BRUSHES part of First Look: New Art Online
This online exhibition features the work of eight artists who paint with the computer and show their work on the internet.
• September 03, 2015 •
Rhizome | Editorial
“Brushes,” copresented by Rhizome and the New Museum as part of the series First Look: New Art Online, casts light on digital painting at a moment when the practice is gaining more widespread recognition. Unlike works by artists such as Albert Oehlen, who have translated digital gestures and imagery to a gallery context, the works featured in “Brushes”—by artists Laura Brothers, Jacob Ciocci, Petra Cortright, Joe Hamilton, Sara Ludy, Michael Manning, Giovanna Olmos, and Andrej Ujhazy—were created specifically for online circulation and display.
As art historian Alex Bacon writes in an essay for Rhizome, “In a sense, painting has always existed in relation to technology, when the term is understood in its broad definition as the practical application of specialized knowledge: the brush, the compass, the camera obscura, photography, or the inkjet printer.” However, if painting has long involved the application of tools and techniques, it has also served another function: it makes technological conditions available for visual contemplation in the gallery. (Think, for example, of Vera Molnár’s television paintings, which evoke the visual style of that technology.)
Today, many paintings that are displayed in the gallery are also contemplated online on platforms such as Instagram. This is a widely discussed phenomenon, but what is often overlooked in painting discourse is the role played by works created and experienced on the computer and the internet. This kind of digital painting has existed for decades: for example, the 1970s software SuperPaint already included many features found in modern paint applications. “Brushes” acknowledges this long history while focusing on practices that have emerged in recent years.
In particular, this exhibition highlights artworks that refer back, in some way, to a bodily gesture made by the artist: mouse movements, digitized brushstrokes, or touchscreen swipes. This leaves out the many artists who create painterly work by writing custom code—but despite their shared approach, these artists take diverse positions on questions of process and output.
As the role of painting in the gallery continues to shift, “Brushes” aims to suggest that works produced on the computer and experienced via the browser and the mobile app have an equal place in the medium’s discourses, offering a space for contemplation of our technological society from within its complex apparatus.
Several of the artists paint as part of a serial publishing or blogging practice. Laura Brothers creates pixel-perfect works that are uploaded to a vertically scrolling LiveJournal page. Like Brothers, Andrej Ujhazy also posts his work on blogging platforms, but he prefers to present various strains of his expressive, painterly work under the guise of varied profiles across social media platforms and online forums, producing multiple bodies of work simultaneously.
Others explore the potential of “prosumer” tools, acknowledging their limitations while also harnessing their affective and formal potential. Michael Manning’s prolific practice incorporates “default” devices and software to create seductive, effortless abstraction. Petra Cortright works with elaborately layered Photoshop compositions and customized brushes, often outputting a single composition in numerous different formats: a GIF, a video, or a print. Sara Ludy generates complex abstractions using the video compositing software After Effects.
Jacob Ciocci sources images from the internet, printing, painting, and collaging them to create object-based works for gallery display. He then scans these back into the computer and collages them again into frenetic animations. Joe Hamilton’s Indirect.Flights (2015) also integrates scanned brushstrokes, in this case sourced from famous landscape paintings by Vincent van Gogh, Arthur Streeton, and other artists. These are incorporated into a collaged landscaped that is navigated with an interface that refers to that of Google Maps.
Finally, Giovanna Olmos works with a mobile app called Brushes and the screenshot function of her iPhone, which lacks a working camera, to make Instagram posts that refer to very primary gestures made with a smartphone. The simplicity of her works throws into sharp relief the complex technical ensemble that surrounds and interprets her gestures and those of the other artists featured in the exhibition.
On September 3, 2015, from 7pm to 9pm EST, the New Museum hosted a panel discussion featuring art historian Alex Bacon and artists Laura Brothers, Michael Manning, Giovanna Olmos, and Andrej Ujhazy. Watch the video here: