hello kitty, goodbye heart

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Note: I recently wrote a new artist statement to be made available as a notecard to anyone interested in the origins of my work and the process by which they’re made; it was so good I thought I’d also share it with you here. (smiles)

The roots of these works are firmly planted in that period in the late 20th Century when the intellectual, philosophical and spiritual attitudes of Abstract Expressionism clashed for one brief, incendiary moment with the brash new (and openly commercial) sensibility of Pop Art. At that moment, the epic narrative of Ab-Ex was replaced with the elements of everyday life – the stuff of comics, television, magazines, etc. – and the previously “sacred” art object was taken unceremoniously from the temple and dragged out into the streets.

In the aftermath of that event, however, the art world lost its moorings and, alas, the center could not hold. Without the traditional hierarchical structure which held sway throughout most of art history, it would no longer be possible to determine the quality, value or meaning of a work of art. Western culture was lost in the wilderness of Postmodernism.

In my own work, I sidestepped this great debate by pursuing a blend of each of the earlier ideals in a separate world made possible by new media technology. I began to create works using tools which enabled me to stay just outside the artificial categories of the postmodern art world, and in these works I began to explore, sample, twist, bend and blend imagery from all times and places; all genres, all mediums and all cultures. In the mashup of these ingredients, I began to break free of the -isms of the past and simply follow my own instincts, wherever they may lead, and regardless of what they may leave behind.

The works before you are part of a series completed in that spirit during the period from 2000 to 2005, a time when I was sampling and mixing from many sources, clearly intermingling elements of high culture and pop culture – thus embodying that very fissure referenced above. Ever restless to explore new terrain, however, I entered the virtual world of Second Life in 2007, and am now up to my ears in the creation of works using SL imagery exclusively; works which will subsequently be translated into physical images and displayed in the “real” world. Art marches on.

If I had to attach a name to my work, though, I’d call it a “soul jam for the new millennium” (always wanted to paint the way Jimi Hendrix played the guitar); but no matter how you slice and dice it I’m an inveterate and unapologetic photoshoplifter, a kleptographer – or, if you prefer, a highly sophisticated scan artist, just trying my best to stay one step ahead of the law of gravity.

Above: Standing in front of my latest digital painting, entitled hello kitty, based on images of friend and model, Juliette, who has just begun to rock the metaverse.

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Philip Rosedale joins the fray

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Just received word from my good friend in Australia, Dr. Chris Thorne, that the members of our panel at this year’s SIGGRAPH conference in New Orleans will include Philip Rosedale, Founder and Chairman of Linden Lab; Doug Twilleager, Wonderland group, Sun Microsystems; Peter Schickel, Founder of Bitmanagement Software GmbH; Chris Thorne, and yours truly. Some of you may remember my post on last year’s conference, where I described to the audience the magic of my first year in Second Life, only to suddenly discover that not everyone on the panel wanted to hear what I had to say.

It seems the virtual world industry was heading in another direction at that moment, and the others on the panel, all CEOs of virtual worlds (including google Lively, ironically) were basically describing their efforts to find the holy grail: web-based virtual worlds. There.com, Twinity, Lively, etc., were all attempting to establish what would essentially become the first 3D facebook; they were dumbing down the software, lowering the bar in hopes of bringing in much larger numbers of subscribers; unwittingly, I was describing the opposite approach. I was emphasizing the beauty and wonder of the fully immersive experience of Second Life in emotional, aesthetic and experiential terms.

So, this year, the theme will be How do virtual worlds effect hearts and minds? and some of the heavy hitters that participated in the last one will not be there this year. Google Lively, for instance, will not be there for obvious reasons; but I can’t help wondering whether some of the others declined because the topic was such a sensitive one; one which many business leaders have not addressed directly in their pursuit of greater numbers, and therefore greater profits. Nothing wrong with making money, imho, but we are talking about the birth of a new paradigm here; one which, for better or for worse, will play an increasingly important role in our culture and bring about changes we cannot yet imagine. Seems to me we oughta be talking about these things now, in hopes of getting at least some of them right.

It should be an interesting event, though; not just because I will be there (jk), but because a few avatars will also be there: the meeting will be videocast live into Second Life, and SL attendees will be projected onto a wall throughout the presentation. The event will last two hours; the first hour for the speakers, the second for Q&A. Get those pencils sharpened, guys.

