F11: Digital Paintings for Full Screen

Going Live on April 11: A Virtual Exhibition at DerfnerOnline.org/F11

Derfner Judaica Museum + The Art Collection at Hebrew Home at Riverdale is pleased to announce its first virtual exhibition, F11: Digital Paintings for Full Screen, on view April 11­–August 8, 2021. A virtual opening reception with the artists will be held on Zoom on Sunday, April 11, at 12 p.m. EST. This event is free and open to the public. Register at f11digitalpaintings.eventbrite.com. The exhibition will go live on April 11 at DerfnerOnline.org/f11.

“F11” refers to the function key that opens full screen viewing in most internet browsers. In the Covid-era when many art spaces are closed or open at limited capacity, online exhibitions have become ubiquitous. Such experiences include galleries that have been painstakingly photographed and recreated into 360-degree navigable spaces, fictional rendered environments where artwork has been “installed” virtually, social media as a curation space and websites that feature high-resolution images to showcase artworks that exist as physical objects. “F11” inverts these practices: It features digital paintings best exhibited in a purely virtual space where the optimal way of viewing the work is on-screen.

The 10 artists in this exhibition live and work in different places in the United States and internationally. They employ distinct digital strategies to create their works, which are linked by the exhibition’s conceptual framework, not thematically. The exhibition examines the significance of digital painting in this moment, especially when reliance on screens is more prevalent than ever before.

Carlos Torres Machado began exploring digital painting during the pandemic while working from home. Referring to his work as “extremes of rigorous geometry and lyrical abstraction,” his compositions explore the organization of social and technological information through pattern and complex color combinations. This is evident in his Data Centers series (2015–present), which began as large-scale polyptychs that Machado developed into digital paintings. Using Photoshop, he experimented with new structures and forms while maintaining the core color relationships that underpin his work.

Like many of the artists in the exhibition, Elaine Chao begins with a physical object to develop her digital compositions. She takes photographs of her acrylic paintings applied to cardboard and encased in gloss gel and then transfers them to Photoshop where she “excavates” layers of paint, enhancing particular sections of color and texture to create animated .gifs. The series Moving Image (2019), featured here, is a collection of animated paintings that explore complex color combinations and light through digital manipulation. Chao is the only artist represented by animated abstract paintings, engaging the core concept of the exhibition of digital works that are best exhibited on-screen.

Polina Protsenko also develops her digital abstractions with traditional media, beginning each work with mostly monochromatic color swatches she paints in watercolor on paper. Photographs of these images are transferred to the computer and collaged, rotated and manipulated in Photoshop, resulting in ethereal abstract works. Protsenko describes watercolor painting as “natural and fluid,” an art-making process that is partially out of her hands. Digital art, on the other hand, provides a tightly controlled format with which to explore purely formal concerns of color and composition. An interdisciplinary artist, this body of work is her first foray into digital painting, which she began during the pandemic.

Samhita Kamisetty’s richly colored digital paintings explore how physical spaces and the seemingly mundane objects within them can be emotionally transformative and acquire symbolic meanings. The private domestic interiors depicted in her paintings are based on her home in Bangalore, India, chosen for associations with comfort. Starting with an underdrawing in permanent marker on paper, Kamisetty digitally paints over the drawing in Photoshop and applies texture effects to create the final work. The flat compositions saturated with color and populated with elaborate patterns comprised of flowers, fruit, leaves and insects create a joyful, lively atmosphere.

The three works by Adam Blitz are part of his 2018 project Digital Apamea, an attempt to reconstruct the lost mosaic floor of a fourth-century synagogue at Apamea on Orontes in Syria. The digital works were constructed using such available sources as mosaic fragments, black and white photographs and comparisons with similar mosaic color schemes in Syria, Turkey and Italy. The artist refers to the resulting works as “fictions” since the available historical information is incomplete and he uses archaeological methods to complete them. For the final works, Blitz used a variety of tools in Photoshop to manipulate color, texture and shape.

Collin Pollard’s work centers around the relationship between the physical world and its depiction within the digital realm, particularly the vastness of digital space itself. During the pandemic, only a screen could provide a look into the outside world, which was otherwise impossible to reach physically. His paintings are derived from computer screenshots of glitches that appeared in YouTube travel videos he watched. They reflect on the stagnancy of the on-screen experience—the irony of being able to access the boundless space that digital technology has to offer while simultaneously being confined to a limited physical space. Pollard created these digital paintings by collaging high-resolution photographs of his own mark-making in acrylic paint or marker and screenshots of glitches, resulting in frenetic compositions with geometric shards of color.

Luise Eru also utilizes digital collage as part of his practice and has been using Photoshop exclusively since 2019. He incorporates found photographs enriched by layers of color, resulting in striking images that highlight the conditions of political chaos, poverty, marginalization and violence that Black people endure in his home country of Brazil. He describes his compositions as images of beauty that disrupt violence while retaining the aesthetic richness that Black culture and skin carry. His work is explicitly personal and lyrically emotional, reflecting on gender constructs of masculinity, childhood memories and familial traditions.

Donald Hargrove’s lush landscapes are rendered with painterly strokes, textures and subtle color gradations. Working from photographs, sketches executed both digitally and on paper, pure imagination or en plein air, Hargrove approaches digital art the same way as traditional painting, describing it as working with “pixels rather than paint.” He began exploring the medium for the first time during the pandemic after a long period of inactivity, describing working in a digital format as “reviving my own creativity but also my identity as an artist.”

Annie Lee is represented by a series of three abstract digital paintings entitled Smudges and Dust (2020) that ruminate on the unorthodox experience of earning a practical art degree online and the reliance upon screens to replace the physical classroom experience. Lee began exploring this concept by focusing on human marks left behind on the screens—smartphones, tablets, computers—that have become a necessity of every day life during the pandemic. Inspired by the dusty, grimy screen of her own laptop, the monochromatic blackness of these works is accented with impressions of fingerprint smudges. The paintings question where the boundary of digital and physical space lies and invite viewers to reflect on their own marks left behind on devices that are constantly swiped, touched and tapped when activating digital space.

Executed directly onto a tablet with a stylus, Stefanie Wolfson’s Plant Portraits series depicts plants that commonly appear in social media posts, particularly on Instagram, and are associated with a trendy design aesthetic popularized by social media influencers. The species depicted in Wolfson’s digital paintings represent some of the most overused plants that help the Instagrammer or Vlogger achieve a desired atmosphere to boost follower counts. Her project emphasizes the shallowness of social media’s fixation on keeping up with trends and reliance on superficial metrics of success.  Wolfson’s portraits also touch on the damaging impact that over-consumption of these plants has on the environment.

Header image: Collin Pollard (b. San Jose, California, 1994; lives and works in San Jose), Sandstorm, 2021, digitally manipulated computer screenshot collaged with abstracted pixels in Photoshop, 6000 x 7200 pixels. Courtesy the artist.

This exhibition is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.