THE DIGITAL MARK new work by Jonathan Morse
Rauschenberg, the earliest influence on my path of hybrid picture-making, said something like: there’s art and there is life, I function between the two…which is why In the In-Between so reflects what I perceive to be the state of digital imaging in our time. A time when everyone is an image-maker, self-publisher and critic, requiring those of us who call ourselves Artists to step up our game and present our best art-selves. As a non-technical person I feel both the liberation and the weight of our hurtling penetration of the digital future, but as a technological bottom-feeder I welcome and embrace free easy-to-use apps and the uncomplaining assistance of simple Photoshop tools which enable me to be a mark-maker in ways I could never have conceived in my toxic-chemical-filled traditional photo-printmaking days. My digital avatars take my hand and guide me through the digital divide.
As I understand it, Elon Musk believes our “reality” may really be a simulation created by a far more advanced civilization, and that our ascent into the AI world of augmented and virtual reality blurs this situation more every day (Pokémon Go anybody?). If reality is just projection then the creation of digital images achieved through hours of tactile interaction within a two-dimensional screen-space now serves to comfort and ground us to our selves as external relationships may no longer do. The printed image, fixed in time as printmakers have long lovingly labored to produce, confirms and honors the expanding profundity we aspire to find within ourselves.
That said, I accept where we are and appreciate the democracy of everyone having reasonably-priced access to digital creation tools including large-format printers with color gamut and resolution we could only dream about not so long ago. I accept that I am a cyborg artist, man and machine in collaboration just as tools have amplified our mental and physical abilities for millennia. We are enmeshed in a world flooded with images; we have all become directors and producers (in the film and video sense of the words), processing incoming information and (re)structuring outgoing information based on our expanding digital skillsets. To understand today’s world requires knowledge of editing techniques that do not remain static, and without which we may not know what is going on around us outside our analog selves. Our re-mastered digital constructions now serve as objective correlatives of our inner experience. To repurpose the oft-spoken movie-making term, we now can fix our lives in post.
Digital artistry enables a confluence of visual sources and personal influences and mirrors that process of construction and deconstruction through which the past becomes the new, and through which we literally make our mark. It’s just another pencil, taking its rightful place in the continuum of human mark-making. A traditional (sort of) printmaker with early twenty-first century tools, my layers dissolve, transform and republish themselves into a recombinant vision. For me photography has always been a mark-making medium and I weave its spell back into my images, merging, painting, drawing and distilling. My internal visual history enables connections conscious and unconscious, my few Photoshop tools become my iterative friends. But it’s still all about Ink on Paper. The thrilling complexity and beauty of the lithographic wash still vibrates in my retina.
I wrote years ago that For a long time I have not been comfortable “taking” a picture (those seen images of the world around me I can simply remember), preferring to “make” a picture instead…Our lives are collages of textures and impressions, input from here and from there, pastiches of pleasures recalled and pain endured. My current work too is not-so seamlessly cut and pasted, revised and revisited, and drawn upon from all my experience. Our daily lives may seem routine, so how nice it is to find that in our artspace we can paint caves again, or simply howl at the moon. I’ll leave the real world to those other photographers to place their well-worn rectangles upon, for the visions I assemble become truly my own.
Solitude is important. When I work I sit down without intention, without thought as to the final form. “Process not product”, Nathan Lyons would say at the Visual Studies Workshop. I let the process surprise and inform me and guide me towards a cohesive whole, one which I will only know when I get there. Visual creation exists in that meditative space in-between the deliberate and the random. I let one series evolve into the next, staying thematically connected but always trying to improve, experiment and keep moving. While I’m a digital action painter intuitively whirling from step to step and multiple undo’s, handwork is important and there’s barely a pixel I haven’t labored over during my evolutionary image-building process. It’s not technology or technique, just drawing and painting in the only way I know how; drawing hardwires us to the network of the soul. I try to birth the new while honoring the past in the hope that the concretization of the ineffable becomes clearer and deeper as I persist… why make an image that has been seen before?