A Review of Recent MOCA Exhibits
by JD Jarvis

JD Jarvis was named $10,000 grand prize winner of the Toray digital art contest in 2000. Besides being an artist, Jarvis is MOCA's contributing editor. He filed this report from his base in Las Cruces, New Mexico, in May, 2001.

Spring has sprung and MOCA has a fresh crop of digital art on display. All in all quite an eclectic offering, as it should be concerning digital art.

Catherine Yakovina presents an assortment of work, which interestingly enough includes only one digital piece. She is a young and talented artist with wide ranging interests. Either she has not yet decided where she is going to focus her efforts or she may have decided to take the braver, more confounding route and be one of those artists that refuses to develop one recognizable style or as the academics prefer "a body of work". (I hope it's the latter, but it does raise havoc with the galleries and critics.) Of the art offered here, I find her photos to be the strongest most evocative work. The rest needs to be pushed more. "What does that mean, 'pushed more'?" I often ask, when my wife offers that same criticism of my own work. Usually, if I look closely, it means I have done someone else's work or just remained on the surface and not gone far enough into my own feelings and modes of expression. This is something different than developing a repetitious style. It's about self-discovery and confidence and years of work.

Kent Oberheu offers a nice synthesis of photography and 3D construction and rendering. My personal favorites include "The Flight of Brilliance", which modulates between a realistic 3D space and a flat paint-like surface. The arrangement of items lends to the abstract nature of this piece and photographic lighting effects plays well against the dark flat areas "out front". Hints of architecture and, maybe, even the memory of the St. Louis skyline comes into play in this energetic, colorful and mysterious piece. "Blue Suspension" is an effective composition of color, light and motion, at once sculptural and also as textural as a sensitive ink wash. "Running Dress" appeals to my surreal soul very much like a Dali composition. I see the dress and imagine the woman, while at the same time dealing with the slightly disquieting impression of a man's frowning face looking to the left. It's that sort of thing that keeps me coming back to look at a piece, again and again. In that respect the rest of Kent's work seems familiar and not as engaging. I'd love to see these other pieces as monumental sculpture, but as 3D digital renderings I miss the feeling of scale and human presence.

Angelo Di Cicco's work is a circus of color. Ratcheted way up beyond "Technicolor, " his thickly lined compositions seem to want to leap out at you, but something holds them in check. An aggressive use of embossing and texture filters, as well as (I'm guessing here, but...) something like the KPT "materializer" filter, gives real substance and weight to his seemingly symbolic line drawings. I respond to these drawings as I do to the work of the masters, Paul Klee and Joan Miro, at once "childlike" but with a mature edge of mystery. However, the work of these masters seem to float, whereas Di Cicco's work has a stamped in metal appearance that is more sculptural that painterly. His work seems to be shield-like in the way it confronts the viewer and inhibits passage into the depth of the design. In some instances the composition becomes claustrophobic, such as "Cinque"; which is a rich emblem of impasto-like and embossed shapes and lines. Compared to "Sette", which opens up and allows the viewer space to wander around the shapes and to go behind them or back and forth into the composition. This is the importance of black in compositions such as those created by Di Cicco's. The "color" black invites us in and gives us a place to rest. Without it we can only remain outside and wander around the luxurious surfaces that he creates. For the same reason, I enjoy "Fertility", with the black shape that resembles a woman's body filled with the activity of color and life. Reminding us that we cannot always think of "black" as death, but may also consider it as life giving space.

The work of John Clive is also very much about the surfaces he creates. So much so, that the first three pieces presented turn my mind toward abstract expressionism. These are masterful demonstrations of how the cold calculating computer can simulate the supposedly wild abandon and mystery of that mode of art making. This is what makes that work interesting, especially how "Dyslexia on the Nile" moves the whole expressionist statement into a kind of minimalism. However, being able to copy an established, historical mode is not what makes digital art something special. Being able to mimic something that can already be done with paint only leads one to ask, "so, why do you need a computer to make art?" The answer comes in some of Clive's other works. In "Annunciation II", "Superfice I" and "Petrification II" he maps his expressive colors and textures to three dimensional surfaces and achieves the sort of "synthesis" that I hold to be the true power of digital tools to create significant and unique art. In a mode that mimics photography and simultaneously mocks the modernist philosophy of "flatness", this work takes flight and demonstrates just where we are heading with digital art. "Grate e Scape" adds the tilted back aspect of suggested perspective to this innovation and ironically toys with idea of "land-scape". Also, I love the irony of "Beauty", which we all know is only skin deep. But, when John takes us microscopically close to what we imagine may be the smooth cheek of a newborn, we realize that even this old saying might deserve some qualification. The fact that it is yet another artificial surface synthesized in a computer only adds to the wonder and the irony.

Finally, the MOCA "spring collection" includes the work of David Ho, the consummate digital illustrator with an obvious body of work that he has spent years developing. If Angelo Di Cicco's work shies away from "black" David Ho's work relishes, wallows in and even celebrates the mystery and power of black. I'll not dwell upon the oft, sighted "darkness" of his imagery. I prefer to look at the poetry and story telling power of his work. A master of figurative design, David takes the human body places where it probably shouldn't have gone. It is hard to draw your eye away from the work, not only in the voyeuristic sense of a roadside accident gawker, but in the sheer poetry of the light and the suggested meanings and tales that his pictures tell. Among my favorites are "The Soul Snatcher", where we see the demon itself slinking off to the left after having done its work on an innocent figure still confined in its coffin-like container; and "Body and Soul" which depicts the mortality of the former loosely clinging to the substantial radiance of the later. As with all surrealistic dreams, what the artist intends is secondary to the meaning that viewers create for themselves in the presence of such work. But, it is the intention of the artist which makes this work an "illustration" rather than and object of fine art. "Illustration" depends on storytelling, an "art object" does not. Depending on your point of view, you might say that this is what a fine art object lacks. What I look for is a fine art object that has the voice of an illustration but is not limited to any particular story.

We have come full circle; from an artist just starting out and exploring many styles and techniques, through the exploration of surfaces and the synthesis of traditional modern masters with the new insights of digital techniques, to an artist that has become the master of a personal and haunting "body of work". If you know someone who does not yet understand that the computer is only a tool that is basically incapable of creating anything without the mind and hand and soul of a human artist in control, have them visit the "Major Spring Exhibits" pages of the MOCA, a fine example of what is "art" in digital art.

JD Jarvis
Las Cruces, NM

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Digital art, articles and essays by contributing editor JD Jarvis