Interview for POSTmatter (complete text), 2014

The complete interview text from an article written by Jonathan Openshaw for POSTmatter which was published on January 14, 2014.

Why use a traditional medium to explore digital processes?
Painting, as a traditional medium, is in a very interesting position I think when it comes to digital technology and in particular in relation to digital photography. On one level this is because in so many ways and for obvious reasons it stands almost as the antithesis to the digital. Painting is a slow and restrictive process, defined by its limitations as material and its uniqueness as object, it is tactile and connected deeply back through history, all of the things which digital technology deny with speed, ease, copy and paste disposability and constant upgrade to the current version of newness. But using painting to explore digital photography is for me also about the interplay between these two mediums as visual languages in such a way that could be described as a translation process.
For photography this translation interplay can expose the way the technology has come to subtlety effect how we see and interpret the world by contrasting it with the contradictions that arise when painting is used to reconstruct these images. The outcome of this opens up a way of seeing and understanding the images while also addressing ideas about both painting and photography. So it could be described as a system with three interconnected layers, the first and most obvious plays with what is depicted in the image, the second with the effects and ongoing evolution of photography and the third is with the history, tradition, material and current position of the painting medium.
I imagine that anyone that paints now does so at least partly out of a defiant love for it, whether they admit it or not. Painting, you could say, has been living with the reality of its own demise and extinction for over a century and a half but for some reason it has persisted, people continue to paint and people continue to look at painting and people still treat it seriously and accept it as a relevant art form. There are so many reasons that it should be dead, some of them are due to external forces, such as photography, technology or even the market and some of them are due to an internal almost suicidal drive to reach the end point where there is nothing left to do in painting. But here we are, it goes on and it is almost defined now by this endless dance, a dalliance with the endgame and all the while still having the weight of its own long history and tradition on its shoulders. To make paintings now means to be involved in its self-reflexive crisis and the ongoing dialogue with the medium constantly in need of questioning and having to justify the very reason for its continued existence. For me there is something very poignant about this which I find very compelling.
How does viewing things on a canvas that could be seen on a screen change how the viewer approaches them?
The primary difference for me is that the painting on canvas presents visible traces of the process involved in the creation of the image. In fact for me I would say that the image, the final completed painting, is evidence of this process and its surface reveals each and every move, the choices and conclusions which were made to bring it from A to B. None of this is of course visible in a digital image where we get just the final product.
Painting an image of course places it on a well worn pedestal and elevates it into something which gets considered in relation to all of the ideas, clichés and images that we associate with the medium. As a friend and fellow painter once said to me, it doesn't matter what you paint, painting is the elephant in the room and there is no getting away from it. I think he was only partially right, most people still see the image first, for both real and abstract images, and their first relationship to the painting starts there. I have tried to play with this in a few ways, such as through the choice of often very unlikely images and also with recent work to scale up the images in the painting process so that what is depicted approaches life-size. A lot of the images that I work with originated on mobile phone cameras and I like the idea of taking something that started off being viewed through a tiny screen eventually being blown back to the size that we would see it in reality.
The funny thing is always how it goes full circle, every painting I make ends up being photographed and re-digitised and turned back into the source. Then presented online or in print they end up looking like low-resolution or glitchy photographs. I think it is also interesting to question how they are viewed when they are encountered like this, as paintings in digital form.
Describe your process in simple terms - the interoperation of images through digital means and then back into physical.
It typically begins on the computer and then to paper where I divide up or dissect the image into irregular block-like sections based on a pre-determined system, mostly defined by shape and colour or the detail in the image and sometimes this is more game or puzzle-like in structure. Then the image is reconstructed by painting these isolated pieces one by one almost like a jigsaw building together slowly over a period of weeks and sometimes months. A lot depends on the drying time or quite simply the amount of time I have to work on a particular piece or particular area, as each area is completed in one go. Even when the final image could be described as representational or realistic, it is built out of individual pieces that are generally highly abstract, just shape and colour reduced to brush marks.
I realise that this could be seen as a very unnatural or untypical approach to the painting process and it has actually evolved from looking at the algorithms and mathematical procedures behind the various digital image formats, such as Jpegs. Then, as mad as it might sound, reinterpreting these steps manually with painting. It is a very slow process, in fact it is intentionally exaggerates the slowness normally associated with painting and the element of time is very important in all this this, the painting stretching the image out over time.
What attracts you to the digital aesthetic that is produced through glitches, etc?
My background is actually in computer programming so I guess it is quite natural that this influence would very present in my artwork. I studied programming for about 3 years and then went on to study painting, which initially seemed to be the complete opposite to the structure and logic of programming languages and the mathematics that I had come from but it didn't take long before all of these past influences began seeping out and infecting the way that I approached painting. Also over the years I worked teaching multimedia applications and as a web designer, developer and programmer. So I think there is no way for me to avoid dealing with the digital world and the technology in a very direct way.

