for me it’s a joy.  If I could be a quarter as good as Picasso or Turner or Philip Guston or Gerhard Richter my life would be complete.

 

“Macgoofhaus”

 

AR: On your website you have seven different categories of digital work. One of the categories is a series of  beautiful fantastical portraits titled Cosmolina. For me they are reminiscent of Ed Paschke’s portraits, whose work first made me aware of the Chicago art movement of the Imagists. They are beautifully crafted with highly worked and densely populated symmetrical overlays of texture, fauna and pattern. What are these works about? Do they have a connection to the influence of the Chicago Imagists?

 

SS:  I’m glad you caught that. My mentors were Ray Yoshida and Whitney Halstead. Ray was also the teacher of Roger Brown, Jim Nutt, Christina Ramberg and many of the rest of the second-generation imagist artists who went by the moniker “Harry Who”.  Ed Paschke did not study with Ray, in fact when I was in school he was teaching at Northwestern University. At that time I worked at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and those guys were around all the time. I knew some of them well and knew some of them slightly but I knew their work and couldn’t help being influenced by it.  I used to hang around with Roger Brown’s brother, Greg. We were in a cooperative gallery together called West Hubbard Gallery that was part of the cooperative scene in the late 70s on Hubbard Street in Chicago. (I am currently with a co-op called 33 Collective in Bridgeport in Chicago at the Zhou B Center)

 

Chicago is a very large art scene and runs on its own rules. It’s also a tough art scene and many of the artists that leave the Chicago art scene for other places do really well. Chicago teaches them how to be tough and competitive and unafraid to be yourself. Jeff Koons also came from the scene. In fact we had Studios next door to each other in undergraduate school and were friends. He became friends with Ed Paschke and studied with him before going on to New York and to fame and fortune. Unfortunately pursuing the traditional imagist path became a losing proposition by the 80s. A friend of mine was in a three-person show with Roger Brown and Ed Paschke, but by that time imagism was fading and my friend did not achieve the fame of either of the two.

 

Cosmolina developed from a couple different ideas. One of the ideas is one that has been bantered around and involves itself with the nature of perfect human beauty. The other idea has to do with the notion of individual persona versus combining various aspects of different persona into a face. The girl that is in most of the pictures is named Candace Anderson and was a model that I used for my life drawing class for a few years. As you can see she is a very beautiful girl and I took some photographs of her face just to see what I could do with them. First off I divided her face down the center and made two faces, one with each side of her face repeated and reversed. These were two different faces completely although belonging to the same person. Since they say that beauty is symmetrical this seemed logical to me and it also gave me two different models that I could work from. I then became interested in overlays and how symmetrical overlays could be used in conjunction with the notion of beauty and particularly the notion of beauty in a human face. For many years I’ve been doing open-ended computer pieces that were never meant to be finished pieces in themselves but could serve as backgrounds, drop-ins and all sorts of other things when I needed something like that to embellish a piece. So I started dropping things over the top of the face and realized that it led to all different kinds of possibilities. The face could be extremely removed from a piece and still be there and that beauty could find its way through huge amounts of layers and still shine from below. So in a funny way these were imagist and in a funny way they weren’t because imagists were never concerned with beauty, except maybe the beauty of the surface of the painting. But by studying beauty one also can understand ugliness and understand the point where something that’s beautiful can carry with it many things that one would not traditionally associated with beauty.

 

Cosmolina also became the female Archetype. She became a sort of emblem of my love of people and their persona and my intrigue with the human face. She also served as a sort of muse; one that is related to the “V” of Thomas Pynchon’s novel of the same name.  Her beauty is ideal but also mechanized, a facsimile of a face or a robot face. Maybe the face of the computer muse.

 

So perhaps she became the muse for my love of the computer and it’s capabilities of creating worlds so complex and rich, so divergent and complete that some are drawn to completely immerse themselves in that reality while forgetting their place in the real reality.  Maybe Cosmolina is a metaphor for that thing that the computer draws us to look for in its hidden places, that thing we are all looking for and find hints of in everything we do.

 

I still, even after using the computer for 20 years, am finding new and unique ways to use the computer’s possibilities. It has both expanded my capabilities technologically and traditionally, with old school materials. It has made me a much better painter, made me much more productive, given me ways of both visualizing and creating very original art, while giving me outlets and promotional tools undreamed of as a child. It is a perfect art machine and a great medium.

 

 

AR: Being an Architect as well as an artist, an aspect that speaks to me personally in many of the works is a constructivist and architectural quality they have. Pieces like “MacGoofhaus”, “Structuro” and “Tower” are constructivist compositions of architectonic shapes and colors all seeming to defy gravity. Coined Goofypics, they are playful and inventive. You talked earlier that you learned early on the importance of craftsmanship and technical skills; being able to build something and make it square, cutting a straight line and  that comes through in these works. Could you elaborate more on the architectural connection and the idea of craftsmanship and how it plays into new digital paradigms?

