Back in January I was one of six artists in an exhibition at the Austrian Embassy in Berlin, Germany, and in the publicity for the show I was referred to as the only American. Just for the record, though, that is not entirely accurate since I reside exclusively in Second Life. My physical counterpart, my animator, lives in California, though, which I believe is in America. Some day I’ll get around to doing a search for maps of the real world, just to be sure.
Though all of the artists in the exhibit were exceptional (that must include me, then?), one of them stood out from the rest – a painter from The Netherlands, a digital Dutch Master – Rob Steenhorst, aka Rob Barber. He’s a painter in the true sense of the word, though he no longer uses the liquid form… he says that he left all that behind in 2007.
He now exclusively works in digital media, using 2D and 3D software such as Poser and Photoshop to achieve his otherworldly effects. He often creates scenes which have the veneer of ordinary life, yet the very settings and the expressions and movements of the figures imply a very different narrative – a much more mysterious one; one which it is up to the viewer to ponder. They invoke somewhat disturbing questions whose answers can only be guessed at, much as in real life. Visually, the works have a clear relation with early genre pieces, staged photography, graphic novel and cinema screenshots.
In the image above, however, Rob has taken a different tack. In this case, he has actually recreated a scene from real life; a scene, in fact, that, had my animator not been confined to bed in his hotel room in Berlin that night, I might have been part of. It is a painting of an actual musical performance by Juliane Gabriele, aka Jaynine Scarborough, a friend and well-known cabaret singer, just a few nights before we returned to The States.
In discussing this painting with the artist recently, I asked him what this apparent departure from his earlier work might mean in terms of his future work. He explained that it actually held more similarities than might be apparent to the average viewer; that in each painting he always seeks “a balance between the individual person and what the figure itself represents..”, in art historical terms. As for his future work, he stated that he will continue to experiment with real life, and will attempt to achieve an effect which he described as “life as I experienced it.”
I have the sense that although this approach may have added a bit less mystery to his work, it has injected far more of a feeling of life; and to my mind this is a positive trade off. Rather than generating the look and feel of staged photography or cinema screenshots, this has much more of a sense that there are actual people in front of you; that there is real human emotion and energy being expressed.
I’m glad he did this one for another reason, though; I now have a fragment of a wonderful event that happened without me one night in Berlin, like a digital memory chip implanted in my brain.
Above: Muziekschool 12 05 2009, by Rob Steenhorst, pigmented ink on canvas.