My interest in the digital errors and glitches is both an aesthetic fascination, with a love of their abstract qualities and how they invade and obscure, and also from interest in the hidden structure underlying digital images. It exposes or maybe acts as a reminder, a brief flash, of how they are made, how the visual information is interpreted, manipulated, reduced or compressed and then how they are transmitted, and the glitch is hint towards a communication breakdown.
Glitches are about errors, unpredictable outcomes, but painting them is a much more methodological process. How do these two very different aspects of your practice interact?
I have tried to define a set of procedures for myself so that instead of simply copying the glitches and digital artifacts or painting pixel by pixel, it allows for the process to generate its own errors, or manual glitches, in a way it celebrates the element of human error. This becomes more obvious when the work is seen in the flesh, the misalignments in the image are easier to spot and the boundaries between the painted sections can be seen as ridges in the painting, sometimes sharp, sometimes bleeding into each other.
For me the act of making art has always been a little bit like inventing a game, inventing the rules of that game and then, isolated within that system, in that world, as the sole player following the rules, playing the game and then along the way pushing at the self imposed boundaries.
How do you select the images to use as source material?
This I would say is one of the greatest ongoing challenges in my practice. I imagine that it is a challenge that most artists must face when presented with all the possible images, themes and subjects that are on offer from the internet, when you can choose from everything it is hard to choose anything and every choice is valid but then also invalid. Navigating and selecting from these possibilities is never easy and my own approach is continually evolving. When I first began using the internet as a source the selections were semi-random or quite arbitrary in nature. Right now I am generally guided by subject matter which results from research into different areas of interest that I have.
What is your personal perspective on the hyper-speed, hyper-reality of modern communication and life?
Actually I find it all very exciting and inspiring. To be honest I am a big kid when it comes to new technological developments. Of course it is filled with huge challenges and potential problems in how we use and adapt to it but the possibilities which exist now continue to amaze me. It is so easy to forget that most of these developments are still so new, 20 years ago most of it didn't exist for the general public and the changes even in the past 5 years have been immense. In particular because of the technology the very nature of public and private have been changed in far reaching ways. Untimately though I am very optimistic about how these development will effect humanity.
I have found it particularly amazing to watch the evolution of digital photography over the past 15 or so years. The technology has made it so simple to take photos and allows us to take such huge amount almost endless number of photos. The result of this is that people photograph absolutely everything regardless of how mundane or pointless it might seem. People use photography now not only to document the significant things and capture beautiful things but as a way of documenting the banal everyday moments in their lives. And I find myself constantly gravitating towards these types of images.
What does living in a place like berlin (so closely associated with digital art and pioneering augmented reality etc) have on your practice?
Berlin has a very rich mix of artists and designers working working both in highly innovative technologies together with those working with very traditional mediums and methods. I have found myself spoilt for choice in being able to feed off and learn from both ends of the spectrum. It is nice to be in a place where something like painting is taken as seriously as all of the new media and where many artists freely move between new and old media. This has always been very liberating to see and I have continued to work other with media apart from and as well as painting.
Is it still interesting to talk about 'digital' art, or are the barriers collapsing more and more. will people in 20 years still talk about digital as if it's a distinct sphere from reality?
For me it is not very interesting to discuss things in terms of digital art or non-digital. I find the term “digital art” such a broad term that I find it has out-grown its welcome. The things that I have seen which are generally described as being "digital artworks" or come under the umbrella of “digital art” often disappoint me because I find that the celebration of the technology and the demonstration of the clever things that are being done often takes over from the "art" aspect completely. At the end of the day these are simply tools and new mediums which offer new possibilities. Maybe we need some more time before we can get over the novelity. Right now very often people still need so much explained about what is being done and how it is being donethat the “why” sometimes gets lost. But I do think, of course, that there is great potential in so many ways for using digital technology to make art, maybe once we stop calling it digital art then it will no longer have to constantly demonstrate itself.
The original article by Jonathan Openshaw on POSTmatter can be viewed online here:

January, 2014