 

SS: It’s interesting that you ask me this question.  Lately I’ve been looking at the art of Lazlo Maholy Nagy, a constructivist and teacher at the Bauhaus. My computer art grew out of my painting, and my painting ideas formulated my early experimentation with the computer as an art making tool. As a painter I never broke away from the notion of the rectangle as picture plane. I do not believe painting is dead. I was never really drawn to conceptual art and I’ve never been really drawn to deconstruction so constructivism is a logical place for me to be. Architecture is constructive by nature. I suppose there is deconstructive architecture but I think of deconstructed architecture as rubble.  I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of the varieties of the way that one can create space in a rectangle. And when I say create space I mean both 2-D and 3-D space as it’s perceived in a painted environment. In other words I start with the rectangle and I start to compose a spatial construction within it. I was doing that before I started working with the computer and it was a logical step considering the constraints that early computer art tools had.

 

Almost immediately, when I started working with that first Amiga, I realized that if Kandinsky were alive at that moment, he would have been a computer artist. In a sort of logical way the computer is an objective machine. In today’s world the computer is used for all sorts of permutations of visual art, but in reality the computer uses binary numbers to do everything. Inherently it is Bauhaus, if you think about it. Bauhaus was Architecture. So it is a hop-skip-jump from digital space to massive real world objects like buildings. They say we live in a media world, but I live in a world of architecture mixed with nature. Aesthetically, that is still an interesting space.

 

I also have a romantic side that manifests itself in other things that I do, so the other functions that a computer provides also interest me, but honestly as time goes by I’m more and more fascinated by the intellectual process that I used when I did my first computer paintings and become less and less interested in using scans and pre-existing imagery. Except for photography, which I see now as purely digital phenomena, I love to think of the computer as an art making device.

 

“Structuro”

 

AR: I’d like to probe a little bit into your teaching. You pioneered in computer art education with the computer art curriculum you developed in the 90s. What are the principles of your curriculum and could you tell us about your personal experience of teaching computer art?

 

SS: I teach at a junior college and we have a nice art department, but we have a great many students who come in from other disciplines to take our classes. We have strong set of art students but we also have many students who are interested in graphic design, web design and other areas of the applied arts. Some of the students who take my computer art courses are artistic in the traditional sense but some of the new type of students in the computer arts don’t take traditional art classes at all, but are very involved with Deviant-Art, graffiti and illustration. Many students feel intimidated by working on paper or canvas but don’t feel the same sorts of fears when working with the computer. In fact for many of the students it becomes an outlet for their creativity that art never provided them.

 

My curriculum starts out with three lessons that teach basic skills with the computer. The first is a painting and drawing assignment where I don’t allow the students to use any scanned images. The second assignment has to do with cutting and pasting so that they can learn techniques in Photoshop. The third lesson involves image composting and the fourth introduces a theme (nostalgia). Each of those lessons requires that they do three pictures, 8 x 10 inches at 300 dpi. After that they are just required to do a set number of pictures.

 

I’ve always believed that each artist is an individual and things that move an artist are the artist’s choice. But I also believe that young people are not very sophisticated when it comes to the arts and so I encourage them to look at computer art. However, in the classroom I talk about contemporary art and I show how contemporary art connects to what you can do with the computer. For example, next class I’m going to talk about Dada and show them the work of Francis Picabia, who pioneered the idea of image composting. My goal is to try to help them learn to make high-quality artwork while still operating in the world of digital images.

 

AR: Looking at your newest work in your “20 Newest Pieces” gallery page, in addition to your digital work you’re working in a wide range of media. There are acrylics on canvas, acrylics with collage, watercolor on paper, mixed on board and crayon on board. Do you work concurrently on different pieces, switching back and forth between digital and traditional? Do different ideas that you want to express intuitively want to be in one medium or another? It would be interesting to hear how that process works.

 

SS:  I have an exhibit opening at 33 Collective Gallery in Chicago in November that I’m thinking of titling “Unstable, new work by Steve Sherrell” Another title I was considering is “All over the Place” LOL.  I am not an artist with a signature style.

 

My answer to your question is: Whatever I feel like doing, I do. I do not confine myself to one thing, one medium or one type of art. I generally call myself a painter and digital artist. Right now I am working on two encaustic pieces done with crayon, a large acrylic painting (5 feet by 8 feet) and I am pricing out 2 large computer prints for my exhibit.

I am really interested in crossing back and forth between the possibilities of bringing digital things into the real world via traditional means. For example, I have been using transfer processes to place hand worked digital photography onto painted substrates. The process hides the fact that it was glued onto the surface so it has a kind of Trompe l’oile quality. Maybe like Trompe l’photograph… People cannot figure out what they are looking at.

