Tuesday, 17 May 2016

My iPad Wants To Kill Your Mama: a wordsmith talks pictures, Insta-art and keeping it surreal

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This is the full interview I did with Dusit Hotels' Eight magazine on my new passion, digital art, for its latest issue, themed 'Renewal'. I have written for Eight before, most recently my essay on the colour red, but this time the tables were turned. After a lifetime spent asking the questions, it was a bit odd being the interviewee, not the interviewer. Then again, a writer who spends all his spare time creating images on his mobile devices is pretty odd too. This is much longer than the piece that was published. Contains all sorts of opinion, rants and detailed stuff about apps, so be warned. 


Where were you born?
A city in Australia called Brisbane, but referred to by its inhabitants as Brisvegas, 

Where were you raised?

I was raised in Brisbane and then Townsville, which is North Queensland, a nondescript army town in my day but a nice town these days by all accounts. Did all my high school in Townsville, then hightailed it for three days on a bus to Melbourne, to take up my place at the Australian Ballet School. After injuries and a lack of talent convinced me I would not be the next Baryshnikov, I returned to Brisbane and slunk into journalism, on a suburban weekly and then the Courier-Mail, one of Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited papers. 

What do you do full time? 

I have sold out more thoroughly and convincingly than most, having gone from journalism not straight to PR, where most washed up hacks go for better pay and a bigger expense account, but via the equally soul-staining wastelands of advertising, where the only truism worth knowing is that you can’t polish a turd. 

What pants, shirt, shoes are you wearing right now? 

Slightly frayed boxer shorts. A faded Batman t-shirt. No shoes. I was working at home today you see. But I still got dressed up for this interview.

What kind of phone and model do you have?

I have the latest iPhone, 128G 6S and I have the latest iPad mini 4 and have been looking with beady eyes at the new iPad Pro, a great outsized thing that will work with the iPencil, Apple’s about turn and middle finger to Steve Jobs’ refusal to entertain anything to prod your screen with other than your fingers. I’ve tried various styluses (styli?), both low tech and (allegedly) hi tech ones that pair with some apps and allow pressure sensitive strokes, but I keep going back to my right index finger. Call it Neo-Pointillism. 

What apps do you use to do your insta-art, or what are your favourite apps

Well, increasingly I spend most of my time using Procreate, which is the sine qua non of digital painting applications. It’s just brilliant. Really well thought out, with the brush and opacity sliders and colour picker at your fingertips, a beautiful interface and a dazzling array of brushes, with an engine that makes painting seamless and just like the real thing, except for the lack of mess and the one huge advantage of digital painting: the back button. I also used Art Studio a lot for painting. You see often start out with only the vaguest idea of where I’m going, and I might begin by mashing two pictures together using Union, part of the Pixite family and the best for photo blending, masking and mashing up two images together. 

Mummy and Daddy Are Drinking Beer Again 
 and There Are Monsters in the Bookcase 
(© Jason Gagliardi. Digital painting in Procreate).
Pixite also make some of my other favourites, like Lorystripes, a series of elegant and whimsical stripes and ribbons and things you can insert into images and move around in 3D, Fragment, which is amazing when you have run out of ideas, sometimes I use that on shuffle and see what it throws up, it’s all kinds of geometric shapes and complex prisms and organic forms overlaid onto images with many adjustable parameters Tangent is a cute one the do which lets you do simple graphic design overlays and patterns and such. Matter is for inserting three D objects into images with masking capabilities. And their latest I’ve been messing around with a lot, Assembly, which is a naive art almost childlike thing which lets you build up intricate images from building blocks of shapes. 

 
Steampunk Butterfly Boots  (Painting in Procreate)

Some of the apps which throw up weird and amazing ideas I never would have thought up staring at a blank piece of paper include Circular, which gives images a great swirl, and Glitche, which does unspeakably weird things to pictures. I use various depth of field apps, mostly Tadaa lately, which can keep some of your shot in focus and blur out the rest, like a SLR camera can via its depth of field. I take my shots with a mix of the native camera in the iPhone, ProCam, and VSCOCam. Stackables is a go-to for beautiful overlays and textures and lighting, which has replace Mextures as my go-to app for that sort of thing.

