Mel Strawn
'Funkuestion' by Shankar Barua


What can one say about exploratory images? A few thoughts below, since I see I did include the "coins" essay in the IDEA #6

Reflecting now on more than 20 years working with digital means:

I have to, on one hand, wonder if what was lost ­ the paintings and drawings not done ­ is at least balanced by the work realized using the computer, especially since 1996 from whence nearly all work has been "digital". Maybe that concern is pointless, yet I feel a weighing of final options, given my years, is the issue. Should I continue or go back to the known "joys" of traditional media?

So, to assess what seems to have filled the other hand, a lot of works have come about via the new technology. With it all has come a new set of questions, or old questions recast in new art-culture guise.

The most important question is seemingly a paradox. With an accelerating pace of nearly everything, with the hype spotlight on "information", most electronically realized and ephemeral in nature, we find discussion loud and anxieties high about the "archival" life afforded by e-media works. More specifically ­ "will the print, video tape, or DVD self destruct soon after I make it or acquire it?" " Is it permanent?"

Shouldn't we consider that life itself, not to mention media-provided tidal waves of sound and image, is a constant coming and going, a gaining and losing. Sure, we like to hold on to objects and even ephemeral experiences (like life) for as long as our interest is engaged. Yet I wonder if we shouldn't consider a new value structure for our emerging 'e-culture', a new expectation of art object life span, investment value and cost, both to make and to acquire. This is both a market and ethical/aesthetic set of issues. If the answer is 'yes, we might need a new structure', does monetary worth increase ­ because each work is more rare in time (lasts less long), or does the demand price decrease ­ because we still emotionally amortize aesthetic goods for eternity?

Practically speaking, e-artists seem to be doing the best they can to make durable goods as supplies and materials improve to traditional standards. Still, I'd feel comfortable as an artist if my e-works were experienced primarily as ephemeral display, rather than as "limited edition" print objects in the grandfather tradition. A user controlled plasma or LCD display wall is interesting to contemplate. A collector could own a far greater number of visual or mixed media works for selective viewing; the analogy with CDs and DVDs for music and film is obvious. This would imply a new value and marketing structure for visual art. The high volume of work being created now by e-artists (visual ones, anyway) is not well supported by today's cumbersome, traditional art market/gallery system.

Harald Johnson, in his recent book, Mastering Digital Printmaking, notes this potential, but thinks it is a long way off. I wonder why?

Returning to my own work: re. my recent prints:

Most are extensions of the "Coins of the Realm" series - in which found objects, usually bottle caps, are used as coin surrogates with whatever associations one wishes to make. They are mixed media images in the sense that photographed or scanned images are combined with digitized drawings or paintings on screen, with various operations in Photoshop to create a new work, a new vision. The compositional process is open ended, a search for possibilities, for new experiences. What one finds is what one gets..
Rather than simulating traditional works, I am increasingly interested in "repurposing" drawings and paintings done at another time for other purposes as components of the new works.

Technically, I use my own EPSON 9000 printer adapted to use Media Street's G-4 pigment inks with Hawk Mountain rag papers (with some self-prepared substrates on occasion). I now use a Sigma SD_9, X3 chip digital camera, which I find gives me a rich quality image to work with (RAW format) and excellent software for image adjustment and saving to jpeg or TIFF.

I am starting to make actual objects with digital components.... more on this as they develop.

The Images

Ambients:~ a tree broke a window in my house. Photographed, made into color enhanced relief ­ composed with bottle cap "Coins". Open interpretation..

Archaeo Masque:~ a version of Masquerade. Changed orientation gives upright Easter Island-like effigy. Embossed from prior print, color saturation enhanced

Ark Pond:~ digital photograph cropped from a larger view, slightly enhanced color in top, dark band and added personal chop (MS) to suggest vertical scroll image (I have studied calligraphy in Japan).

Ball Park 5:~ beer can and soft drink caps American/Cuban/Japanese iconic game and pastime.

Burnt Grass Coin:~ this one is on IDEA 6

Coin Cross:~ a background flow of flattened grasses perhaps a sort of heraldic idea..

Dance Matrix:~ a repurposed image of a much earlier oil painting, digitized, color altered, composed with "Coins" The image still conveys the dense interplay of long brush strokes

Entropic Juggle:~ just play with a single "coin", giving a good detailed look at surface qualities. And color

(Gods Drawing) Actual Title: " Valley of the Gods":~ a small pencil sketchbook drawing radically enlarged and color-shifted to sanguine in digital work space.

Gold Coin of the Realm

Incantations:~ a hike in Utah's Canyon Lands brought me to a ledge; across the canyon was a magnificent frieze of stains on the cliff wall hundreds of feet high. A sketch book pencil drawing of this is the ground and space in which some Coins of the Realm drift by, flying saucers from the present in ancient space..(The drawing was inverted to a negative phase..)

It Is

Lunar Offering:~ a real mixture: old wallpaper scrapings, "coins" and an ink drawing of bamboo root ­ what Picasso must have used for his "Dream and Lie of Franco" etchings(which has nothing to do with this print).

Masquerade:~ digital photograph of aluminum foil with "coins" ..Sort of theatrical fantasy.

Mechanics Dream:~ from an old slide of nuts and bolts in a mechanic's work drawer. Lots of color alteration to create spacey mood

Orvieto Devil:~ from my sketchbook pencil drawing of the small sculptures on the front of Orvieto Cathedral, Italy.

Rank and File (plus a detail image below):~ an orderly re-assembly of the discarded (Veteran's Day?)

Rank and File (detail)

Smoke & Mirrors (left):~ 2 pencil drawings of animal skulls, each with multiple, overlapping views combined with the cracked glass photo and "coins"
Smoke & Mirrors (right):~ a "negative" view of Smoke and Mirrors. different time-space mood

Snow Chair Couple:~ a "straight" digital photo which brings to mind a Henry Moore sculpture ­ and for reference to the next, digitally altered image..

Snow Chair Royal:~ from the image above, but composed with flipped version symmetrically interacting with itself. Digital color alterations and an interest in playing asymmetrical "Coins" against the basic symmetry

Thresher:~ a farm machine interacting with itself in 2 layers of digital space Just a fascinating configuration made bit mysterious with digital operations.

Wampum (& detail below) "Coins" arrayed as, well, coins in a money belt composed of bent aluminum foil digitally photographed. The dark zone above and below the metallic zone is "cloned" from the metallic zone

Wampum (detail)

Warrior Shield:~ another combined image based in a photograph of an oil painting symmetrically "flipped" and interacting with itself

X-rated Picture:~ a graphite drawing, color altered and recomposed with a "coin" doing new duty as an Elizebethan ruff collar.

Mel Strawn
Professor Emeritus, Univ. of Denver (Colorado)
8905 Highway 285
Salida, CO 81201