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An earlier thread on Christopher Ashley's html drawings got sidetracked into other issues, such as browser and display technology and whether web designers are artists (I'd say they're designers, but that's not to say design can't be artistic). Ashley's abstractions are consistently inspiring and imaginative, accomplished with the most minimal and available of means. New patterns, color relationships, and strategic approaches to that Modernist mainstay, the grid, just seem to pour out of him.

A painter friend of mine was over recently and really responded to Ashley's works onscreen. We agreed they (html drawings) were the type of thing Peter Halley would be doing if his work wasn't "stuck." Halley talks a good cyber-game but he's never made the leap to actually composing with or for the computer. Usually he uses it to illustrate or document ideas in his paintings, or as digital window dressing to make his art seem more "now," while he continues producing traditionally-fabricated canvases.* His biggest problem, though, is being a prisoner of his own cells and conduits. Ashley, on the other hand, working only with the computer, shows a wide range of places the "Halley-type painting" could go: intriguing figure-ground play, simulated transparency, flirtation with applied design (logos, pictograms, game boards).

I think on some level, though, my friend still thinks of Ashley's work as reproductions of paintings, and is critiquing them imagining them "in the flesh," with smooth surfaces and crisp-but-not-brittle edges like, say, Cary Smith's. But such paintings don't exist, it's all illumination in your browser. Somehow people with an eye for traditional abstraction are going to have to subtract out that extra step they're taking of imagining the reified image and just enjoy the fleeting thing they're seeing on the screen. This is true anti-materialist practice: what conceptualism promised thirty-five years ago but never delivered, at least in a visually compelling form.

*See for example, this jacket illustration for a recent Halley book. Behind the all the naked models you can see a Halley painting fuzzed out with some kind Gaussian filter. The inside of the book features More Wacky Photoshop Fun With Halley Paintings. Oh, and I guess I should say I generally like Halley's work but find his recent forays into installation and trying to position himself as a Warholian media maven unconvincing.

- tom moody 11-18-2003 9:02 pm [link]