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Q&A OCTOBER 17 , 2001
Digital Abstract Expressionism
[Page 5 of 7]

Detheux We so often give so little credit to our own perception, not suspecting that "perception is constitutive," as Merleau-Ponty said. I think modern art was able to point to the fact that "noticing" is akin to "creating," so that if we are willing (and I feel we have to, especially now) to acknowledge that life is above all, and starts as, a subjective act, we then can give the benefit of the doubt to what we are before we make anything (out) of it. ("Now" because our culture seems to become more and more alienated from its basic humanity, especially American culture has been accurately described as being "hooked on mediated experience.)

What "I" see before knowing what it is that I am looking at is possibly the closest to truly "objective reality" we can have access to because the moment we differentiate between this and that, we do so based on cultural priorities which are peculiar to this or that group, no longer "universal." Language is also a prison in which we lock ourselves, and Art can be a privileged means by which we can (re)connect with life before we make sense of it according to societal models.

Nagel You mention getting to the core of what we are. What is that to you?

Detheux It means being true to this hunger for meaning, for identity (in the sense of "Who am I?" or "What is reality?") that seems to animate us all, at least prior to our surrendering it on a vain search for possessions. Art is often misconstrued as being a means to "illustrate" or/and to "express," while to me, it is above all a means to a discovery, a necessary vehicle for an essential journey.

The "expression" in art is, to me, absolutely unavoidable, an automatic byproduct, something we need not "worry" about as it is always there. "You want to paint the perfect painting? That's easy, make yourself perfect, and just paint naturally."

The core of what we are is to me much more an open and ongoing quest(ion), rather than a "thing" one can corner.

Nagel Do you think this is something that can be accomplished through visual media alone?

Detheux Absolutely not, judging by the way I am moved by T. S. Eliot's "Four Quartets" or by the music of Mozart and others, the visual arts are "only" one of the many means we can do that (or attempt to anyway) with.

I don't think trading stock can do it though.

Nagel Now, in your work, you're not simply trying to emulate natural media. In fact, I think you don't look kindly upon "emulation." Can you talk about that?

Detheux You're right; simply emulating is similar to increasing the deceptions while hoping for truth! If indeed the work is about the transcendence from mere image to credible world, how could that be accomplished if one gets caught up in a tragic loop of trying to emulate natural media? That to me is similar to a snake trying to swallow itself tail first. Digital tools are so potentially helpful in helping us transcend the usual natural media limitations, it seems to me totally counterproductive to reintroduce those limitations in the space that has, as one of its main capabilities, the key to going beyond those limitations.

Nagel Yet you've mentioned a couple of the limitations of digital media as well. And, on your current system, you're very familiar with another one: processing power. Do you have an ideal vision for the future of digital art production?


"Painter 12" from "Group L." Click image to see the series.
Or visit http://www.vudici.net.

Detheux I can only assume that faster machines will make the work more immediate, the process even more transparent.

My hope is that I can have access to tools that will quickly vanish behind the experience that is available at the very best moments of 'creation," be it with digital or natural media, in all sorts of disciplines, not just in visual arts.

I also believe it is imperative we keep a direct connection with the input of the body, and in that respect Painter and Wacom were fabulous tools for me, and later Studio Artist opened an even wider horizon. Continuing to refine this physical connection with the "machine" will probably bring the work to higher levels of quality, possibly even closer to what we are, to what we have always been.

This is yet another paradox of "my understanding" of art, the more we progress, the more we uncover what was there already, in my opinion a far more important task than adding more layers of "stuff" to an already very overburdened field of experience. I still love that old cliché: "Less is more."

Nagel You've incorporated motion into all of your recent work—at least what I've seen of your recent work. Yet the stills that make up your animations, for me, are just beautiful on their own. Do you create all of your work with motion in mind? Or do you sometimes like to produce stills and leave them alone for a while?

Detheux The bulk of my work is made of still images, though as you noticed, motion is creeping in more and more. I am above all a painter, but I also see that motion or rather "painting that unfolds in time" is where I feel my work wants to go, and I even suspect it is where painting is to go if it is to reach beyond where it has been stuck for quite some time (endless repetition, with very minor variations, of the same boring stuff, stuff that was new and exciting many decades ago, but that is now mummified). I care very little about "animation" per se, and character animation and story telling does not do much for me, at least in most of the animation works I have seen (with remarkable exceptions like Michael Dudok de Wit's "The Monk and the Fish" or Yuri Norstein's "Hedgehog in The Fog" or, closer to us in time, Martine Chartrand's "Black Soul"). Yet, when an image moves to/with music and it is just right, it is absolute magic!

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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.