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Q&A OCTOBER 17 , 2001
Digital Abstract Expressionism
[Page 6 of 7]

Painting that unfolds in time also has one dimension that is very important, but a dimension that was known only to painters: A painting goes through so many stages before its public can see it, I can safely say that in most cases, the best paintings have been seen only by the painter, only to be modified, even lost, before the painting was finally made public in a different form. Enters the computer, and all that is completely changed: I can now (and I do so) save my painting at any time I want and carry on with its development secure of never jeopardizing the fate of the painting for the sake of yet another variation! (By the way, I suspect I am still too shy when doing the variations, still caught in an imagination that has "natural media" limitations.)

Now, all those variations/saved moments placed side by side give me one super storyboard, an almost completed "animation." That by the way relies on what I call "inherent animation," the animation that is there whether we want it or not, whether we make it or not, simply by the very act of "doing." (One of my very favorite 20th Century painters, an abstract expressionist by the name of Philip Guston, coined the term "inherent composition," and I was absolutely delighted that this which I knew to be true in natural media appears to be true also in digital "animation.")

In that sense, the more "stills" I have, the closer I am to yet another "animation."


"SA/P 10" from "Group J." Click image to see the series.
Or visit http://www.vudici.net.

Nagel Multimedia is also important in your work. How are you working with audio in your presentations? Is it a part of your thinking when you first set out on a project, or do you sometimes think of it later?

Detheux Most of my animation work comes together totally fortuitously, so very little of it is ever planned. Even editing is something I almost never do. Some of the strongest moments in my animation are total "accidents," way better than anything I could plan and plot for!

Just as when I was painting with oils, my present digital work is one of trying to set up the proper conditions for those "accidents" to take place and, if possible (a necessary condition), to get out of the way. Being also a frustrated musician—I did not work on my music enough when I was a kid, and plan on doing a better job in that in my next lifetime—I find that here too the digital tools are quite the help; I can now create some of my own audio tracks, from scratch, using music fragments as easily as image fragments, and assemble collages that are even beginning to resemble music! I hope to get a decent keyboard soon so that I can take working with music/sound a bit further, I dream of being able to create both video and audio myself built on/by the same approach.

Nagel There's a problem with digital in terms of reception right now. I believe that even some of your former students reject the notion. Critics are certainly quick to qualify any art exhibit as "digital," automatically positioning it as something that has less value than work created in non-digital media. Can you discuss this?

Detheux There is a big prejudice against digital art, and that has me puzzled. I can't tell the difference between what I have to do when painting digitally and when I was painting with oils. If anything, I think the digital, being so much quicker at execution than natural media, leaves less room for "going to sleep at the switch," requiring a higher concentration than natural media.

I know that many of my former students think I have gone to the dogs, but I also know that the few who came to visit here and had a chance to experience the process for themselves now most have a Power Mac and Studio Artist on their Christmas shopping list!

Nagel Have you had a chance to try out the Tactex controller? [Editor's note: The Tactex controller is a touch-based input device that uses "Smart Fabric" designed primarily for audio control. It also works with Synthetik Studio Artist, which is one of Jean's primary tools.]

Detheux No, you must realize I operate with very limited financial means. I did try a second Intuos pen and a 4D mouse, but so far I have had very limited success with it.
I suspect that limited success comes from my 8500, [which], as souped up as it is, does not have native USB, and the demands of simultaneous pens and/or 4D mouse may just be too much for my USB PCI card.


"SA/P 2" from "Group J." Click image to see the series.
Or visit http://www.vudici.net.

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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.