My artistic practice embraces the integration of digital tools and techniques within the traditional art-making paradigm of drawing and painting. The majority of my works contain digitally composed elements, drawn on a graphics tablet. They are executed, for the most part on linen, paper and birch panels, using a combination of digital and traditional media including inkjet, pigment transfer, oils, gouache, acrylic, graphite and resin. Some works are composed digitally, and executed completely by hand. My academic training reflects this “tradigital” confluence; my BA concentration was Painting, and my MFA focus was Computer Art. This combination has resulted in my ongoing exploration of the intersection of technology and artistic expression within a fine-art context, a working modality I have defined as Techspressionism.
In addressing the prejudice which “computer art” often faces, I often describe the computer as a studio tool to be used like any other, such as a brush or a pen. Historically, there is a lag-time when it comes to the acceptance of new technologies within a fine-art context. People now routinely refer to “Warhol paintings”, despite the fact that they are primarily screenprints; fifty years ago, this level of consensus was far from the case. More recently, artists such as Cindy Sherman have fully legitimized the use of the camera through the act of defining themselves primarily as artists, not photographers – in this light, the camera becomes simply another tool in the studio for making a picture, not the definition of the picture. However, I feel that the computer differs greatly from other tools that humans have developed in the past, as it is truly a tool for the mind, an abstraction in itself. Computer technology has opened up new approaches not only in terms of artistic execution, but within the realm of ideation as well.
Throughout my undergraduate studies, I was interested mostly in Surrealist and Pop Art ideas, and influenced by artists such as Magritte and Warhol. This direction is evident in much of my earlier work. Angelo Ippolito, one of my undergraduate painting professors at Binghamton, was a second-generation New York School Abstract Expressionist painter. He explained that his work was “about paint”. It wasn’t until I after I graduated and moved my studio to New York City’s East Village in the mid 1990’s that I began to draw digitally; my work started to become “about technology” – it stopped attempting to depict and evolved into a path of discovery.
Marshall McLuhan’s phrase “the medium is the message” resonated with me as I considered my own work. To happen to have been born in the first generation to grow up with personal computers, I decided that it was my responsibility as an artist to embrace the computer as my primary compositional tool of choice. Instead of beginning with a sketch that is developed into a finished painting, a more intuitive and expressionistic working approach took root, where the process of composition would happen organically on a more subconscious level. The conscious component would come afterward, in the titling of the work upon consideration of the results.
Drawing with the assistance of software can often result in very unexpected results – it’s much like engaging in the Surrealist game “The Exquisite Corpse”, except with a machine instead of human participants. Working digitally, for me, taps into the subconscious impulse in a similar way that the Surrealists used wordplay and automatic drawing. Consciousness only gets involved when the decision is made to hit “save”. When people ask me if my work is “computer-generated”, and I generally reply that I consider it “computer-assisted”. I see the computer both as an extension of myself and as a partner in my studio practice.
Culturally, I am a product of mixed Jewish and Japanese heritage. Many of my compositions are informed by the Kabbalistic idea of Gematria, in which numerical values relate to letters and the written word. I often use significant numbers such as birth date or year when experimenting with computational tranformations of images, colors and forms in order to generate unexpected (but not random) results.
My appreciation of the gestural mark has been guided, in part, by the influence of my maternal grandmother Kimiye, who was a lifelong practitioner of Shodo, the art of Japanese calligraphy. I will fully acknowledge the fact that I lack the intensive training to write actual Kanji characters with any skill. In fact, I was once admonished by my grandmother when I showed her a calligraphy set I purchased with the intent to learn how to write Kanji characters as she did; she exclaimed, “Who do you think you are? You can’t learn this without a sensei!” I recall a story which my mother Kikuye told me about how, as a girl growing up in Honolulu, she would watch her own mother write the same character over and over again, crumpling each one up, while sitting at the kitchen table at night. This would go on for hours until it was executed to her satisfaction. This story taught me the lesson that artistic labor is not always evident in the finished product, which might appear effortless to the uninitiated. The exquisite line quality of woodcuts by Japanese artists such as Hokusai and Hiroshige have also informed my aesthetic leanings.
The works of Abstract Expressionist artists such as Franz Kline and Clyfford Still also resonate with me in a similar way perhaps due to their bold and graphic approach to image making. Interestingly, Kline’s most celebrated works (his black and white paintings) actually utilized technology in their execution. On viewing them, they appear to be painted with gestural, manic brushwork. However, they were actually created with the aid of an opaque projector, a relatively new invention at the time. The story goes that Kline borrowed the projector from Willem de Kooning when he was at an artistic impasse. He found that when he enlarged sections of tiny charcoal drawings of chairs he was working on, satisfying compositions could be discovered. These enlargements were painstakingly executed as large-scale canvasses, becoming the paintings he is best known for. He denied that there was any reference to Asian calligraphy in his work, but perhaps there was, and he just didn’t realize it at the time.