Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Technology for art's sake

Brad Howarth
July 18, 2006

John Young, artist, paints on canvas from computer generated images.

John Young is wrestling with a question that has perplexed artists since the dawn of the computer age: does better technology improve art?

The process of creating art with a brush, paints and canvas has remained unchanged for the best part of a millennium. The same cannot be said of the digital realm, where leaps in processor power, graphics capabilities and software manipulation techniques are opening possibilities for artists that would have been difficult to imagine just 20 years ago.

Mr Young is a Chinese-born Australian artist whose digitally created work has won acclaim around the world. Working in his studio in the inner-Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn, Mr Young uses technology as a means of making his art contemporaneous to the times.

"I certainly see the difference between people working with digital media five years ago, where they were really just illustrating some sort of anxious future, as opposed to a more sophisticated form of really dealing with technology," Mr Young says.

His work is created on an Apple GF5 dual-core computer by using Adobe Photoshop to filter and recompose still images until he has achieved a desired look and feel. They are then printed in colour and a team of artists work in collaboration with Mr Young to translate his vision via brush and oil paint on to canvas. He sees himself as a composer, much in the same vein as the US-based minimalist music composer Philip Glass.

"The era of that human expressive gesture - of the mark on the canvas, or the authentic mark - has gone from authenticity to kitsch to a decretive commodity now," Mr Young says. The public has responded well to his approach, with Mr Young commanding sales of between $20,000 and $70,000 for his work.

He believes the role of software in art is only going to grow in importance, as almost any image we view today, be it in print or on television, is mediated and filtered through software in some form. This turns our vision into what he describes as the "fortress eyeball".

"And in a way, it's very comfortable, which is very different from the coarseness of corporeal vision, or experience that is not in the virtual realm," Mr Young says. "It is turning our expectations about what we see very radically. These sentiments are automatically embodied (in my art) because they have gone through software.

"The whole concept of post-modernism was really about the impact of information technology on the world. The framework has always been there, but the intervention of technology into our lives in the most physical way didn't really start until we had the home computer and we could feel that everyone could use this as a drawing tool.

"I wouldn't have used it (technology) beforehand because I really feel that my art is there to describe the times, it's not there to run ahead of the times."

Mr Young started in the art world in the 1980s, working in the field of appropriation art, taking images from art book plates and using them in his own work. It was the advent of digital imaging and photography in the mid-1990s that revolutionised his creative realm.

"All of a sudden my library of images went from several hundred to tens of thousands, which I could capture on my own digital camera, CD ROMs or the internet," Mr Young says. "The actual notion of choice in imagery went exponential in the 1990s."

Changing technology has also increased the possibilities for what Mr Young can do on the computer. Processor power now means he can take hundreds of individual frames from video footage and process them through Photoshop filters in batches, giving him hundreds of images to work with.

He will exhibit at Sydney's Sherman Gallery from late July.


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