With the rise of computer graphics software, the internet, and other digital technological advances that occurred through the nineties, it made it more and more accessible for age old mediums like painting and drawing to drift from tactile surfaces into virtual interfaces. Now, we see people like Cory Archangel, Artie Vierkant, and Petra Cortright incessantly bending, reconfiguring, and creating within that ever-so-expansive digital pictorial space. Reaching from that long set rubric of painting and drawing, Gothenburg via Berlin-based artist Aaron Scheer uses his work to engage that pictorial space within the screen. Making free form digital gestures with keyboard commands and touchscreen swipes, the result of Scheer’s compositions are distortions, static, and blips juxtaposed at times with subtle gradations of luminous color saturations that recalls Jules Olitski’s airy pure color canvases. We had the pleasure of reaching Scheer to talk about his work, his thoughts on working through a digital space, and what excites him about contemporary art and technology today. Read our full conversation below.
Luther Konadu: What's your earliest memory of engaging with a piece of technology or digital device that allowed you to feel in control, manipulate or create something?
Aaron Scheer: My earliest memory of engaging artistically with a piece of technology, was at a time when I was in a state of crisis. The biggest crisis in my life so far. It was the time when my father died, way too early, back in the summer of 2014. It was a time of turbulent emotions, fueled with fears, but also pride of what my father achieved as a father, husband and professional, and the conclusion that life needs to go on. Art played a very important part in dealing with the difficult situation. It was part of my personal healing process. It could communicate, what could not be communicated. As I had to stay mainly at home, supporting my family with all kind of issues, I couldn’t use my studio. So I, rather unconsciously than consciously, looked out for easy accessible and on spot alternatives. The household-printer of my family was the solution and my first technology-based medium. It was a period of experimentation, as I come from abstract contemporary painting, in two ways: first, entirely new medium without any “classical“ material and second, focus on figuration rather than abstraction. The works were characterized by darkness. They absorbed what would have poisoned my mind. My first Memento Mori self-portraits came into being. The relation of death and life, and the question of who I am, were mainly the subjects of study.
LK: You are currently in school for your Masters in Science. What are you focusing on in that degree and what got you interested in pursuing that degree? What do you see yourself utilizing this degree in? Also how do you see it as influencing the creative work that you make?
AS: That is correct. I study my Master of Science in Business and Design at HDK, the art and design school of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. I’m currently focusing on understanding and manipulating complex systems. It’s a mixture of highly analytical and creative thinking on a strategic level. The work in my Master is highly diversified and interdisciplinary. Philosophy and sociology meet economics and management, which meet art and design. It’s very challenging. It represents my ambition to work creative and analytically on various levels in various fields. It combines emotion and logic. Emotion and logic also play an important role in my work as an artist. The overall meeting point of my artistic work and my Master is the need to create and form. The subject matter of creation and form-giving can be very different though. My artistry and my Master are cross-fertilizing each other. Rather on a mental level, than on a practical level. How the two directly interact is rather a mystery, than a visible matter of study. Thought-process to be continued. The answers to your questions are rather complex and an ongoing process of experimentation and testing.
Untitled 2016, ink on paper, 30 x 21 cm
LK: I'm curious why you refer to the pieces you make as paintings or digital paintings as oppose to having them be their own entity separate from what has been previously been done before?
AS: I refer to my digital works as digital paintings, as I want to emphasize the relationship to my roots, which is painting. My aim is to bridge classical painting and new, digital forms of painting. The term digital paintings helps people understand my aim. It also helps to position myself somewhere in the new contemporary art market, which would be the pragmatic answer to your question. I see myself in between new media artists and contemporary painters, additionally influenced by photography and collage. What my pieces really are, are interdisciplinary beings of their own. I have referred to my work in the past as “interdisciplinary post-everything nowness“. Try to put that in one term; not so easy.
LK: How do you see the work you are doing as bridging conventional paintings and what you are making digitally?
AS: I come from “classical“ painting with materials such as acrylic, oil crayon, oil, spray paint etc. on mediums such as canvas, paper, plexiglass etc. I have learned the aesthetic manifestations from contemporary painting, mainly influenced by my father, who was an abstract figurative painter. My work has naturally evolved from painting. It’s manifestations along the process have been transformed through new techniques and projected on new mediums, mainly digital ones. I also combine digital techniques with analog techniques. It’s a process of transition. Kate Mothes, the founder of Young Space, has described my works and approach in this respects very well, in my opinion, as followed: “Aaron Scheer (…) combines a painter’s sensibility with digital processes“. Maybe that’s what my current bodies of work are really about.
Untitled 2016, ink on paper, 30 x 21 cm
Untitled 2016, ink on paper, 30 x 21 cm
LK: Your final piece typically seems to be the end result of multiple files being filtered through a processing software or the like, or at times they seem like glitches or corrupted images...what is the idea of breaking down your initial source images, collaging and reconfiguring them to until they become other things?