Photo above: Alice In Wonderland Dark Ride in Second Life,

http://slurl.com/secondlife/BlackPearlBeach/205/114/32/

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Refiner’s Fire

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A brand new painting from the factory called hello kitty, a digital mashup between Second Life avatar imagery and the look and feel of a faded fresco with a bit of rust and dust thrown in for good measure.  Delicious scenes of hell fire, and a bit of alchemist’s gold have also been spotted by some observers. As for me, I like the guitar player, love the playful connotations in the title, and the merging of baroque and pop in the same image. mmmm, yummmy.

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Eine kalte nacht in Berlin…

Muziekschool / Musicschool 2009

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.

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he (plays the guitar) just like ringin’ a bell

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Just finished this new digital painting and it deserves at least a couple of comments, since it is unusual in a few important ways. Having been asked to provide at least two digital paintings for DB Bailey’s Cairo project, as mentioned in the previous post, I was immediately led back to an earlier body of work, which seemed far more appropriate for the space and context. There were two limitations, however: the images had to be square, and they had to fit well into their surroundings. The obvious first choice was origami. It fit perfectly. Unfortunately, nothing else from that era even came close.

The only problem then was that the body of work from which this was drawn was almost five years old, and I had since moved on to other things: other ideas, other styles, other worlds. In order for me to fill the other space I was going to have to return to a style of work that I hadn’t worked in for several years. This was an entirely new idea for me – to actually go backwards; I had been moving forward at warp speed for as long as I can remember.

So, over the weekend I set about whipping up a digital melange using whatever I could find lying around the house (well, the external hard drive), and, shazam! this painting appeared in front of me as if out of nowhere. I guess this means that painting is kinda like riding a bike; you just get on and start pedaling. No telling where you might end up, but it sure is fun trying to get there.

Btw, this thing was way too wild for its new surroundings, so I’m getting back on the bicycle and heading out ‘soon’s I finish this to see what I can find. This time I’ll take a ride on the mild side.

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Modern Art and Architecture in the Land of the Pharaohs

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You may recall that I had a recent dreamlike experience in SL in which I was summoned in the middle of the night to visit an immense multiplex being designed and built by DB Bailey; actually a virtual replica of a real project to be built in Cairo, Egypt. At the time he actually was in Egypt as well as Second Life, but has since returned to the U.S. after a few months tending to this project, which is still in the planning and development stages. DB (noted architect David Denton in real life) has been using the virtual world as his sketchbook for quite some time, I learned, and actually designs his real world projects using the Linden Scripting Language (LSL) in Second Life. If you’d like to investigate further, this project has been documented in some detail on the architectural website, The Arch Network, where DB has been submitting regular dispatches from Cairo.

Since that night I have visited the site several times; the most recent visit to discuss the selection and placement of some of my digital paintings at key places within the architecture of the multiplex. The actual wall spaces to which these paintings will be applied would measure in real world terms somewhere around 65 to 75 feet square; which means that if the client approves the works, or requests something similar to be created exclusively for theses spaces, they would have to be outputted in large format somewhere in the neighborhood of the size of a three-story billboard. Actually, it would require that new works be done for these spaces because the original files for these works were intended to be output at about the size of a very large canvas for gallery exhibition. Back to the digital drawing board.

Seen overlooking my painting origami from a third floor walkway at the multiplex: Chrome Underwood, Celine Fairport (an art dealer in real life); and architect DB Bailey.

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Julie be good

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Thought it might be time to focus once again on Juliette, the lovely and loyal subject of much of my attention in Second Life. She is the face and figure of all of my digital artwork, the focal point of my search for the human heart and mind within the avatar. Fortunately for me, though, she is kind, generous, and very, very patient. She has to deal with an obsessive perfectionist, after all, and pulls it off with grace and poise. Can’t figure out how she does it, actually.
Suddenly, however, a new side of her personality has begun to emerge. To give her a break from the lights and cameras I began a series of photo shoots using myself as a blissed-out rock star for the subject of my next painting, and Juliette took one look at those shots and decided she was not gonna be left out of this party. She has long wanted to be on stage, she claimed, and not just as a pretty face. She wants to be a rock star herself, dammit, and then went on to inform me of her considerable musical talent and experience. I was floored. We then, of course, had to go shopping. Women.
The photo above was taken at Bowling Green State University, where she began to unpack and test her new guitar – a classic Stratocaster from KLP Productions, one of the best musical equipment builders in SL. She has been rocking the house ever since; the studio will never be the same. We also picked up a gorgeous set of drums, btw, since she is multi-talented, and, well, drumming runs deep in this family. We’ll talk more about that later, though; looks like this story line has just begun.

