The internet might have thrown up its very own forms of art but it is not just designated digital artists who are now taking advantage of computer technology.
A number of professional painters, sculptors, illustrators and print makers are making art that includes
computer technology in some part of their creative process. The work does not always look digital, so the paintbrush and chisel are not doomed yet. But there is little doubt that computers are now a valuable assistant for even the most traditional of disciplines.
Yesterday saw the launch of Artfutures, an exhibition, held at the Barbican Centre in central London. The show is the work of Contemporary Art Society (CAS) and Hewlett-Packard. It features more than 1,000 new works from a variety of different artists. The event raises money for donations to museums and galleries.
ARTfutures features the e-magination exhibition, showing how British artists and designers have been creative with new technology
One of the artists is David Austen, a professional painter who has had solo shows in London, Los Angeles and
Amsterdam. Hewlett Packard loaned Austen an HP Colour LaserJet 8550 a week before the show. Austen was asked to produce work that could be printed on it. He handpainted five separate prints in editions of 200.
In return for the loan, HP gets an extra avenue to publicise its wares (the Barbican is a brief walk from the City of London) and some extensive product testing from the artists. As Austen says: "When artists are given stuff like this they think 'how can I break it? How can I do things wrong?' " But the HP in the corner of his
studio is still working.
Austen says that the main attraction to working digitally is speed. He says that he has to stop himself from
becoming too fussy, but he can manipulate the prints much quicker than he can using traditional methods.
"On the one hand you can print out as many as you like and they are cheap," says Austen. "But that's offset by the fact that they are almost unsaleable."
The other main problem is that they are not as stable as other methods of printing. They don't last as long. But "I think a lot of artists are interested in making longer editions that can be spread around and owned by the many". In the case of ArtFutures, Austen's prints will be given away. His fee comes from Hewlett-Packard.
Although digital technology allows digital works to be produced in vast quantities, not all digital artists are
using computers to produce unlimited editions of their work.
Penelope Wakeham (www.Penelope.wakeham.btinternet.co.uk ), a Winchester-based painter, has been using computer technology for years. However, her prints are unique and cannot be reproduced exactly.
Wakeham paints not with a brush and canvas but with a mouse and a computer screen - usually using a
package such as PhotoShop. She prints out her paintings in the usual way, but that is where any similarity with David Austen ceases.
Because next she fixes the ink with a transparent medium (eg varnish), allows the medium to dry, and peels off the paper leaving a thin, brittle sheet of ink and medium. Wakeham then pastes the sheet on to a canvas or board. Each painting usually takes three or four layers of ink. This she says gives her paintings the kind of depth we see on a computer screen but never on a printed copy.
"Using digital technology to produce images that look like photographs, drawings or paintings is just
reinventing the wheel," says Wakeham. "The computer must have its own means of expression.
"In my work, I endeavour to take something of the screen - be that computer monitor, cinema screen or
television and paint with it. I want to take the image, saturated with light and give it physicality and texture.
"My work is digital and unique. Each piece is a one off unrepeatable work created using a computer as the tool by which pigment is distributed."
Other artists are embracing digital technology in novel ways. Former Turner Prize nominee Mark Wallinger has used digital technology to produce a 3-D text-based work. Credo is currently on show at Tate Liverpool. It includes two passages from the New Testament and requires the use of special glasses. After the show it will then be reproduced in a limited edition set and distributed on CD. While Tomoko Takahashi, more recently shortlisted for the Turner, has already produced Word Perhect , a web-based work that examines the effect that word processors have on language.
But although a number of professional artists are taking to the computer, it is in the colleges where it they are most common. Trudy Stephenson is a promoter of artists still at college.
She represents artists like Anthony Gross, who is currently studying for an MA at Goldsmiths and who makes wall sized computer generated prints that evoke games technology.
"Artist are always interested in new technology," says Stephenson. "And you don't have to be a whizz at
computers. I think that you can sometimes produce better work if you don't have any experience in that field because you see thing in a totally new light."
In March, Tate Britain will host its first exhibition of internet art. The exhibition will follow high-profile shows in the US at the Whitney Museum in New York and Walker Centre in Minneapolis. Each work will celebrate the use of new technology. But the work of Austen, Wakeham and Gross proves that digital works are not that easy to tell from the non-digital.
Next time you see a work of contemporary painting or sculpture or photography, ask yourself this question: Just what role has a computer played in producing that particular work of art?
Thursday 30 November 2000