AS: First of all, quite accurate description of my working process. The overall idea of my process is to explore and use immaterial digital matter as a natural material of painting. While doing so, I try to extend the palettes of a contemporary artist in a digital age. It’s the attempt and ambition to contribute to a natural evolution of painting in a digital age. One could also interpret it as the artistic exploration, or exploitation, of everyday tools and resources. In a digital age, where visual and contextual content is easy accessible and most of the times for free, we get bombarded with imagery and (“alternative“) facts. Digital matter loses its value. By using and transforming digital matter into abstracted paintings, I try to give value back to it, while somehow paradoxically contributing to the erosion of value. Contextual tension is being created and put into the aesthetic of the pieces. Value, in that case, is created through giving the digital matter a new purpose and new dimension, while the physical print gives the immaterial digital matter a materiality that creates actual (market) value.
LK: Do you ever manifest any of the compositions you make physically or tangibly? As in print them or present them in different contexts other than online?
AS: Yes, I do. My digital works can be all theoretically transmitted to various mediums, such as paper, alu-dibond, plexiglass, garment etc. So far, I have been mainly choosing a high quality fine art paper as my main medium. I print in London with ultrachrome pigment ink. The procedure is able to reflect best my digital works for the moment, especially as I work extremely detailed. I also like the materiality of the paper best for the moment. It blurs the boundaries of analog and digital painting even more, when transformed into physicality. One might not even be able to distinguish anymore. It opens up for conversation. I like that. Especially as nobody is talking about the actual pieces and intention anymore.
LK: What do you think happens to the value of the work if it reproduced by say print media? Do you think making digital-based works should only exist digitally? Can they exist only digitally?
AS: If something is mass-produced, it’s (economic) value increases most of the times. It follows a simple economic principle. When the amount increases, the price decreases. Price is the main variable for purchasing barriers on the customer side. The lower the price, the lower the purchasing barrier, which results in strengthening the customer base. Put simply, more people buy cheaper commodities. In the case of art, this mechanism fails to work. It’s rather the other way around. Art lives from it’s uniqueness. Uniqueness means scarcity. Uniqueness and scarcity enables people to distinguish themselves from others. One unique work that is almost impossible to reproduce. One of its kind. It explains why art has become the market’s favorite investment tool. Digital works are unique as well, but they are not scarce, as they are theoretically easily reproducible. They can be mass-produced, if wanted. The question of ownership of the file arises, and with it the question of how to protect the original file. Also the strategic question of which way to go as a digital artist: keeping it artificially scarce and therefore elitist, or opening up for democracy? It is also a question of how to make a living as an artist in a digital, post-industrial world. All kind of social, political and economic questions all of a sudden arise. I am playing around with it, as much as I can, trying to find new ways, my own way. It will represent a long process in my artistic career and I don’t think that anyone has an answer yet of where and how to go. But there are directions. One needs to find a rather strategic answer of how to learn walking in this new world.
LK: I’m wondering if the digital form of the work is translated into a print, do you think the resonance is different when experienced digitally versus display on gallery walls?
AS: Yes, I definitely think that there’s a difference in the perception of a physical work and a digital work. In fact, I have experienced that most people appreciate my work in physical form even more than in a digital format. There’s still something about the physical piece that a digital one cannot transport. It’s hard to explain. You might understand once you’ll see one of my physical pieces in real. I’m also currently thinking about how to create new forms of physical presentation for my works. I have something like a screen in mind, which represents a new form of canvas or paper, where I could show my works in a gallery space on. I’m also thinking about including some interactive parts, where the viewer and the work could start to communicate (in a metaphorical sense).
LK: What excites you about contemporary art nowadays as it relates to technology?
AS: It’s very exciting to see of how technology transforms the art market. On the one hand, new artists discover new forms of artistic and aesthetic expression. And on the other hand, new business models come into being. It’s shacking up the conservative art market. I like that. Technology has been boosted innovation, as in so many other industries as well. It has also threatened traditional craftsmanship, which is undoubtedly one of the downsides of new technological developments. I don’t see it to be much of a problem. I would rather argue that it boosts the value of craftsmanship, as it becomes ever more rare and specialized. With innovation comes possibilities, and many new (and old) questions arise that have to be answered. Questions open up for conversation. Societies and its individuals feel the need to talk with each other again, on fundamental levels. We’re living in exceptional times. I’m happy, and scared at the same time, to be part of it.
LK: Who do you see as pushing forward the intersection of art and technology today? and how?
AS: New formats of online magazines and platforms, as well as online galleries. Also young physical galleries start to discover new media art and implement it into their spaces. Museums and institutions still have a hard time embracing this new reality, but also on this end there is a lot happening. The most important players in this constellation are still my fellow artists, who are pushing the boundaries of analogism and digitalism with old and new technologies on old and new mediums. These are the true pioneers within the ecosystem. Nevertheless, we all need each other. We live in an interconnected world.
LK: What is something you are currently curious about?
AS: The “Trump Model“ and the concept of truth.
All images courtesy of artist.