The hot debate over hand crafted vs. digitally rendered art work has been kicking around for the last several years, and with good reason. Artists such as the talented t;a href=”http://www.jeremydower.com”>Jeremy Dower have seen to it that this fine line has been blurred to almost unrecognizable obscurity. With an impressive dexterity in many mediums, the Australian creative takes a moment to talk with Hi Fructose as Nathan Spoor delves into the inner workings of such a rich and colorful palette.
So Jeremy, do tell us a little about your self. Where do you live currently and where did you grow up?
Currently I’m living in Melbourne, which is in the south east of Australia. Prior to that I spent a few years in Tokyo.
I grew up in a small rural town, in Australia. I spent a lot of my child hood playing video games on a Commodore 64, building spacecraft with Legos, riding BMX, collecting He-men, catching lizards, playing war games in the woods, and skateboarding.
How has being an international artist affected your work or your view of the fine art world and its accessibility?
It has taken me a few years to figure out exactly what I want to make, and to understand my personal innate style. I am unsure where I fit into the art world. I think perhaps that my work occupies a grey area, but I don’t think it’s helpful to think about that too much. It’s more important for me to just concentrate on doing what I do.
Now, I’d become acquainted with your work as a hand-rendered painter, but recently your public work has seemed to lean more toward your being more of a digital painter. What do you credit this crossover to, and how has this affected your work or working style?
Well the truth is I’ve always painted in digital media. It’s not a recent development.
Occasionally I paint on canvas, and sometimes I sketch with acrylics on paper, but the core of my art practice has always been painting directly into a digital environment. These days I’m much more interested in digital media than traditional, both aesthetically and intellectually.
Before working as a fine artist, I used to work in the computer games industry as a 2D artist. I started off with games for the Gameboy Color… (which now seems ancient compared to the current consoles on the market) and that’s where I acquired the skills to paint with computers.
Being that we’re addressing the physical vs. digital art question, how do you feel that the computer generated painting stacks up to your high quality handcrafted work?
I’m glad that you asked that question, because I think there is a lot of confusion and misinformation about digital painting. And I have found that this lack of understanding has created a lot of prejudice against digital media, especially in the Pop Surrealist / Low Brow, etc scene.
The thing that bothers me the most is the idea people have that digital painting is ‘computer generated’. In fact the process is every bit as ‘hand crafted’ as painting with oils or acrylic. There are no magic plug-ins which auto generate my paintings… It’s very different to using video synthesizers or 3d applications (though that’s not to say either of these are less valid).
Basically The way the digital painting process works is like this; you have a tablet, like a ‘Wacom’ tablet for example, and a pen, the lines you draw on the tablet are transferred to the screen in real time, directly into the software. The only real difference is the contrast between the tactile physicality and limitations of real paint vs. virtual plasticity and flexibility of pixels, (and the physicality of the finished product.) As a result the images tend to be aesthetically different, but only as much as the difference between watercolors and oil paints for example.
There is also an idea that digital printing is artless, that all you have to do is hit a button to knock out a bunch of soulless ‘copies’. The truth is very different, digital printing is every bit a craft as screen-printing, or lithography, etc and requires high levels of technical expertise. There are plenty of places that will make bulk standard dodgy prints, on poor quality stock. However, there are only a hand-full of dedicated art quality printers in the world at the present moment. From my experience the difference in quality is amazing, and shouldn’t be under estimated. A really good print, at a decent scale, with a deep colour gamut, and generous ink coverage can have just as much physical impact as any canvas or analog photographic print. Recently I have discovered ‘Pharos Editions’, a print house here in Australia who are really impressive. I think in the future, as the Internet becomes the dominant form of popular culture all kinds of digital art, and digital prints will be as natural and accepted as photography and photographic prints are today.
Ultimately I think what is most important is the imagery itself. It shouldn’t matter if it takes an instant or several years to create an image. I think people often tend to fetishize the craft of an object, as if the more of an artists life is sacrificed on a single artwork the more valuable that thing is (which seems masochistic to me). I think this is especially true in the Pop Surrealist or Low Brow scene.
Although they are now becoming absorbed along with Street Art by the traditional art institutions and auction houses these movements grew up outside the conventional high end art market to serve a community of people who felt alienated, and even intimidated by the traditional art world. I suspect that these movements suffer from an inferiority complex, and I guess that some of these artists, gallerists and audiences feel that in order for an artist to be successful he or she needs fit the traditional and antiquated model of the artist as a tortured genius, and master of painterly illusion. Ironically this is something which high art outgrew more half a century ago…
Your work seems to have a great narrative quality to it, almost as if it’s following the antics of several select characters from another world or dimension. Could you tell us a little about what these are and what they mean to you?
