More and more often in recent years, a new trend has been cropping up in area art shows. In some cases, examples of this trend are unmistakable, while in others it is only given away by words like "manipulated" and "inkjet print" on the artwork's labels. Some read those terms and view this trend with disdain, seeing it as a hobby at best or a corruption of art at worst, while others see it as a new frontier in art and especially photography.
Whether it's loved or hated, digital art seems to be here to stay, judging by its rapidly increasing popularity. In an effort to get digital art more widely recognized and away from the straight photographic images, paintings and drawings it usually shares wall space with in art exhibitions, a group of area artists decided to give the medium a show of its own.
"We were talking for years about getting more of the community involved in digital art and photo manipulation, getting that art form a little more recognized," said David Edwards-Smith, who, along with Kenai artists William Heath and Jay Barrett, came up with the idea for the show.
After getting images from four other artists, "Kenai Digital Funk" was born and is on display at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center through April 10.
"Floating South" by David Edwards-Smith makes a more serene use of birds.
Though digital art has been around for a while, in most cases it is a relatively new endeavor for artists on the Kenai Peninsula.
Edwards-Smith's work as a graphic and Web page designer led him into the realm of digital art in about 2001. In it, he found an artistic medium he could get into.
"For myself, it's really great," he said. "I always wanted to be an artist, but I kind of sucked at drawing. But I had a great sense of art and a feel for it and through digital art I finally found a medium I could be proficient with."
Edwards-Smith's preferred approach to digital art is to start with digital photography, then manipulate and enhance the images through Photoshop, the computer program most digital artists use.
"I have a passion right now for going out with my camera and just constantly I'm grabbing shots," he said. "I'm always running around with a digital camera getting parts, dealing with the images themselves. I go out and do a base image and bring other images in to make a composition."
Jay Barrett uses the King of Pop as his subject for a pop-art inspired piece.
Edwards-Smith has six such images in "Kenai Digital Funk," where he started with a base digital photo and integrated other images into that shot.
In "Floating South," waterfowl appear to be drifting on a sea of pink-tinged clouds. Edwards-Smith took the base shot of the cloud cover from a plane and integrated the images of the birds, complete with shadows.
The completed image conveys a sense of serenity. Edwards-Smith designs each of his pieces to evoke some kind of response in its viewers.
"I'm mostly driven to create images that have a certain level of psychological depth," he said. I want something to have a meaning in it that can speak to everyone at some level. ... It has to mean something, it has to have something within your gut."
Lauren Stromberg takes a different approach to her pieces. For her, digital art is tool that helps her enhance her photography.
"I enjoy straight photography more than anything," she said. "There's so many beautiful things to take photos of up here, but I found in preparing for this show that some of my photos that are not suitable, that are slightly out of focus, are easily adapted using Photoshop to make them into something else. What would be a useless photo can be turned into something kind of fun and original."
Stromberg has been working with digital art for about six months, she said. She started taking digital pictures on cruises she and her husband took to Alaska before moving to the Kenai Peninsula last year. She doesn't attempt to convey any statement or specific meaning in her work. Instead, she wants it to enhance her photography that showcases the beauty of the natural world around her.
Stromberg has six pieces in "Kenai Digital Funk," and they form a kind of diary of some of her favorite trips and sights she's seen in the past year, she said.
"It's just to show how beautiful this state is and that there's beauty everywhere, from a blade of grass to anything," she said. "I really enjoy not so much the grand mountain scenes, but just walking through (the woods) and just the surrounding forest floor, that kind of thing."
Stromberg's preferred digital art method is like Edwards-Smith's in that they both work from digital photos. Not all artists take the same tack, however. For instance, Barrett has three pieces in the show that were completely computer generated.
The different approaches to digital art gives the show variety, and the versatility that is inherent in the medium adds to that variety. In digital art, about the only limiting factor on an artist's creativity is their proficiency with the tools of the trade, like mastering color blending and layering techniques in Photo-shop. In digital art especially, if the artist can imagine it, the image can be created.
"Neon Skyline" was made from a digital picture Lauren Stromberge took of Vancouver, B.C., from a cruise ship heading for Alaska.
That doesn't mean standard artistic principles regarding things like composition and color use don't apply, however. And, according to participants of "Kenai Digital Funk," it doesn't mean that digital photo manipulation isn't art.
"Several people I have spoken with perceive digital art as, 'Oh, it was done on the computer,' meaning you just sort of popped it on the computer and there's your art, but it doesn't work like that," Edwards-Smith said.
There is a spectrum within digital art of how much time, effort and creativity people put into their images, and there is some fuzziness and debate regarding the line that dictates whether something digitally manipulated is art or just someone Photoshopping their head on to a celebrity's body. Regardless of where someone stands on that debate, "Kenai Digital Funk" offers an opportunity to view digital images that were created with just as much time, effort and creativity as other people put into other art forms, like painting or straight photography.
"Through this show you see that the images produced are not anything that a computer can just create," Edwards-Smith said. "... I think it's a really strong show and I'm really happy with the images we got."
Edwards-Smith added that the artists in "Kenai Digital Funk" are hoping to reach out to anyone interested in learning or expanding digital art abilities. To that end, Edwards-Smith is working on an online forum at www.funkindigital.com. Anyone interested can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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