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Digital Art For The 21st Century: Renderosity
John Grant and Audre Vysniauskas
A.A.P.P.L. artbook £19.95
review by Steven Hampton
A laudable introduction to the world of computer-generated art, this large softcover is a superbly effective showcase for the portfolios of 21 digital artists, both newcomers and established professionals but all members of the online community of Renderosity. The book offers 200-odd, discerningly selected, colour images to ably demonstrate the state of today's most frequently maligned art form. While the postmodern-gallery snobs may argue, somewhat pointlessly, whether CGI deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as fine art, digital pioneers and pundits are quietly producing work that, when it's printed, can be either practically indistinguishable from oil paintings and watercolours or clear evidence of work produced by a totally unique medium.
Perhaps this is the essence of digital art's appeal to these creative individuals, the simple fact that a fusion of well-written software and human imagination may precisely mimic any of the finished styles of pen, pencils and brushstrokes at less time-consuming rates, while also enabling computer-literate artists to produce supremely dazzling work that is wholly exclusive to the virtual realm. Ranging from dramatic 3D photo-realism to richly devised formal symbolism, extremely subtle collage and mesmerising fractals, the digital images presented here are indeed far from being only surface glamour, despite the radiant colours, futurist metallic gloss, and stylishly retro sepia tints. A prickly sense of humour may also sometimes illuminate the artwork in fabulous yet unexpected ways. Germany's Marcel Barthel has contrived a smoothly contoured spacecraft, Adamas (page eight), which boasts a dark, steely snakeskin paint-job. His etched golden Nornstone (same page) is displayed upon an impossibly 'clean' velour cushion of idealised velvety purple that's just too good for mortal royalty. Adam Benton's rusting hulk of forgotten machinery in a shattered and disused aircraft hanger, The Abandoned (p.18), speaks to us about the tragic fall of some technological empire in a post-industrial twilight, reminding us that the devil is always lurking in the details.
Frenchman Bernard Dumaine prefers black-and-white or varicoloured 'organic' textures of bone and knotty fibre, but whether some of these entangled forms are supposed to be inanimate carvings or something weird that's frozen in mid-writhe, gives them a slightly disturbing quality. Michael Komarck overcame a high school disinterest in Pythagoras to become an adept of Photoshop. His generic heroines are as independent or threatening as they are sexy. The big robot fighting armoured troopers in Mech (p.47) expertly dreams up the suggestive affect of every dynamic SF action movie your mind's eye could hope to see. Vod Land's work is not unlike a fusion of cartoon simplicity and airbrushed collage. And yet his riotous use of complex squiggles and colour in Mystery Brain (p.54) and The End Of 2002 (p.55) could make it hard to turn the page. James Lee has developed "a series of illustrations for a story concept" featuring a young heroine and a super-smart mouse in an adventuresome future of aliens and humans. Like stills from some blockbuster sci-fi, these contain an extraordinary level of background characters in the manner of Star Wars meets The Fifth Element. Duncan Long happily traded in his traditional artists' tools for a computer, and there's more than a hint of symbolism in his work. I particularly like the skeleton cyclist, sharply silhouetted against a setting sun in Evening Bike Ride (p.75).
Ron Miller, co-author of Hugo-winner The Art Of Chesley Bonestell (2001), and about 30 other books, needs no introduction. His always-glorious space art is inspiring, and epitomised here by Ancient Flooding On Mars (p.83), giving us a rare glimpse into the possibilities of the red planet's distant past. Water (p.85), one of a series of symbolic pictures for Miller's in-progress book Elemental Woman, features the novelty effect of 3D droplets on the artwork's surface, and Miller briefly explains how he did it. Former doctor Tina Oloyede left medicine behind to pursue artistic interests, and her keen enthusiasm for algorithms is evident in her gnarly, vivid fractals. Although lacking the benefit of full colour, Wiggly Soapstone (p.97) is certainly not without hypnotic impact. Kees Roobol is Dutch but lives and works in Belgium as a research scientist. His personalised 'magic realism' tends to have poised female nudes and expressive onlookers in architectural backdrops with seasonal timescales of autumnal or wintry skies. The intricately detailed grey stone textures of The Blessing Of Ignorance (p.109) might almost make you forget there's a naked blonde in the picture. Almost...
Surrey resident Andy Simmons enjoys creating splendidly picturesque landscapes, often with fantasy elements, and he's influenced by the classics of Turner and Constable. I liked the startling whimsy of Dragon's Day Off (p.124), which has its big scaly beastie quietly fishing by a stream. Audre Vysniauskas was an IT engineer for 15 years until she switched careers to be a fulltime illustrator. A notable advocate of digital art, supporter of more than one community of artists online, and founder of Renderosity magazine, she produces many a 'genre' picture with satisfyingly poetic qualities. The 13th Immortal (p.132) depicts a luminous futuristic city that was originally modelled upon chess pieces. Ex-US Army secretary Christina Yoder favours Adobe Illustrator ("I don't ever have to wait for digital art to dry!") and is apparently fond of dinosaurs and dragons, as well as Transformers. Self Perpetuation (p.150) offers a glimpse into the workings of a mecha-dragon factory.
Like many other self-taught artists Marcin Zemczak seems profoundly influenced by the imagery of modern genre cinema. Boorman's Excalibur, Scott's Blade Runner, and the distinctive art of Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger (popularised by his designs for 1979's Alien) are a frequent source of inspiration. Zemczak's gleaming chromed Artificial Ladies (p.154), and urban pedestrian in The Follower (p.157) are typically imaginative variations of immensely popular sci-fi themes. So broadly imitative as artistic images, but without a hint of cliché or plagiarism. These artists might well be exploring familiar thematic territories, as if guided by a century of 'maps' from the SF and fantasy genres, but they are definitely not following in anyone's footsteps.
Still unconvinced of the importance and value of digital art? As a first class sampler of this rapidly growing field, Renderosity may certainly answer your questions about this rapidly-inevitable merger of painting and technology and should, more importantly, also erase many of your doubts in respect of digital art's eligibility as Art.
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