App-mania is the latest contribution of IT. Now you can download onto your iPad a whole new art universe where technology replaces a traditional paintbrush and roll of canvas. When the Brushes art application was launched, it was seen as a way for young, casual, game-happy types to mess about. Less predictable was that established artists would give iPads a whirl or that the results would micro-engineer their way to a place in the world’s foremost art institutions.
Touch and tempo
American David Kassan, a highly successful oil painter by trade, chanced one day to pick up a Nomad brush app – and was hooked by its possibilities. With one tap on an electronic menu, when ambling around New York’s Central Park, he can call up a colour and adjust it to an exact shade. The slightest nudge creates any line or curve on the screen to a high degree of precision. “Sketching on the go is a key advantage as I am a figurative specialist and I find intriguing faces on the subway,” explains Kassan, “also using an iPad gives a sense of immediacy and speed to what I am doing.”
Whilst apps give creativity the added bonus of portability, they also allow the production of a broad range of compositions. Whether fashioning wispy forms or creating flesh that sags with emotion, Kassan brings a level of subtlety not associated with the high-tech world. If cynical about whether his work is app-art or simply photos of ‘real’ paintings, check out a video of his technique Finger Painting on the Apple iPad posted on youtube. Millions have. “I want, quite literally, to illustrate that this is not only a powerful means of expression but also an accessible one,” enthuses Kassan.
Application art is leaving its calling card at the most prestigious venues in the world. The importance of this novel genre is highlighted by the Royal Academy of Arts in London which chose app-art for one of its flagship 2012 Olympic year shows. The Academy displayed landscapes by arguably Britain’s greatest living artist, and iPad fanatic, David Hockney. The Danish Museum of Modern Art, quirkily named Louisiana because the site owner had three wives all called Louise, recently placed Hockney’s IT art next to its Picasso extravaganza.
What is striking about digital representation is not only the medium but the manner in which it can be displayed. In Louisiana the curator blacked out all the windows so that the light sources were entirely artificial and exuded by the electronic pictures themselves. Even boisterous children bored by Picasso (“it’s a bit weird, Mom”) were captivated. Unlike many conventional art displays, the atmosphere was not static but emphatically dynamic. The screens projected a constantly changing carousel of images, energising and altering the quality of opacity in the installation space. This was not merely an arrangement of art but an experience.
Play it again
The huge benefit of an app is its animation playback feature. Like a DVD it can be replayed or frozen still, thus allowing a detailed analysis of every stroke made. And with an app, unlike life in general, you get a second chance to do it better. If you don’t happen to like a particular squiggle, simply erase, continue, create.
The iPad is an adept way of unlocking exactly how an artist crafts his works, an insider insight from first smudge to finishing touch. Louisiana erected large on-site video panels to demystify the process of what it takes to paint a picture outstanding enough to adorn the walls of a leading museum. “What a masterclass,” exclaimed a watercolourist friend who accompanied me to the exhibition in Denmark, “now I can stop asking, how on earth can it be done?” It is reassuring to see that not even a maestro gets it right first time but often changes colours, shapes and perspective.
Whether beginner or brilliant, iPad art is one of the more forgiving styles of expression. Photo artist Mette Bersang notes, “if a camera stalls, that millisecond in the midst of eternity has gone forever.” But an app offers the facility to eliminate a mishap and do it again, just right, or until you get it right. Trial-and-error art has never been so easy or so readily accessible.
Lengthening the spectrum
Digital production is increasingly being seen as an artistic skill to be studied in its own right and as carefully as landscapes in oil or studies in charcoal. Gallery Henoch which represents David Kassan says, “the response to David’s iPad endeavours has been led to unexpected avenues. The New York Academyis running an innovative course taught by David focusing on the use of apps.” This is an art revolution by drop-down menu and on-screen click.
The Brushes and Nomad apps have opened up a range of opportunities in art generation and ownership. Since even accomplished copies of traditional artwork can be identified as fakes, everyone wants an original and some want it really badly. One of David Hockney’s paintings fetched £5.2 million. But now the print-on-demand facility of digitalisation makes it feasible to possess a Hockney, indistinguishable from the original, without the stratospheric price tag. Go figure.
But the flatness of IT art which allows its perfect reproduction may also be its drawback. Acclaimed London portraitist Amy Shuckburgh believes that “building up layers of paint gives a strong textural quality which is harder to pull off in an iPad.” Shuckburgh, whose clients included the late Nobel prize-winner Harold Pinter, nonetheless believes that flatness can be carefully exploited to become an asset as in cartoon art.
Not everybody wants to, or can, make a living out of art. Most people pick up wooden-handled brushes for the sheer joy of it, joining that enthusiastic legion of ‘Sunday painters’ which included Winston Churchill among its ranks. The advantage of an app over an easel is that it allows people to integrate art into daily life, inspiring those who might otherwise never find a slot for personal creativity. In time perhaps we may have the ‘commuter painter’ or ‘sipping an espresso painter.’ Why not? Technology has made it possible. Use it and brighten up your day.
But are art apps anything like the real thing or is this just another IT gimmick? Like a royal wave, a gesture says it all. As a reflex action, many iPad artists wipe their hands at the end of an app session because they feel their fingers are smeared with paint.
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