 Filterstorm Neuea and Polar have nifty filters and effects. IColorama is another standout, just amazing manipulation effects. Snapseed is probably the best all round photo editor, very versatile and has a great feature most lack, which is the ability to adjust contrast, saturation and brightness just on a piece of an image that you highlight, not the entire image as well as use a brush to change saturation, exposure, dodge-burn and temperature on just the bits of a shot you want to tone down or emphasise. 

Tuk Tuk Bang Bang   ©Jason Gagliardi (Painting in Procreate)
 I did use a lot, it changes a photo into a bunch of


different painting styles, but these days I’d rather paint myself. The computer painting apps that do it for you always look a bit weird, as the computer doesn’t know what its subject matter is, it’s just following algorithms. Enlight is another good all-rounder. Big Photo can bump up the size and DPI of images, handy if printing out big. 

A Short History of the Human Condition
©Jason Gagliardi (Procreate painting, based on earlier photo mashup)
Reflect is a cool app, allows you to put reflections in various water  bodies and shiny surface. Glaze gives good glaze effects, decimate is a weird one but never quite warmed to it, prefer Glitche. Path On is cool, lets you draw a path onto an image and then put text in the font, size, style, colour etc into the image along the path you drew.That probably covers my key ones. Some pieces I might use 10 of those apps in combination. Others I might just paint onto a white ‘canvas’ on my ipad from a photo I took. Paintings can take a while … a couple of days, or a long all-nighter. I regularly find myself crawling into bed at 5am gasping at the time, as painting becomes like a meditation, you get so focused and wrapped up in what you are doing. 

Which is your favourite app and why? What's your technique? 



Faith Reinterpreted. ©Jason Gagliardi  
 Piece for Mobitog, classic albums recovered
Argh. So hard to pick one. Procreate for it’s amazing seamless painting experience. Union is my workhorse. And Circular, Fragment and Glitche are great for unlocking creativity and summoning weird stuff you might never otherwise have dreamed up. I often noodle around, blending images, distorting them, and then something will appear that gives me an idea. And I might use painting over an image to bring out what I saw a bit more, or I might paint from scratch using a photo or photos of mine for inspiration. I also do straight iPhone photography, justediting with filters and the usual editing parameters. 

I do everything from (fairly) straight portraits to weird and surreal stuff that is not easy to describe and can’t always be explained. I do love surrealism, looking at the world through a skewed lens and holding up a cracked mirror to the absurdities and mysteries of life, although I’m not sure I agree with Andre Breton’s contention that the only surrealist act is to walk into the street with a gun and shoot random people. Dali’s melting clocks are more my speed, or his Lobster Telephone. 
Cross Road Revisited.
 ©Jason Gagliardi for Mobitog challenge
The Pixies are my favourite band, all things considered, Frank Black’s crazed lyricism and loud-soft-loud aesthetic are perfect for his meditations on matters like surrealism, aliens and obscure Californian cults. Debaser, on Doolittle, arguably their best album, is the first song, in which he starts shrieking about slicing up eyeballs, the opening scene of Luis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou. Great stuff. Inspired. I had a project to make an Insta-art piece for each of the Pixies songs on their four great timeless albums. So far I have done two (I Bleed and Motorway to Roswell). I am going to do something similar for local electro band Wasabi Bytes - an album cover and an illustration for each song which will become part of the liner notes.
What got you interested in digital art? What themes in today's digital-first society inspire your imagery?

It’s my thesis that the smartphone and tablet revolution has fundamentally changed art, by making all of us artists, or at least much more aesthetically aware. Whether you are slapping a retro filter on your holiday happy snaps or painting elaborate abstracts on your iPad, these little tools in our pockets and bags have led to a big shift in making us all more attuned to design and art and creative acts. There’s also a disposable Warholian aspect to it. Warhol said in the future everyone would be famous for 15 minutes. I think in our future, everyone will be famous for 15 seconds - the span of an Instagram video.

Has art always been free? 

