Digital Painting Asserts Its Place in Art History

“The most important artwork of our time might well be happening on a LiveJournal profile,” says curator Michael Connor.

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Sep 30 2015, 1:10pm

Petra Cortright, still frame from all_gold_everything.psd, video, 2015. All images courtesy Rhizome.

“I love the word ‘painting;’ it implies an action in progress, something happening in front of you,” says Michael Connor, artistic director of Rhizome. Connor is the curator of the latest First Look exhibition, a series of online shows co-presented by Rhizome and the New Museum. The show, called Brushes, brings together eight artists whose digital practices remain physical in some way, through computer mouse gestures, for example, or swipes on a tablet. Each week of the show is dedicated to a different artist, with new work unveiled every Thursday until October 15th.

“The concept was to present an online exhibition featuring paintings that were made on the computer and intended primarily for online circulation. Each of the artists represents a different position with respect to digital painting,” explains Connor. The curtains have been raised on five artists thus far.

Laura Brothers, RUSHHOUR.png, Photoshop drawing, 2015.

Laura Brothers has been publishing work on her LiveJournal since 2007, under the pseudonym 'out_4_pizza.' Work is added serially with the viewer experience in mind: as you scroll down her page, recurring themes and relationships emerge, and you can recognize different periods in her work. As of late, her pieces feature active, gestural marks atop solid color backgrounds rendered in half-tones.

Andrej Ujhazy, Untitled, Photoshop painting, 2015.

Andrej Ujhazy cites Brothers as a key influence. His output is varied; as such, he posts different bodies of work under separate handles on blogs and online forums. He uploads his work large-scale, requiring viewers to scroll about and get lost in the painting, taking in one frame at a time. His work can be viewed here and here.

Giovanna Olmos, Blur Painting (left) and Pink, 2015.

Giovanna Olmos’ work is mobile-only: all of her pieces for the show are being uploaded to Rhizome’s Instagram. Olmos works entirely on her phone, using screenshots and an app called Brushes to scribble, blur, eliminate or isolate various elements on screen.

Petra Cortright, still frame from all_gold_everything.psd, video, 2015.

Petra Cortright presents the same layered Photoshop composition as both a GIF and a video that cycles through all its layers. The contrast in tone between the jumpy GIF and the unhurried, subtle shifts in the video imagery is striking.

Jacob Ciocci, gif from the series "New Expressions," 2014.

Jacob Ciocci created four hypnotic GIFs for Brushes—as one is scrolling down the exhibition, his allotted section is a moment of high energy. His process shifts back and forth between paper and the screen. He prints out material from the internet, collaging and painting it, then scans it back into the computer and animates it digitally.

To call these works paintings is to mark a definitive new era for the medium, expanding the scope of its terminology, traditions and materials. In this on-screen arena, brushstrokes can be swipes of a computer mouse and brushes can be apps. “Using the word ‘painting’ to describe digital art does fascinating things,” concludes the curator Michael Connor. “It allows for a different discussion about materiality, temporality, about the relationship between digital art and longer art historical narratives, and it questions cultural hierarchies, recognizing that the most important artwork of our time might well be happening on a LiveJournal profile.”

Artists Joe Hamilton, Sara Ludy, and Michael Manning are still to come—experience the show here.

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