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Making Digital Map Art

My entire adult life I have been fascinated by aerial imagery. Starting when I was a teenager I was fortunate enough to be sent away to boarding school in the East Coast and therefore flew between Phoenix and Newark

6 times a year. This went on for 5 years. After 30 cross country flights, many landing in Chicago or Dallas where I changed planes. Always reserving a window seat, I had become entranced looking down on the landscapes below and using cameras to photograph what I saw. When I attended Stanford University I thought I would become an architect. In my college studies I was required to take Urban Design classes. In these classes in the mid 1970's I was exposed to the then new use of satellite images.. As it worked out, appreciating and then later using these satellite images was the aspect of my college education that had the most profound and long lasting impact on my life. I decided to become a visual artist and vowed to use maps, aerial photographs and satellite images to help me make paintings and drawings. Ever since around 1980, I have been doing just that. My early process used transparency photography and slide projectors to project my source images to start paintings. It helped that I decided to attend graduate school, in my case San Francisco State University, where I studied with one of the top Photorealist painters who was teaching then; Robert Bechtle.

For the last 42 years I have not wavered from my vision, even though I discovered the Art World was not particularly interested in landscapes, and for a long time, artists that used photography in their painting process. "Landscapes have been done and don't matter much to contemporary culture". "Artists that project photos to paint are just copying" is what I have been usually hearing for all these years.

No matter. I know that landscapes and places are extremely important to human culture. Ask any Ukrainians.

As far as "copying" goes, my position is that tracing lines is just the best way I know to get accuracy and proportion.

It's just a tool that can be utilized, or not. You still have to paint your sketch. Funny, I have lived long enough to see Photorealism be all the vogue, go out of favor and now be reintroduced as prescient. I saw Mr. Bechtle be considered important, then be ignored, and now I see that his masterful works on canvas and paper being added again to many museum collections. I saw that the Palm Springs Museum added to its collection a major work of his not long ago.

All of this brings me to my latest evolution that has many factors. First, over the years my paintings have become less photorealistic. They never were anyway. Bechtle often took 6 months to paint a large canvas. I learned in grad school that was not my temperament. I used photo information, but I painted in an expressionistic style. That way I could show the tectonic flux of the world. My works looked photorealistic, but only from a distance. Close scrutiny showed the painterly surfaces that only hinted at exact detail. Over the years I slowly stoped projecting photos in favor of a loser grid transfer method. Exactness was less important. Showing the dynamic tectonic flux became more the message.

As the Art World continued to generally ignore most of my work, I looked for other subjects besides what I considered landscapes. My other topics were all based on reality and most were scientific in nature; investigating physics and subatomic particles, stock charts, and historical military battles were added to my investigations. And then the big one for me; using music for inspiration in creating abstractions. I have numerous statements and blog entries on this very important focus for me. Where does that leave my lifelong interest in landscapes? This question has been on my mind for some time now, and this past Spring I came up with a possible answer.

Just use satellite databases, mapping programs, and geologic websites directly. So starting this May, on a two week drive to my summer compound in Alaska, I realized I could make landscapes at night, using my computer and a hotspot connection. As I traveled across the Nevada desert I could experience the world and draw from my observations and then go to scientific databases and screen grab the aerial information. I knew from all my Photoshop work using photomerge that the computer could (sometimes) aggregate the images into a mosaic. The composition would have erratic edges, often just like the satellite images I have been referencing for decades. I could even stack multiple mosaics, say one a topographic map and the other a satellite view. Then I could blend them using Photoshop blending modes into hybrid images that were revelations, unlike any aerial imagery that I had ever seen. So that is what I have been doing for six months now. It seems entirely possible that I will make fewer landscapes paintings now. I will surely continue on my abstraction path in painting and may let the Digital Map Art be my primary landscape work. Time will tell.

This is the first I have written about these new developments. There will be more writing. I suppose it is inevitable that questions will arise about appropriation. I plan to make some future statements on the subject, but I can state right now my opinion that what I am making digitally exists only because I compose it, blend it, filter it, and post it. In the meantime, take a look at my "Digital Map Art" tab. You will find 150 digital works so far. Places generally correspond to my geographic and geologic areas of interest. Alaska, California, the East Coast, Los Angeles, NYC, Chicago, New Orleans, Europe etc etc. I have never printed these files, but that is the plan. If you see a composition you would like to collect, contact me and I will make you an archival print.


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