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I dreamed I met this architect in Cairo last night

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It was an odd sort of night to begin with… hadn’t had a very good day at all, in fact; hanging by my fingernails awaiting word from the Santa Barbara Museum on whether they’ll host our digital art exhibit this summer, plus a lot of other kitchen appliances, concrete blocks and other dangerous objects coming at me from every direction. Like I said, not a great day all in all. By the time night fell, so did I; completely exhausted by the day’s events, and in spite of the legend in the title of this site to uphold, I stumbled into bed and fell rather quickly into a deep sleep. It didn’t last long, though, and I soon was wide awake, staring at the ceiling. It was midnight. I had the whole damn, churning, burning night ahead of me.

Rather than stare at the ceiling, though, I thought I might as well enjoy my waking hours; after all, midnight in America is just another noon in Rangoon. I cracked open my laptop and logged into Second Life. Not having the energy or the clarity of mind to do much else, I thought I’d clean up the old studio. Things had gotten out of hand in there, and I thought it might be nice to wake up to a spanking clean workplace in the, ummm, morning.

Then, blam, an IM out of nowhere: Hey, Chrome; what are you doing? You busy? It was my good friend, DB Bailey.

Well, not real busy, DB; kind of a make busy whaddayado-in-the-middle-of-the-night sort of busy. Why? What you up to?

Now, I knew he was in Cairo, Egypt at the moment, designing a new billion-dollar multi-use complex in the desert for some Egyptian sheiks. Of course, I also knew he also did much of his designing in Second Life, so when he asked me if I wanted to come over and see what he was building I leaped into my magic teleporter and scooted on over there.

Holy Mecca! This was a build to behold. It sprawled across the blazing desert, filled with shops, multiplex theaters, hotels, markets, you name it. Since I couldn’t take it all in just by wandering around the place, DB summoned his Egyptian assistant, who flew off to the main office to retrieve the master plan; as soon as she landed, he rezzed it up for me. Amazing. Astounding. Immense.

Another interesting note to finish off this dream: DB told me that he had arranged for his clients to come into SL, get their avatars and a bit of basic training, and then he took them all on a tour of the masterpiece he had created. They wandered around, a bit stunned, looking into every doorway, staring up at every palm tree, examining every authentic regional ceramic tile. They were inside the magical version of the complex that would soon be teeming with people in the “real world.” What a dream; even though no one’ll believe it, thought I’d tell it anyway.

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another machinima rolls off the assembly line

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A detail from the second painting in the machinima series…… finished just minutes ago, in fact; the pixels haven’t even had time to dry.
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It’s more fun to make art than to try to define it

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I was asked to to speak last month at a roundtable forum on the arts in SL at Montclair State University in SL, and was surprised to learn upon arrival that we would all be seated at a round table! I had thought that it was by now just a figure of speech, but this one was not only very round, but had the unique quality of growing larger and adding more seats as more participants arrived. Very SL. I say all this only to lead up to the main topic of discussion here, which is the idea behind my latest painting, called machinima, a detail from which is shown, above.

After a brief presentation, this erudite crowd of artists and educators took off on a roller coaster ride of intellectual thrills and chills, doing their best to thread the needle of “arts in a virtual world.” Inevitably, the discussion turned to the place of machinima in the pantheon of new media genres; in fact, there was a protracted analysis of its relevance and worth as an art medium.

Not really having much of anything to say on the subject, I took advantage of a pause in the blazing fire of text climbing up my screen, and dropped my own little hand grenade into the melee: I prefer to take a single moment and slice it up into a million little pieces so that I can look at it from a lot of angles at the same time. Ya coulda heard a pin drop, or at least read about it if one had fallen. Didn’t mean to stop the smackdown like that, but hey…..

My new painting, called machinima, oddly enough, consists of five rows of five images each, all shots of Juliette dancing. Naked, of course. I picked out an illustrative segment to go with this post because the entire image would be lost in such a small space. But you get the idea. All in preparation for the upcoming show at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.


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