 

I work fluently in oil, acrylic, encaustic, watercolor, tempera, collage, bricolage and various digital means. I am really less interested in printed digital giclee than I am in various left handed methods to bring stuff out of the box. So when I say I am going to have things printed, I may end up printing the large pieces with a color laser and work them onto a treated surface. I will decide when I get the itch.

 

AR: Again looking at the “20 Newest Pieces” gallery, I’m focusing on the digital work. Some of works are so painterly like “Heart” and “Pod”. They are as fluid and organic as any painting, drawing or watercolor could be. And then, compare these to another series of works like “Jewel” and “Somewhat near bliss” which feels purely ‘digital’. This diversity of technique, I think shows your versatility of the medium and reinforces your championing of craftsmanship. The painterly works are looser and freer than your earlier works. Could you tell us more about them?

 

SS: I remember when I first started working and printing with the computer. I had an early Hewlett-Packard printer. The drivers that were included on the Amiga were not very good so everything pretty much had to be set up by hand, including color matching.   I had to do about 200 prints and keep the logs of what the settings were so that I could print to match the colors on the screen.

 

I say this because in my early days working digitally everything I was doing I was making up.  It was sort of like being a child with a really complicated toy.  The first Amiga was a very computery computer. It didn’t really cross into other worlds very well. The highest resolution was 640×480 so detail wasn’t very easy to achieve.  When I started working with my first Macs and started scanning imagery I began to see the potential of detail and sensitivity that the computer had. Today that detail and sensitivity is obvious and completely manifest in video games and films. So as I started to see the sensitivity coming into the medium I decided that I would try to emulate various real-world situations (at least my real world) and started to try to use the computer to emulate painting, drawing and true collage.

 

It is not a complicated process to make a digital piece look like painting. The difficulty lies in understanding the difference between what a painting and a digital piece of work looks like. Another way of saying this is: paintings have their own logic and computer work has its own logic. What you have to do is try to bend the computer’s logic towards painting logic and then the bend painting logic towards computer logic. That seems complicated, I know, but it is a subtle but very important difference between the two mediums.

 

I was talking with a student who has been a photographer for a very long time. He took my class to learn to make versions of his portraits that look like paintings. He understands photography but does not know painting so he is a little frustrated because as he says “Painting on the computer is really just smearing stuff” I will have to figure out a way for him to see the difference. Perhaps I will take him down to the painting room.

 

“Jewel”

 

AR: The new works “Jewel” and “Somewhat near bliss” that I mentioned before, I characterized as purely digital because you comment on your ACM Siggraph page about them:

 

“I am attempting to use the computer as a pure medium with no tricks except the ones that are natural to the medium.”

 

These beautiful works feel like atomic waves and particles in flux as if energized by some hidden energy source. Could you tell us a little about these works and expand on your statement about computers as a pure medium?

 

 

SS: I was thinking when I completed “Somewhat near bliss” that bliss is a pure state, one that has to go clear down to the molecular level. All things in the universe are both possible and improbable. We come near to that perfection, but never really achieve it unless we are very, very lucky. I’ve been reading Deepok Chopra lately and have been contemplating the idea of source versus manifestation. It seems that source can be pure, because it does not need to really exist. It can just stay an idea, a possibility.

 

When you cook a very complicated dish, a curry or a pie, you leave behind a good amount of waste and clutter. You need to clean up afterwards. Then you eat the food and it always falls a little short of your hopes of what it could have been. Then it is gone, just a memory. When it was just a thought, an idea, it was perfect.

 

Painting is like that; dirty and complicated, falling a little short. It always disappoints on some level. It can send you on an inspiration high to the moon, but Mars still floats out there, waiting for the next attempt.

 

Inside the computer, there is a form of purity. It is an electrical, digital purity. It never spills out onto the floor. It does not contain grit or dirt. That world is different from our world. It is somewhat like the molecular level of bliss. But unlike bliss, which we can only imagine in our mind, the world inside the computer is visible. We can see it with our eyes, but it is only a flickering image. We can look, just to get a little peek, but then we move on and go about the business of reordering those things we can fix and living with the disappointment of those we have no control over. We can get “Somewhat near” bliss, but even the pure place of the digital, can never achieve it fully.

 

The thing that intrigues me the most is that the computer is really out of this world. The minute that you bring a real, scanned or photographed image in, you sort of corrupt something that is pure. Not to say that doing so is bad, just that a change occurs.

 

I have had about 25 real world exhibits in the last two years. I have been so busy making things to show that I haven’t been able to spend much time working on the digital stuff. I look forward to this winter, when everything is hibernating, to go deeply into the computer and make new things.

 

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Additional artwork can be found in the AD MAG Artist Galleries, and a full 3-year archive of AD MAG articles can be found here.  Visit Steve Sherrell’s website here.  Visit Andrew Reach’s website here.

