Computers a vital part of art

ART

ArtColumn

April 08, 2003|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

The personal computer today is as vital a part of the artmaking process as paint and canvas once were. Whether used as an aid to design, a handy method of tweaking images conceived in other media or as an independent medium in its own right, no aspiring young artist's education is complete without a knowledge of its uses.

Art educators have had to scramble along with everyone else to keep abreast of the latest developments and techniques - and in doing so they have often found themselves producing images they couldn't have imagined creating just a few years ago. The relentless march of technology inevitably has led them to rethink not only the possibilities of their art, but also the terms of the artmaking process they teach to students.

Both aspects of the digital revolution can be seen in "Process," the faculty show of the department of computer graphics and visual communications at the Catonsville campus of the Community College of Baltimore County. The exhibition, mounted in the gallery of the Fine Arts building, presents the work of 10 faculty artists who use the new capabilities of computers to achieve remarkably varied ends.

Some of the artists use the computer as adjuncts to traditional photographic processes. Jaimie Beach's digital prints of residential interiors, for example, were created by scanning 35 mm film at high resolution into a photographic software program, then outputting the images on an inkjet printer.

These images look for all intents and purposes like traditional color photographs, yet they have a flawless clarity and tonal subtlety that is quite difficult to achieve with traditional chemical processes. Here, the computer is the hidden hand that accomplishes miraculous feats without ever betraying its presence.

Robert Creamer's images of specimen bones from the collection of the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History in Washington represent a similar sleight-of-hand by different means. Rather than photograph his subjects on film, Creamer captured the images directly with a portable flatbed scanner equipped with focusing controls, in effect turning his scanner into an amazingly precise, outsized digital camera.

The images that result, which will be exhibited next year at the Smithsonian, have the pristine quality of pictures produced by large-format view cameras and sophisticated lighting. Yet the novelty of the technique remains mostly hidden; the viewer is aware only of the objects, which seem to glow with an almost three-dimensional palpability.

Hal Rummel's digital photo-collages, by contrast, are easily recognizable as computer-manipulated prints, yet the pictorial elements are so seamlessly interwoven that it is difficult to know precisely how many images have been combined.

Rummel makes photo-collages in the tradition of such darkroom wizards as Jerry Ulesmann, Pete Turner and the great Japanese fashion photographer Hiro. But where these masters had to struggle with recalcitrant chemistries and complex lighting systems, Rummel creates his effects with the click of a mouse.

The show also includes photos by Gail Burton, watercolors by Janet Tracy Anderson, tile designs by Dedree Drees, collage by Deborah Wright, drawings by Erik Miller and illustration by Paul Graboff and Brian Vinyard. "Process" runs through April 25. Hours at the gallery, 800 S. Rolling Road, are Monday through Friday, noon to 8 p.m. Call 410-455-4429.

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