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A Fascinating Conundrum

October 4, 2010

Mel Strawn’s current exhibition in the library begins in that most privileged position—the water fountain nook.

The work, “Clawrite,” is an excellent introduction to the show. Even the whimsy in the name touches on a calligraphic theme in the collected works, as well as on our uncertainty and discomfort about digital art.

“Clawrite” is a pigment print of a digital composition that is at once pixel-lated, calligraphic, patina-ed, with painterly colors and shapes that seem handmade and natural.

And, in that description, I have committed a certain crime against digital art and revealed how habit and language constrain our experience of art.

“Seem handmade and natural?” “Painterly colors?”

The show continues at the top of the stairs with “Five Columns” This print is pixel-lated but also has a quality reminding me of the solarization effect that was so popular in ‘60s and 70’s photography.

The break-up of the image is similar to what happens when you make a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy &c. However, it’s also what you see when you look microscopically at the printed word.

The truth is our entire world is pixel-lated. Whether or not you see it depends on your lens.

“Five Columns” looks as if it might be a textile artifact. Across from it is “Nothing Hidden—Ties.” This work looks like multi-media, or even trompe l’oeil, with thick layers, collage, Japanese brush work.

Why must I say it is “like” something else?

What is a digital image, anyway? What is an image? It’s fine to say these are like paintings or photographs or drawings, but we must be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking these are merely “like something else” or “like something real.”

It’s a fascinating conundrum of language and concept. Worth discussion. And so, Mel Strawn will talk—and lead a discussion about—such things Sunday, Oct. 10, at 3:00 p.m. at the library.

Don’t miss it. The Bronco game will be over, and you will need to stretch both your mind and your legs. Come for tea and cookies and a fascinating talk.

In particular, Mel wants to talk about creativity in art and technology—not just over the course of his long career but over the course of recorded history.

I think it might help shape your idea of the quite proper place of digital technology in the arts.

When you first look at “Joyride,” you might scan it trying to decide. It’s a photo! It’s a print! It’s a drawing! It happens to be a solar etching, one technique for making an image, one technique for making a work of art.

“Desert Heart” is another appealing image that might make you squint. A photo? An enhanced photo? Might even be a drawing, a complete fabrication.

And yet, of course it’s fabricated. In fact, we might discuss how our entire experience of “reality” is fabricated. But we won’t.

Even the most realistic painting, a successful trompe l’oeil, is fabricated in such a way to trick you into perceiving “reality.” What do we seek in art?

I do know that the thing that catches your eye is actually a thing that has captured your heart. But if you linger, it’s before a piece that has begun to unfold itself to you, layer after layer.

This is worth thinking about. Come Sunday at 3:00 for Mel’s discussion of art and technology.


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One Comment
  1. Vicky permalink

    Dear Jeff:

    Since in Mr. Mel Strawn’s exhibition some works touch on calligraphy and Japanese brush, here I would like to share my two haiku of calligraphy with everybody, especially for Mr. Mel Strawn.

    Pictograph of Chinese Calligraphy

    Unrestrained nature
    Reshapes the creature’s image
    A gust of vividness

    Clerical Script of Chinese Calligraphy

    Audacious breakthrough
    Dancing between left and right
    A stroke of gusto!


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