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Q&A OCTOBER 17 , 2001
Digital Abstract Expressionism
[Page 3 of 7]

Nagel Which tablet are you using now?

Detheux Wacom, two of them, an older 12" x 12" ArtZ II, which has served me so very well, and a newer Intuos (a gift from Wacom actually) which is obviously very superior to the ArtZ II (greater sensitivity, much greater).

Nagel What was the transition like? What were your reservations about moving into the digital realm?

Detheux I knew there was something for me in that, but at first I was a bit put off by the cleanliness of digital images, the juices and "dirt" of natural media were seriously missing. Also, being used to large canvas—I even once did a mural that was about 45' high and 150' long—working on a (then) 17" monitor did not look all that exciting.

I was wrong.


"Multi3" from "Group H." Click image to see Group H.
Or visit http://www.vudici.net.

Nagel What do you mean "I was wrong?"

Detheux I was still thinking "size" while everything really happens at the level of "relationships," something I actually knew very personally long before going digital: As a young boy, I was leisurely looking at pictures in a French dictionary, when I chanced on a small black and white reproduction of Breughel's "Tower of Babel." (One of them, I think he did several.) This small reproduction must not have been larger than one inch square, and yet I "fell" in it for what must have been hours!

I trace my wanting to become a painter very much to this experience, though not only.

Also, dealing with the same "thing," I was already an art student in Belgium when I became interested in Vermeer's paintings. Living next door to Holland, it was a short trip to go the The Hague and Amsterdam to see samples of his work. At the time I was studying "mural and decorative painting," which meant that I rarely worked on surfaces smaller than 8' x 8'.

Vermeer seemed, to me, a master of "monumental" art, and I was not ready for the shock I received when I first saw his paintings in the flesh, so large, so very large and spacious, and yet so small! Relationships and "scale," not size.

Nagel What did you find limiting about your early work in the digital medium? In other words, how did you have to adjust the way you worked? And how has this changed over the years?

Detheux At first, the tools were fairly foreign to me; both the computer controls and drawing/painting tools required a concentration on them I had long gone beyond when working with natural media. But this was a relearning to walk that also had many benefits for me, and in a real sense, this is still going on today after many, many [gigabytes] of images.

There are several aspects of the digital medium that set it apart from natural media, and one of them is, to me, a genuine revolution: Art is most often made by threading a very fine line between going too far (loss of the piece) and not going far enough (staying put with very pedestrian results). The artist used to have to live with the angst generated by the tension between these two extremes.

The digital medium, with its "save as" function, can completely do away with that dilemma. Now we can have our theme and variations too; going further is no longer done at the cost of losing the original piece. This is so potent for me that I feel I haven't quite caught on with the potential of this "revolution;" I am still too caught up in the many years of work with natural media, I still lack the proper "imagination" that would truly do justice tot he potential of this medium.

Nagel You chose the Macintosh as your platform. Why?

Detheux At first, by sheer luck. It was good fortune that the friend who introduced me to Painter did so on a Mac. (I believe it was a 7200.) Between the time I had this experience and we had the means to buy a machine, I did try many other boxes and was immediately put off by the Windows interface. While a Mac immediately made me feel "at home" and gave me (still does) the impression it is working with me, a PC made me remember constantly I was working on a machine, with no sense of cooperation from it whatsoever. Also, everywhere we asked—my wife Carol really got involved in researching this—we were told, as soon as "graphics" and "digital art" were mentioned, to "go with the Mac."

By the way, I presently teach computer art to 13 and 14 year old students in a French school ("J.L. Couroux" in Carleton Place, Ontario, Canada), and we are using PCs running Windows 98, so my exposure to that platform is a bit deeper now than it was when I was considering which machine to purchase. I still feel the same way today as I did then.


"G1" from "Group G." Click image to see the series.
Or visit http://www.vudici.net.

Nagel I don't want to interject my own approach to art too much into this discussion, but, for me, art has always been about the process—about exploring media, the model and, significantly, the surface. One of these three elements—the surface—simply doesn't exist in the creative process when you're working in digital. Is this the same with you? Do you miss the variety of surfaces that you would be able to work with in natural media?

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Dave Nagel is the producer of Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; host of several World Wide User Groups, including Synthetik Studio Artist, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe LiveMotion, Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; and executive producer of the Digital Media Net family of publications.

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