 

Postmodern Modernist Generator

In Art, Commentary, News on September 21, 2010 at 3:10 pm

___________________________________________________________________________

 

Postmodern Modernist Generator

by Don Relyea

___________________________________________________________________________

The Postmodern Modernist Generator [PMG] is a creative programming tool I originally created in 2006. It explores automating an artistic design process in a lighthearted manner. The art generator was designed to systematically break down and simplify the design process for automation, with each resulting piece being uniquely different.

 

Although automating an artistic process through computer programming is actually pretty easy, it is, however, nearly an impossible task to replicate the human factor.  As artists are typically inspired by an array of indeterminate things–thinking organically and acting out of intuition, more than out of set parameters or processes.  Differences in how artists perceive their subject matter and the choices they make, while rendering their works, create endless controlled variations in output. Hence the best one can hope to do with an computer emulated artist process, is going to be an approximation of a set of potential artist creative paths that lead to a graphic result.

 

As I add logic to the decision algorithms, add chaos to the system and increase the set of systemic processes available to the emulated artist, the possible set of paths and subsequent results essentially reach infinite variations.  The PMG is not meant to replace the human touch, and by no means consistently generates better looking designs than a human can.  However it does generate good output fairly often; much faster than a real human artist can on their own.

For the purposes of this project I have simplified the process to a set style of abstract modernist forms and designs, for now, focusing on automating color choices, subject matter, layout, image manipulation and the abstraction process in the digital environment ,using mostly processes that a digital artist would most likely employ.

 

While the program generates abstract modernist looking output, the overall concept of creating an automated artist process is somewhat of a postmodern concept, hence the title “Postmodern Modernist Generator”.

 

PMG contains a limited artificial intelligence, which automates the color choices, layout, image manipulation, as well as the balance of abstraction vs. detail and titling.  It’s a process that takes about a second to complete.

 

Color choices are automated by arbitrarily referencing a color lookup table for color relationships that work. The color relationships are derived from sampling the most prominent colors, from a variety of sources. Historically significant artists works are sampled, like Calder, De Kooning and Matisse, with a good many samplings derived from Bauhaus Master and noted color theorist, Josef Albers.  Nature is also a good source for color relationships that work, and samples are taken from random images on the web.

 

Here’s the technical rundown.

 

The PMG algorithms generates malleable color schemes much the same way Adobe Kuler works;  plotting relationships on an internal color wheel.  This is applied to a rotational offset, which extracts a new set of rgb values with the same relationships. In this way color options are endless, but generally work well together.

After a color scheme has been chosen, the applet creates shaders from chosen colors. It then creates a 3d world of primitives and assigns them the shaders. This creates an arbitrary volumetric space to be abstracted and expands the color depth of the source image.

 

A 2d image is then extracted and run through a variety of systemic and procedural process for abstraction. Virtual layers are created, assigned a stacking order, and various levels of opacity are applied.  Then all layers are merged.

 

Lastly when the graphic processes are complete, the program assigns the work a title by combining a noun, an adjective and a random number attempting in futility to assign meaning to the work. While this is a trivial task to program, it is an important final step in the process of creating a modernist work.  Since in my view, modernism seeks to make sense out of the senseless; imposing meaning through art where otherwise there is none.

 

When AD MAG inquired about PMG, I found it an odd, serendipitous timing, because I had recently received several emails about the work from internet viewers asking a variety of questions; mostly around how it works and where the images are coming from. Some people were in disbelief that the images are generated on demand. The questions and interest in the project reminded me of what I had always wanted to do with the program; to make it completely autonomous.

 

Now, I’m setting the PMG free.

 

This project has had several incarnations over its life as an executable, a shockwave application, a Google gadget and a screensaver, and until being asked to write this essay, PMG was an application controlled by a user. The user was the decider. But now that is not the case. I have set it free from users. I have given the program the capacity to run autonomously and and through some nice advances in social networking integration, PMG can post its own output via email to its own blog, Facebook Tumblr , Twitter et all.

Adding self promotion to the process of creating a work makes sense. Artists are perpetual promoters. In order to make an autonomous artist simulation, it must be able to promote itself and trumpet its creations. .

 

The ability to connect a generative artwork to an array of social networks, give PMG a profile, allowing it to post on its own while I sleep, work, play with the kids or do whatever opens up a new world of possibilities and questions.

 

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Don Relyea is an artist, programmer, sound designer and inventor specializing in print making and information systems. Relyea experience extends through the video and interactive CD production, as well as multi-media content for traditional and digital.  He is particularly focused in the area of computational art; writing his own custom art software in C++ and Open GL. And he often uses his creative skills to weave cultural, social and political dimensions into his work.  Nature and mathematical forms are also common subjects.  Relyea’s artwork has been in exhibited internationally. In 2008, his politically charged “hair particle drawing” portrait of George Bush was simultaneously exhibited in Los Angeles and New York. Recently, Relyea’s video art series Generative Flowers has been installed outdoors in Downtown Dallas, in the Digital Grafitti Festival at Alys beach Florida, the W hotel in Seoul Korea and the International Free Exchange Zone in Incheon Korea.  Relyea is also an avid inventor with many patents pending. Relyea lives and works in Dallas Texas USA with his wife and three kids.

Kenneth Huff: Natural | Digital

In Art, Feature, Interview on August 31, 2010 at 7:39 am

“2001.1”

Having exhibited his artwork in more than 350 shows internationally, Kenneth Huff is one of the world’s most renowned digital creatives–redefining the word fabulous.  With an amassed portfolio of naturalistic permutations in prints, sculptures and time-based works, Huff explores organic forms found in the natural world—the ever present beauty in everyday surroundings.  Of his sumptuous signature style, he says “Organic structures harkens back to the main point of my work–patterns in nature.  Why I create is not about the technology, it’s about the image.”

Huff operates a website called Organik, and a blog named It Goes Boing. There, he documents a chronology of works created, also sharing insight into his process.  Reflecting on the intent of creative motivations, on the site he writes “From the first time a finger traces along the spiral of a seashell, our lives are permeated with the joy of discovery. Forms, patterns and experiences are stored in our memories and become part of the fundamental cognitive framework through which we identify and classify the world.”

Huff currently has an exhibition going at the Deep Space Center @ ARS Electronica and earlier this summer, he was commissioned by the Salina Arts and Humanities Commission to create projection-based installations in the downtown area of Salina, Kansas.  And in my interview with Huff, he spoke about the project—how it came about, and we also talked about his role as a professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

He shared with me his love for language and words, and his visionary aspiration for creative possibilities in the not-to-distant future.

“2005.1”

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Kenneth Huff

Natural | Digital

By Max Eternity

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Max Eternity (ME): More than a decade ago I became aware of the naturalistic aspects of the digital realm, but some find this a difficult concept to grasp?

Kenneth Huff (KH):  I don’t.  The way I’ve always approached my work, it’s inspired by nature. The medium is in service and to the intent of my work.  It’s never been an issue with my work.

ME: Your website is called Organik, spelled with a “k” on the end.  Why the name and the spelling, and what’s the significance of incorporating organic structures in your work?

KH:  the name was just a play on words.  I love language and words, and I was just being clever.  Organic structures harkens back to the main point of my work–patterns in nature.  Why I create is not about the technology, it’s about the image.  I just happen to use technology.  If 3-d wasn’t available, I’d be working in clay or glass to format the patterns.  I don’t’ know if time based would be possible, that’s different from any sort of traditional mediums.

ME:  Must art be beautiful?  Which of course, begs the question, how do you define beauty?

KH:  Obviously, it doesn’t need to be beautiful.  Beauty is one of those things that is defined by the viewer.  I find I’m inspired by things I find beautiful.  It’s something that the individual artist has to define themselves.

It’s not the way art is defined–it’s the perspective of the creator.  And ss far as the viewer is concerned, it’s something they have to decide.

At shows, I’ve seen how people react to my work.  It’s fascinating to me.  I’m creating the work for myself, and I share the work.  I don’t get caught up in broad sweeping segments about what art is.  I’m creating it.  I call myself an artist.  It’s been liberating to me.

“2007.5” Installation in Salinas, Kansas. 2010

ME:  Tell me about your current installation in Salinas, Kansas.

KH: it’s the installation happened earlier this summer.  The Arts and Humanities Committee there asked me to come in and do some site-specific installations in the downtown area.  The National Endowment for the Arts funded the project.  I was there for about a week, visited a bunch of sites and settled on two; one above a coffee shop, and the other in the museum where the Arts and Humanities commission offices were.  I prepared the window surfaces for the time based pieces of the site.  The museum piece is much larger image, separated for four projections.   It’s one thing to see my work on the computer screen, but it’s always important to me to see these things in context; to see it on site.

ME: In your role as a professor @ SCAD, beyond their college credits, what wisdom do you seek to impart to your students?

KH: The program that I teach is a visual effects program, oriented toward industry–film animation.  I want students to see that these tools they are using, to be used also for non-commercial purposes; to satisfy their own creative urges, not always in service to someone else’s intent.  I hope they get that from it.  I hope too that they always remember that whatever the medium, it should always be in service to artistic intent.  The medium shouldn’t stand in the way of the message or intent that they are trying to implement.

ME: What means art today, is it the same as it ever was, or has something fundamentally changed because of digital technology?

KH: Artist have always used whatever was available to them, and at times they probably wouldn’t consider it as art—when art was more integrated in day to day experiences.  I don’t think anything has changed.  Artists are simply using what technology is available to them. This has been going on for thousands of years. What ever is available, artists will find a way to use it creatively.  There’s no fundamental difference.

One thing I think is terrific though, is that with the new technology, artists are able to communicate their work to a much broader audience.  That to me is probably the biggest change.  But artists in general…artists take advantage of what’s available to them.

ME:  What is something that people should know about you that they might see in your work, but not understand?  In other words, how do you describe what you do, and how does that tie into you—the personality?