I try to avoid literal narrative wherever possible. I find that the work quickly becomes too simplistic, prescriptive, and one-dimensional. The audience will naturally invent a narrative, and that’s fine, I enjoy hearing what people imagine, but I definitely don’t think about narrative while I’m working.
What I am really interested in is the process of creation. For me, painting characters is about creating life, in an animistic sense. Traditionally in modern popular culture characters are a means to an end, created in order to act out stories and fantasies, but for me the really exciting moment is seeing the thing come to life, the first spark, like Frankenstein’s monster…
Often the creatures look malformed or premature, often the signs of life and facial expressions are reduced to the bare essentials, so that you have to look hard to see if the thing is dead, or sleeping, or just an inanimate model. I like that ambiguity, and sometimes the result can be uncanny. A perfect example of this is the ‘Death Koala’ image.
Another way to look at the process is like this; as we go through lives our subconscious accumulates all kinds of images, particularly from popular culture. I like to think that the process of painting is like reaching into this trash heap or compost of memories and reforming the sludge like clay, into new life. Maybe that is a kind of narrative.
Do you address your work as a series, individual characters, stories, projects or is it as simple as just enjoying the creative process?
I usually conceive the ideas as a series based around a particular concept, I often get excited and have a vision in my mind of a whole exhibition based on the theme, but more often than not I end up making just a few pieces before getting carried away with the next idea, but that’s something I’d like to concentrate on more in the future.
You’ve actually just set up a site for your work, even though you’ve been honing your craft for a good bit. How has joining the online world helped you view your work and is there a context that you prefer to view your work in?
This is the third incarnation of the website. It has been down for more than six months, I had a change of direction a while back. I pulled down the old site, and have only just produced enough new work to fill the new site. (So if you haven’t visited for a while go there now! It’s all fresh and new…)
To me digital art is really native the Internet. You don’t have to look far to see oceans of digitally created fantasy art, fan art and anime characters online. I gained a reputation for my work online, rather than on the street or in galleries, but my goal is to make something unique with these new techniques and aesthetics and to take this work into the gallery context as well.
You’re not just a 2D artist, also being into motion graphics, music and other avenues. Tell us a little about your other projects or involvements.
After I graduated from art school I became more interested in alternative comics like “Frank”. I turned my back on visual art and made music instead (which I felt was a much less elitist medium). I started making music in the mid nineties when rave culture was going bananas, but I didn’t get really serious about it until a few years later. At that time I was part of a scene of electronic music, which was making a transition from ‘chill-out room’ to pubs and bars and other more casual venues, playing alongside post-rock bands etc. I used to gig with Architecture in Helsinki often. I was really influenced by mouse on mars, Autechre, Bochum Welt, Dr Rockit, SND, and Thomas Brinkman to name a few.
These days music is more of a hobby. Late last year I did a gig for fun here in Melbourne. I played Hawaiian Lap-steel, accompanied by friends playing electronic drum triggers, and a faux midi controller synthesizer sax, with pre-sequenced bass and pads and field recordings of Thai beaches and motorcycles. It was something like a cross between the ‘twin peaks’ soundtrack and the band of aliens from the Star Wars cantina…
Sculpture is a new thing for me. It is something I really enjoy, and plan to do a lot more of in the future. I am working on a series of life size models of toy weapons (axes, maces, swords, etc) in balsa wood.
And filmmaking is another recent pursuit. It’s something I’ve always aspired to do, but until now I’ve not had all the necessary equipment and skills. Last year I was invited by James Cecil to make a make a music video for the debut EP of his new group ‘Super Melody’. The reference I was given was ‘Suspiria’ a 1970’s Italian horror film by Dario Argento (which is amazing). I really enjoyed the process, and being in the directors seat… I did the animation myself using the puppet tool in After Effects.
I am very happy with the result. You can watch it here.
What do you have coming up on the creative horizon and where can one see more of your work in person?
On the 9th and 10th of April I was in Berlin for the Pictoplasma conference, where I was asked to give a talk about my work, which I’m very excited about. I went to Pictoplasma a few years ago and that was a fantastic experience. Beside artists lectures they also screen a large program of new animations, which are always very good.
Later this year I’m planning to do a show at “The Lamington Drive” Gallery here in Melbourne, who will be in a new gallery space by then. Date TBA.
There is talk of a show in London and another in Korea later this year, but the details are still unconfirmed.
I will be heading to the U.S. personally in April 2011, for a solo show at Bold Hype Gallery, NYC. We are also considering touring the show to California.