Thank you to everyone who came out last week for the opening of Denizen III– we had a great time and look forward to First Friday coming up this week. In conjunction with the show, we asked Gallery Director and artist Cayce Goldberg a few questions. Below, read his thoughts on digital painting, the experience of art, and how to survive the zombie apocalypse.
1. Did you aspire to be an artist, or did you fall in love with making art?
It was a little of both. As a kid, I was obsessed with drawing, scurrying away to my room with a stack of printer paper and a pencil. In my earliest memories, there were three things I really loved drawing – hammerhead sharks, dinosaurs, and huge battles with hundreds of stick figure people. Portraits used to frustrate me too much because I knew my drawings didn’t look right, so I avoided them for a long time.
My aunt gifted me her Art History textbook from college when I was around 7 years old and it changed my whole world. I was immediately enthralled with the work of medieval masters, impressionists, post-impressionists, and expressionists. My parents still have some of my old drawings, including copies of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, Van Gogh, Hans Holbein’s Henry VIII, Manet, Cezanne, Rouault, and others.
I picked up digital painting when I was 13 or 14 in the hopes of someday becoming a concept artist for games or film. This was when I started to take art more seriously. I went to the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design (RMCAD) in 2007 to become an illustrator, but learned that I prefer using my medium for fine art rather than industry work. Since graduating, digital painting has been my mainstay for studio work.
2. What do you look for in the art of others? What would you hope people look for in your work?
I look at artwork as an experience. The most successful art leaves me with a distinct feeling. Even a simple subject, like a figure painting, can leave me feeling a mood, a time of day, a temperature, an emotion. I believe artists can take subjects that have been done a million times and can still pull something memorable out of it if they can pour a bit of themselves into it. Artists do not have to reinvent the wheel with every piece of art they create. Lofty concepts can be powerful, but there are other ways to make compelling artwork. So, all I hope for in my own work is that people walk away having felt something memorable – confusion or surprise, joy or sadness. In my opinion, the biggest failure I could have is for people to look over my work and feel absolutely nothing.
3. Do you use any unusual or “non-traditional” media in your work?
My artwork uses what some might consider to be the most non-traditional tool of all – the computer. My technique is called ‘digital painting.’ It’s the idea of using a pressure sensitive tablet to interface with a program like Photoshop or ArtRage to create artwork by handmade strokes.
I get a lot of flak for describing myself as a ‘painter’ since I’m not using actual paint, and I’m often times told I should just describe myself as a ‘digital artist.’ But I’ve never been fond of these arbitrary constraints. Digital art is an extremely broad genre that includes things like digital photography, photo manipulation, 3D modelling, vector-based imagery (logos, graphic design, etc.), and digital collage. They are distinctly different approaches from digital painting.
‘Painting’ is the best word to describe the method that artists like myself use. The crux of this idea is not what the image is made with, but how it’s made. Each part of the image is created by the stroke of a pen, in the same way that a painting is created by brushstrokes. It’s not as though I press a button and the computer generates imagery for me. While there are a million tricks that digital painters can use to achieve their goal, I strive to maintain traditional techniques. I do not trace photos, use filters, or sample colors from photos. I work from observation, starting with a drawing, then an underpainting, and then I block in colors with large brushes and work my way down to smaller brushes, refining my image as I go.
Much of my work uses brushes that emulate traditional media or is even outright simulations of oil paint through programs like ArtRage. I love the look and feeling of traditional media, but at the same time I am attracted by the advantages and freedoms of digital painting – it’s clean, it’s organized in a hard drive, I don’t have to buy gobs of expensive supplies (though the initial cost is very high), it’s easy to experiment and try new things, and my final works are many times more affordable than original paintings. It’s not to say that digital painting is better than physical painting, each medium has its advantages and its difficulties, but I do love how affordable prints can be.
So ultimately, digital painters follow in the footsteps of printmakers, whose medium has been practiced for millennia. I am fascinated by the idea of using new, non-traditional techniques to create work that looks and feels like the traditions of the past. It’s the illusion that attracts me, the hope that I can make viewers forget they’re looking at something that was made on a computer. After all, ‘traditional’ media is only described as such because it’s been used for so long that it became a tradition. I believe we’ll look at digital artwork as ‘traditional media’ in the near future.
4. What are you currently working on and what projects do you have coming up?
I’m currently wrapping up a project with 7 other artists called ‘Strange Conversations.’ It’s an exhibit here at Helikon opening June 5, but the exhibit itself is a showcase of original art from the 48 page book we’re creating. The project is based on the ‘exquisite corpse’ concept, where artists collaboratively add to an organically growing collection of artwork. In our case, we each submitted open-ended phrases, stitched them together into an abstract story, and then assigned each phrase to a different artist. The result is a bizarre, non-traditional narrative where the story, characters, and settings shift from page to page. It’s an exciting project that’s put me outside my comfort zone. We started an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign on April 15, so check it out at http://igg.me/at/strangeconversations.
5. What is something most people don’t know about you?
I’m hugely obsessed with the past. I feel a connection with all the people who lived and died before me, and I constantly think about my place in history, my mortality, my DNA as an extension of my ancestors’ lives. History captures my imagination so much that I actually try to find ways I can live it out. While I haven’t had much of any time lately to participate in it, I have a full suit of armor and do medieval sword fighting (made of rattan) with a group called the SCA (the Society for Creative Anachronism). It’s a worldwide organization of medievalists, founded in 1966, who recreate the entire medieval period across the globe, from the combat and the clothing to the arts and sciences.
It’s a beautiful thing full of amazing, caring people who have some of the most unusual and astonishing skills I’ve ever seen. I have friends who raise animals, spin raw wool on a medieval drop spindle, pick local plants for dyes, dye the thread, and then finally they weave it into a period accurate piece. A lot of people call it ‘LARP,’ but I think that’s an unfair way to write off such a complex hobby. We don’t have wizards or goblins or magical spells. We try to recreate the medieval period in a way that’s enlightening and yet entertaining. Some people take it pretty lightly while others dive into the deep end, spending weeks researching period garb, medieval encampents, cooking, manuscripts, ways of life, medieval cultures, medieval brewing techniques, casting techniques, weaving, sewing, and much more. To put it frankly, these are the people you’ll want to know when the inevitable zombie apocalypse destroys civilization (I’m kidding… sort of).
You can see more of Cayce’s work in Denizen III, on view through May 30th, and online at www.caycegoldberg.com.
For more information on Helikon Gallery and Studios, visit www.helikongallery.com.