KH:  The biggest thing that I think that might be–the subtle thing—is that I’m driven by my curiosity of the world. And often times the pieces I create, almost always, are directly inspired by things I’ve seen or experience in the physical world.  It’s not always an obvious connection.  I do try to keep the work fairly ambiguous.

My work–it’s a combination of experience. But it’s not arbitrary; they do have a basis in my curiosity, my desire to discover new things.

ME: Can you take a moment and talk about your creative process?

KH: Typically, it starts from sketches, almost always–written about, beforehand.  I go through a pretty long development process ahead of time, doing technical experiments; determining if the tools I have available will work, or if I’ll have to develop my own tools.  With time based work, it takes anywhere from a month to 6 months.  I try to get to the rough outlines quickly, to prove that it’s going to work.  Then I start to define it, that process is very incremental; until it matches up with the initial idea that I had.  Sometimes I shelve an idea until technology catches up, or until my skills catch up.  If they are strong enough, I’ll go back to those ideas and implement them at a later date.

ME: What does the future hold for art and technology, well as far as you can say?  What’s your vision?

KH:  I’ve been working a lot recently on time-based work.  So, let me put it in terms in what I would like to see happen there.  I would like technology to come to the point where an entire place, a surrounding, where say, a massive wall could be used as a changeable display; not needing external projection, without obvious technology—seamlessly.  I can see that happening within the next ten years, where images can be more incorporated in day to day experiences.  Of course, this might create more art and more noise.  Artist show that any technology can be used to create something meaningful or to create noise.  I would like to see more and more sophisticated technologies that aid in incorporating art seamlessly.

ME:  Is there something I haven’t asked about that you’d like to share?

KH: I’ve been spending most of the summer creating new time based works.  Now I’m starting to show the pieces on Vimeo, so that people can get a better sense of the time based work, without being there in person.  That’s the next thing, rolling out more of my work on Vimeo, it’s a universal platform.

“2002.11b”

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Additional artwork can be found in the AD MAG Artist Galleries, and a full 3-year archive of AD MAG articles can be found here.  Visit Kenneth Huff’s website here–his blog here.

Homage: Contemporary Art in Digital Media

In Art, Commentary, News on August 28, 2010 at 7:48 pm

“Oak Tree” by Kerry Mitchell

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H O M A G E

Contemporary Art in Digital Media

by Joe Nalven and Jim Respress
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“The Sanction of the Cloth” by Liz Lopes

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.

African Digital Art

In Art, Feature, Interview on August 4, 2010 at 1:18 pm

“Attack of Jepchumba”

As wave after wave of new technological innovations continue to wash over the world, I’ve become aware of both the intended consequences of access to digital tools, as well as those ramifications which might come as a surprise.  Earlier this year I wrote an article entitled “Electronic Apartheid” which spoke to some of these unintended consequences, where in the piece I quoted one of the world’s most venerated elders, Nelson Mandela as saying “In the twenty-first century, the capacity to communicate will almost certainly be a key human right. Eliminating the distinction between the information-rich and information-poor is also critical to eliminating economic and other inequalities between North and South, and to improve the life of all humanity.”

20 years ago, who would have though the “capacity to communicate” as being a key human right?  And yet, it makes perfect sense because also, in writing that article, I discovered that there is a direct correlation between access to digital technology and high school graduation rates; as outlined in the research of University of California professor–Robert Fairlie.

Someone else who’s hip to all this, and dedicated to do something about it, is Jepchumba, the founder of African Digital Art—an online collective of digital artists and enthusiasts.  And last month, while the World Cup was in full swing in South Africa, Jepchumba and I had a roving email exchange as she made the rounds in her native land.

She’s a spunky young Kenyan living in Chicago, creating digital art and inspiring others to do the same.  And here’s what she had to say.

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African Digital Art: Jepchumba’s Vision

by Max Eternity

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“Young man”

***

Max Eternity (ME): Jepchumba, hello and welcome to the interview.

Jepchumba (J): Thanks for having me. Thanks for the interview.

ME:  You are the founder of African Digital Art.  Talk about that–how did it come about?

J:  Yes I am the founder of African Digital Art, but I am first and foremost an African digital artist. African Digital Art was created for people like me who are interested in pursuing a career or passion for anything that has to do with creativity and technology. African Digital Art came out of a need for more visibility of Africa’s talent in the digital media industry.

While I was pursuing my master’s in Digital Media from London Metropolitan University in the UK, I was flabbergasted by the lack of knowledge and awareness of the digital media arena in Africa. Due to the lack of resources and access to ICT and a host of other issues in Africa it seemed as though we were once again underestimated, almost counted out.  So African Digital Art really came about to trumpet the incredible talent and creativity that was flowing through the continent. Even though we still have a long way to go as far as the challenges that Africa has in terms of technology and development, we still have a lot to offer. Africa has a long rich and cultural tradition in the visual arts, so it was only natural for it to move into the digital arena.