The Ace of Spades: RIP Lemmy
©Jason Gagliardi (Painting in Procreate)
No, it’s often been very expensive, when you consider the profit margin on a rotting shark carcass and a couple of aquariums, which is all Damien Hirst needed to rake in the moolah. Well, that and a nifty title. One of my theories on art is that it’s all in the title and blurb. There’s a brilliant thing I came across called the Arty Bollocks Generator. You put your name in and it generates an instant artistic statement. Here, I just looked it up and got one: 

My work explores the relationship between Pre-Raphaelite tenets and unwanted gifts. With influences as diverse as Rousseau and John Lennon, new variations are crafted from both mundane and transcendent narratives. Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by the traditional understanding of meaning. What starts out as vision soon becomes corroded into a manifesto of distress, leaving only a sense of decadence and the inevitability of a new synthesis.
Angel in the Room
  ©Jason Gagliardi (Painting in Procreate)
As spatial replicas become frozen through frantic and diverse practice, the viewer is left with an insight into the edges of our era.” 

The same site offers an ‘Artist Certificate’ approved by the Artistic Practice Licensing Authority. The holder must agree to produce occasional works of art, or at least talk about doing so, study treatises on real artists to understand how hopelessly short of their standards you fall, constantly compare your work to others and question whether you are good enough to be a proper artist, and constantly mutter about how someone will expose you soon.

That is hilarious. Describes my feelings about the whole thing quite well. I don’t know if mobile phone art is art per se. Depends on your definition. I’m sure artists who slap real paint on canvas look down their noses a bit at the digital painters. I DJ a bit, and there’s a snobbery and pecking order, like DJs who came of age beat-mixing on Technics decks with vinyl records tend to look askance at those who never knew anything but the MP3 and the autosync button. 


You've managed to find some success from digital art, how do you think that local people can benefit from being able to create works of art on the phone. Do you think that you are influencing local people in BK to do the same? 

Well, how do you define success? I put my stuff on Instagram because I need the little hits of approbation from random strangers, although this business of being spammed to within an inch of your life by cretins flogging fake instagram followers is bizarre and wearing thin. I’ve had two modest exhibitions, the latest being the illustrations I did for a book, Slave to the Bean by Bill Barnett, a Phuket-based hospitality consultant who writes columns on the horrors and inelegances of modern travel and hotels. In a nice post-modern twist, he was the consultant to the owner of the hotel where the exhibition is, Ad Lib in Sukhumvit Soi 1. Another hotel in Pattaya that will launch early next year has plans to put my stuff in its 90 or so guest rooms and lobby. I’m working on some more Thai-flavoured pieces for that. But I’m not fielding calls from MOMA or waving Charles Saatchi away as he tries to shove blank cheques in my face. 
Enter With Drag On Fly ©Jason Gagliardi  (appstract and painting in Procreate)  
I just do it because I feel compelled to and because it clears my mind and makes me feel better, following a year or two of personal upheaval after my wife of 15 years decided to disappear, along with all my savings and worldly possessions. Art as therapy is not to be sneezed at, cheaper than a shrink and at the end of the day you have something to show for your time. It is also a great procrastination technique.

I’m not sure my stuff would influence anyone for the better, although I suppose there might be a cathartic release or at least some schadenfreude for anyone looking at my stuff and thinking, wow, things might be tough but at least I’m not in that guy’s head.’ Would it be beneficial for Bangkokians to get into smartphone art? I suppose so. It would be more beneficial that wearing coloured shirts and killing each other. 

My tastes run to surreal, as I mentioned. One recent piece I titled Vagina Dentata Santa Meets the Grinch, which was in a quite abstract style which begins with a loose idea and only really takes shape as I go along, and ideas begin to crystallise. I love this approach … being open to where a piece takes you. As long as it turns out well. I am also obsessed with photographing Bangkok streetscapes and the spaces between the Skytrain platforms and the streets and buildings, slivers of street life glimpsed through dramatic vanishing points. I covered the entire Asok intersection with Sukumvit in about 60 of my shots of Chinatown for one piece. I recently painted an image of the late Lemmy of Motorhead fame, as some abstract thing I was noodling with suddenly looked like Lemmy seated on a great skull throne. And that led to a more serious portrait attempt too.
Welcome to Nana  ©Jason Gagliardi  (Painting in Procreate)

You mentioned how everyone will have 15 seconds of fame, which echoes Andy Warhol, and his quote "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes."  Andy's art was also technical with silk screens and he in a way he modernised art. Do you see his as an inspiration? If so, to what extent? 

