Digital artists talk online identities, isolation and claustrophobia, and the MOVA project.
Online art is taking over your devices. From Instagram accounts revealed as performance to GIFs and digital animations, you consume it a lot more than you might realize. Many traditional artists, finding themselves in the midst of a culture ever more created and altered online, are faced with a difficult choice—to embrace this new direction, reject it, or find a middle ground.
But there are many young artists for whom digitizing artwork is second-nature and whose identities have existed online as long as they can remember. By collaborating with one another online, and organizing to form galleries and museums in virtual reality, the digital world and the physical one become intertwined.
Brooklyn-based Nicole Ruggiero and middle-of-nowhere–based Troy Ford are two digital artists who have found a niche in this digital world. Nicole draws inspiration from '90s and modern-day subcultures and trends such as vaporwave, seapunk, and witchhouse. Troy's style gravitates more towards the '70s and '80s, using themes of psychedelic drugs, the occult, and satanism.
To get a closer look into the evolution of these digital artists and what virtual art museums mean for the future of art, I spoke with Nicole and Troy about their pasts, present work, and future projects.
The Creators Project: First off, how did you guys get started making art?
Nicole: I started making art when I was very young. I remember when I was in 2nd grade my teacher pointed out the way I shaded a boy’s hair on a coloring book page. When I got a little older I would look online and copy my favorite video game and manga characters.
Troy: My mom is an artist, and she always worked as a graphic designer so I got exposed to Photoshop and design when I was quite young. So I suppose art, digital and otherwise has always been a part of my life.
At what point did you guys realize you wanted to be digital artists?
Nicole: I got my first Wacom tablet when I was 12 and was using Photoshop before that. I used to go on a lot of art forums and that really allowed me to form a sense of community around digital art.
Troy: I used to work at a photography shop, retouching pictures for people. I started messing around more with Photoshop then so I didn’t go crazy constantly fixing people's family photos. I didn’t really get serious about it until the last couple of years though when I initially started with glitch art.
Your work seems to comment a lot on our interaction not just with technology singularly, but more broadly the way in which we communicate (or choose not to communicate) with each other using technology as the medium. Have you personally been satisfied with the role technology has taken on in modern interpersonal relationships?
Nicole: I don’t really think it’s about satisfaction as much as it is about acceptance. People view technology, and the internet especially, as this elusive and sometimes even threatening void. I think that it’s wonderful what technology can now do for us: mobile communication, interconnectivity across the globe. It’s beautiful really. I think people fail to understand that it really is just an extension of themselves on a different medium. For me, the internet and technology is seamless. Who I am online is who I am in real life.
Troy: Most of my work has to do with claustrophobia and isolation in some sense. A lot of this is inspired by the isolation and death of physical relationships that I feel the internet causes. That being said, it’s ultimately it’s the best thing for exposure artistically, as well as meeting other artists I would have never even known existed otherwise.
Do you have any upcoming projects you're currently working on?
Nicole: Troy and I are currently working together on two different things, first we are participating in MOVA (Museum of Virtual Art), that our friend Nick Zhu is creating. It will be a digital museum, created in Unity, displaying mainly digital artworks. We are also working on a direct collaboration which I sent you for this article. As for solo stuff, I consistently put out my own work and I will also be working on a live visual collaboration with the music duo, Vivia. Look out for me in Brooklyn.
Troy: Right now I’m focusing on finishing some work for The Museum of Virtual Art. I regularly create new art though and post it across social media under the name Pure Honey.
What do you feel is the significance of digital or virtual galleries for the overall art experience? How do you think museums like MOVA can be used in conjunction with already-existing IRL exhibition spaces?
Nicole: I think that digital galleries are a new way to experience art. It’s different from traditional work because even the colors don’t translate directly when you move a digitally geared piece into a traditional medium. However, it’s giving both traditional and digital artists a new way to look at art, I think there is a new wave of art that is mainly inspired through digital technology. Digital museums, including MOVA, allow for anyone who has internet access to view the artwork. Institutions are also starting to use virtual reality more often, and this is another way museum-goers can experience the digital museum.