ME:  You’ve got all these different skills, creating web design, digital paintings, animation and film.  That’s a lot going on–how do you manage?

J:  Ha. That is a great question. During my studies for my Masters in Digital Media I wanted to have a comprehensive education around the whole industry. I was really interested in the project management aspect of producing digital projects but I was determined to also have the skill behind it. Let’s just say I spent many hours online reading and mulling over tutorials trying to get my hands on anything that I could, like I mention on my website: I DREAM IN DIGITAL

ME:  I was just looking at your “Be Water” video.  I love the color and graphics.  It’s a great message too.  What inspired that video–why did you create it?

J: The “Be Water” video was a little project I did to learn Kinetic Typography. I have been fascinated with typography and graphic elements, and at the time I was doing my best to get exposed in using motion with graphic design.

ME: There are a couple of images in black and white that you created that caught my attention.  Tell me about “Rainman” and “Sky Jedi.”

J:  Wow! “Rainman” and “Sky Jedi” were really born out of a course I took at Mount Holyoke College, where I did my undergraduate studies. I took a course on Black Masculinity that really transformed the way I understood gender issues. Mount Holyoke College is an all women’s college; actually the first women’s college in the United States, and I had spent an extensive amount of time studying the place of thought in issues such as gender, sexuality, equality, individuality and political expression. I felt as though I had spent so much time understanding feminist issues that I needed to dedicate some time in understanding the masculine side. Those pieces were really inspired by a book I read in that masculinity class called Native Son by Richard Wright, the controversial view of the plight and struggle of the African American man.

“Sky Jedi”

“Rainman”

ME: How do you see digital technology changing life in Africa?  Is it having a noticeable effect?

J: Digital Technology is transforming the way the world looks at Africa. Due to increased access in technology many Africans today have the opportunity to really speak for themselves. For a long, long time, the world has seen a very narrow view of Africa; a continent that is plagued by hunger, disease, strife and suffering. Those narrow lenses are now widened with accesses to technology. More and more Africans are gaining accesses to devices that allow them to practice their ingenuity.

There are tech companies such as Ushahidi, Appfrica and Frontline SMS that are changing the way the world experiences technology. Africans are using their mobile devices to surf the web, communicate with their family and the globe, and also generate income. Africans are using their computer to design their cities, their homes and express themselves. If you want to see a noticeable effect start by looking at africandigitalart.com you can see a slice of what I am taking about right then and there.

ME: Is African Digital Art engaged in the World Cup in any way, like selling art posters observing the World Cup taking place right now on the African continent?

J: African Digital Art network isn’t actually selling posters but you are completely right that there is an opportunity to blend visual arts with commercial opportunity. This is the next phase that ADA is embarking on. One thing that I believe strongly is that creativity has the potential to drive and influence an economy.

ME: Is there something else of interest that we need to be aware of.

J: I am currently traveling through Africa speaking with designers, architects, advertisers, students, professors and enthusiasts who are in the digital media industry on the best way to push forward and encourage economic success in the region. Countries such as South Africa, Kenya and Egypt are already reaping huge benefits by having professionally trained artists in the digital media industry who are taking in massive animation, film, web design projects. Africa has the potential to lead in the design industry and we can continue to influence how the world experiences and understands art and design like we have for centuries.

ME: Jepchumba, thanks for taking the time to speak with me.

J: I am completely honored. Thank you for taking the time to spend these past few weeks over this interview. I have been traveling throughout the continent and at times communication wasn’t the best on my part. Thank you so much for taking an interest in the work that I do as well as the African Digital Art Network.

“Boy”

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To learn more about Jepchumba and African Digital Art, click here.  A full 3-year archive of AD MAG articles and interviews can be found here

Techno Meditations

In Art, Commentary on July 18, 2010 at 9:38 pm

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Techno Meditations

b y   A n d r e w R e a c h

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“Art making leaves tangible results, imprinted in the mind, heart and soul…continuing in the tradition of the earliest shaman healers”

– Kathleen Kern-Pilch, Art Therapist


"Beginnings and Endings"
***

The Digital Age certainly seems to provide a path to higher learning, but can technology serve as a gateway, fusing spirituality with artistic enlightenment?

I volunteer myself as a case study, demonstrating how spiritual engagement can merge with digital technology, to create a vibrant, conceptual platform for art.

Having had a long career as an architect with one of America’s most notable firms, HOK in Miami, I started using digital tools for visual art after a spine disease forced me to stop practicing in the field.

As a creative person, having no other outlet at that time, I found myself restless and frustrated.

The pain from my spine took control of me both emotionally and physically. Then, at the urging of Bruce Baumwoll, my life companion, I began to learn Adobe Photoshop; using the software program to make greeting cards, employing images from Bruce’s collection of vintage ephemera.