Warhol was an inspiring figure and also a rather insipid, weird and tragic one. Anyone who can make soup cans into art is all right by me, but you won’t catch me sitting through his movies that involve watching paint dry or one shot of someone sleeping for 12 hours.

What's the art scene like in Bangkok?

Asok Chinatown. ©Jason Gagliardi. (App-stract). 
I don’t know. I am not part of it. There is a pretty cool burgeoning scene around Charoen Krung Road, with places like Speedy Grandma, Serindia and Duangkrit Bunnag’s Jam Factory across the river. There are art-hopping walking tours done regularly around those galleries, which is cool. I went to S Gallery in Sofitel Sukhumvit the other night for the opening of Genii Loci, a mixture of painting and installation pieces. A very interesting chap with his finger in a few artistic pies runs that, Martin Guirly . 

If you could, how would you renew the art industry in Bangkok?

Free iPads for all! And do away with the greedier commissions some galleries gouge from artists. I’ve also been toying with the idea of starting a regular night say, once a month, for Insta-artists, with DJs, big screens or projections with artists creating stuff in real time and showing their process, a themed challenge for the night, prizes, collaborations. Oh, and let’s turn all the go-go bars into life drawing classes, and all the short time hotels into art installation venues. 

What's your favourite colour?

 I don’t really have one. It depends on my mood. I recently wrote a 1,500 word essay on the colour red, which can be read here:  http://twocountriesonecistern.blogspot.com/2015/02/red-ink-essay-on-colour-red.html. A lot of my stuff does tend to be very colourful. 

Does all your phone editing eat up your battery and what do you do about it?

Yes, it’s ridiculous that we have these ultra slim phones then have to carry around a bulky battery charging pack to keep it from going flat in less than a day. I go through my battery in half a day sometimes if I’m doing a lot of work with my iPhone. IPads last longer. Mine is often good for days. 
Monumental Victories ©Jason Gagliardi (Painting in Procreate)
What are the exact dates and name of venue and addresses of your next show? 

Current one is Slave to the Bean, and it’s at Ad Lib, Sukhumvit Soi 1, until the end of the year.

I also had a one-night exhibition of my stuff at the last Sunn party, at Live RCA, which was a techno party about 1,000 peoople came to. I had a whole wall to show my stuff on, so used that as a chance to test the waters and see how people responded. 

Other than instagram, what social media sites do you go on to look for inspiration? Where do you post?
Canned Reef. ©Jason Gagliardi (Painting and appstract)

I am a member of Mobitog, which is a global group of smartphone photography and art lovers who take part in competitions and challenges, critique each other’s work and discuss all matters mobile phone and tablet art related. It’s very supportive and there are a lot of talented people on there. There are different competitions, like one for black and white or mono shots and edits, a themed abstract contest, and fun stuff like redoing classic album covers. 



Sathorn Rouge.  ©Jason Gagliardi  (appstract) 
I also watch a lot of tutorials on painting, Procreate has a great forum and youtube is full of stuff. I used to paint badly in oils as a youth, ambitious and quite awful copies of Turners and Constables, apart from a brief obsession where for about a year I painted nothing but pictures of KISS, the rock band. I then painted nothing from the ages of about 18 to 48. So there’s a lot to learn but the painting aspect is what I find most rewarding and challenging. I bought a set of acrylics recently and have had a couple of goes at painting with real paint. The best thing about digital painting is the undo button.

Instagram is a double-edged sword. It’s great as a place to showcase your work, but it’s been overrun by idiots trying to sell fake likes. Also, it has fostered the trend of online one-upsmanship, especially with these ‘travel’ blogs where modern-day solipsists traipse the globe taking selfies in soft focus, often with bonus duckface. 

Chunderwood in Annondale. ©Jason Gagliardi.(Painting and appstract)








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The greatest ignominy would be to join the growing ranks of the dead and injured who were too busy gazing at their screen to know what was happening around them, or who came to grief while doing something silly, dangerous or both to get the perfect selfie. I’m guilty of it myself, catch myself walking down flights of stairs while editing or painting. It’s dangerous, especially in Bangkok. I’m trying to give it up.


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