Researching for a new book about my journey from paint to pixels and beyond (working title Paint It Chrome), has presented me with a rare opportunity to begin rummaging through my parallel attics in both worlds, looking for treasures from the past and lining them up alongside a few gems from the present, then stepping back and pondering just what it is I’ve been doing all these years. One of my discoveries was that there seemed to be a silver thread running through it all… a long, shiny, electrical power cord. Technology has been at the heart of it from the very beginning. I was actually a bit surprised to learn this; I had primarily been focused on the art and only in recent years did the presence of “machinery” loom large in my studio.
From my early days in New York, up to my elbows in acrylic paint while fiddling with projectors and cameras, to the magical present where I now travel through time and space in the blink of an avatar’s eye, creating works which exist almost entirely in digital (read: imaginary) form, and then when the moment arrives, conjuring them up in galleries that also seem to magically appear from somewhere in the landscape of my own mind. The mind that matters, that is. The imagination.
If I were to summarize this journey in artistic terms, though, I’d say that it began with the desire to express my ideas in my own voice, wherever it led, and however it was accomplished. In my case, it led to the merging of man and machine, the blurring of old technology into new technology. Some of the major milestones along the way included my first, tentative visual experiments on the Macintosh computer; my subsequent discovery of Adobe Photoshop which enabled me to integrate all two-dimensional media; and my entry into Second Life where I would begin a new, completely digital life in a virtual world as an avatar/artist named Chrome Underwood, in a place where ideas seem to expand in every direction and the laws of physics did not apply.
Looking back over this journey filled with experiments, false starts and supreme successes I was able to isolate four distinct periods, which can be roughly divided along several decades:
The Seventies: Paint on Canvas
During my time in New York, I was a painter of large Pop Art works, projecting pre-manipulated slides and transparencies onto shaped and distorted canvases, then outlining and painting them using acrylics. Examples from this period are Young Love and Angel.
The Eighties: Mixed Media
Although there were many experimental approaches during this period, I finally settled into a collage-and-paint technique using still shots taken directly from a television screen with a tripod-mounted Nikon SLR camera using traditional film. The snapshots were then arranged in various patterns and painted directly into. Two of these works are Adam’s Dream and Seven Feet from Easy Street.
The Nineties: Digital Collage
Once I had discovered Photoshop, though, I set out to prove that all of the passion of the human soul could be squeezed through the ‘machine mind’ of a computer, rendering works that could reach those places in the heart and mind that had only been accessible with the tools of traditional media. Most of my work from that point on was purely digital; some examples from that period are Ridge Road Remix and China Doll.
Early 21st Century: Virtual Art
It wasn’t until I became an avatar, though, that I was finally able to return to the magical world of childhood; a fantasy world where anything seemed possible; a world where everyone had the powers of a superhero and the very ground we walked on was made of eye candy. I began by creating a series of figurative abstractions based on the avatar, expanded into virtual comic books, began a graphic novel, and experimented with machinima film. Example of some of the digital paintings from this era include my recent paintings, Lover Come Back, and Seven Eleven.
Finally, one of the most important aspects of these recent events has been the discovery that technology doesn’t necessarily atomize our world and alienate us from one another; on the contrary, it opens up entirely new pathways of communication and creative expression. Working as an artist in a virtual world has made it possible for me to become a member of a global community of creatives – grown up kids like me, playin’ in the cosmic sandbox. Looks to be a good century.
Mick Brady, aka Chrome Underwood
Santa Barbara, California