I quickly took to Photoshop, having a built in advantage because of my experience using computers in architecture. The creation of these cards were a transition to what would become—making original digital art from scratch.

From the basic knowledge of Photoshop that I had learned, I was surprised with the results of my first venture into creating something visual; not from cutouts of a magazine but from the ingredients of my imagination. The need to create was so strong. My mind went into overdrive.

Prior to my disability, I considered myself an architect; practicing a visual art form separate from the sphere of the other visual arts. My artistic abilities were always in service to the making of buildings. Now I found myself creating art on a computer program as if the works of art had been inside me all along, waiting for the day that technology would come around to realize them.

“De Rerum Natura”

Thinking back, I remember being exposed to modern art as a child, and during my college years I studied both architecture and art history. While at Pratt Institute, I also took a course on Islamic art, which began to open my mind to cultural aesthetics beyond what was familiar in my Western existence.

Probing further, I began to learn more about how other civilizations, both Eastern and Western, integrated art into their societies. And this gave me a new, more inclusive, dynamic outlook when thinking about grand creative constructs.

Unsurprisingly, the “total art” manifesto and practices of the Bauhaus school ended up becoming the greatest influence on me as a designer. For it was through studying the Bauhaus, how I came to fully realize that architecture and visual art could be married as one.

I was fortunate to have had such a myriad of educational experiences, because even though my Photoshop skills were rudimentary in the early days, part of me felt fully prepared to paint, with my resulting first piece being a color intense abstraction closely resembling a vertebra.

“Vertebrae Works”

Like each of early works that followed revealed a hidden physical and psychological drama playing out in my body.

The richness of the imagery that sprang forth with a limited Photoshop repertoire taught me that more important than whatever tool, it is the imagination which is foremost—being the source of all creativity. However tools do matter, and transitioning from a place of crushing defeat as a result of my limited physical abilities, with Photoshop I began to feel like an explorer ready to take on the unknown. In the spirit of discovery I began to investigate aspects in my art that would give me a way out of my physical self—my pain.

Yet to charter new territory, every explorer needs tools and/or a vessel. Photoshop would be mine.

With conventional desktop printing the maximum size is 8 ½ x 11. This worked for a short while. However Bruce made the observation that I could benefit from having the artwork rendered at a larger size, and we subsequently invested in a large-format digital printer. It didn’t take long before my growing portfolio was printed and pinned up around the house, and finally I could experience the results of my imagination for the first time as I had envisioned the work from conception.

Imagination and technology were beginning to reach a critical mass for me, and revisiting earlier studies I recalled how the whirling dervishes in Islam dance themselves into a trance, seeking spiritual bliss. I also remembered how Tibetan monks make intricate sand Mandalas, only to destroy them shortly thereafter, emphasizing humanity’s transitory nature.

“Getting Up”

And so I began making spinning works and Mandalas in my own digital way.

Using imagination and technology, I cleared a space within my consciousness to channel in a spirituality that became mesmerizing. In finding myself creating virtual circles, I realized that my own life had come full circle. Like the whirling Dervishes and Tibetan monks, I was using imagination and design to connect the ethereal to the real—the physical to the spiritual.

The mechanical part of making the art–clicking on buttons, inputting values, moving the mouse–often goes into the periphery of my consciousness while working, allowing me to feel like a child again; curious, vibrant and full of life.  In art-making, the pain that is always with me temporarily recedes to the background, and for moments I am lifted from physical restraint to unlimited spiritual potentiality.

My body of work requires multiple aspects—technology, intellect and imagination. When all of these elements come together in just the right way, I feel an indescribable sense of well being.

I’m grateful to be living in the digital age with technology facilitating my artistic reinvention, helping me cope with my disability and allowing my imagination to see the light of day; giving me a gateway to learn, grow and inspire.

Incorporating the archetypal circle form, today I’m continuing my techno meditation; an artistic odyssey that began 5 years ago. For I’ve discovered that with passion, vision and intelligence, digital technology can provide a potent platform to spiritual liberation and enlightenment.

“Navigator of the Never Never”

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About Andrew Reach:

Andrew Reach, architect-artist (b.1961), spent his formative years in Miami. From an early age he had an appreciation of art, graphic design and architecture and enjoyed drawing and sketching as well.  Decades later, Andrew’s work has been exhibited in solo and international juried exhibitions in Miami, New York, Cleveland, San Francisco, New Orleans, Chicago, Washington DC and Baltimore .

On his way to becoming an architect, Reach studied at New York’s Pratt Institute of Art & Design.  And at various points in his architectural career, he worked with such notables as Yann Weymouth and Harold Zellman.

Reach was part of a small team of HOK architects responsible for building the Frost Art Museum in Miami, also having been deeply involved in the restoration with Harold Zellman of a couple of houses by Lloyd Wright; son to Frank Lloyd Wright.  Andrew and life companion, Bruce, now reside in Cleveland Ohio.