Looking at the Ceiling
Copyright © Paul Brown
Commissioned by and first published in Imprint
the quarterly journal of the Print Council of Australia
Vol. 31, No. 4, pp. 21-22
1996 All Rights Reserved
Looking at the Ceiling
The Print Council of Australia
My printers: Imaging Tank
Ceiling Detail from the House of Signs is one of a series of recent
works on paper that share a
common process, one that has intrigued me for over thirty years. In naming the
work I was influenced by the stamped metal ceiling decorations that are common
in Australian colonial architecture. Like many other images in the series it
will become a part of "The House of Signs" - an interactive multimedia
work-in-progress. This will be a virtual environment that can be decoded and
explored via signs that are embedded in the decorative features of the
My recent work has been created on a Macintosh 71/66 AV computer running the
Adobe PhotoShop and Macromedia FreeHand applications. I begin by working in
FreeHand - a line artwork package designed for commercial graphics. My thirty
year obsession has been tiling systems and the belief that simple elements can
be permutated together to produce images where ... "the whole is greater
than the sum of the parts".
Figure 1 shows my starting image for "Ceiling". It's composed of a simple tile
(shown at the bottom) which is then rotated and permutated in a five by five
matrix. The loose edgepoints are capped and the result is a "knot" pattern
with similarities to Celtic art. This reference was unintentional but, given
the geometry of the tile, is perhaps a predictable outcome.
This line drawing is transfered into PhotoShop which is a digital darkroom
product designed for photographers and photofinishers. Here it's possible to
soften and blur the image, alter the brightness and contrast, create masks (or
stencils), make negatives of all or part of the image and so on ... Although
there are a whole host of special effects available I mainly use the basic
features like those outlined above.
At this stage I'm mostly "playing" and exist in a dreamlike state where the
overall image changes, evolves, is destroyed and reborn. Contrary to popular
opinion the computer doesn't get in the way - it becomes an extension of my
hands and mind. Like with oil paint (or piano or any other medium or instrument)
it's necessary to work
regularly and for long hours in order to achieve this relationship.
I save my work often using unique names that create a "tree" structure and
allow me to backtrack and rework earlier ideas. The ability to save the entire
working process in reusable form is a major advantage of working on a computer.
Every so often something will evolve that catches my attention and it becomes
the bud of a new branch. A lot of work is thrown away when it gets tired or
overworked. I try to remember the path from earlier versions taking care not
to repeat my mistakes. Eventually something jells and tells me it's ready. I
save it immediately and make a cup of tea!
Now the hard work begins. Turning something I have glimpsed in my "oceanic"
symbiosis and reverie into a viewable print on paper is a arduous and
frustrating task. Something I would gladly hand over to an assistant if I had
the good fortune to have one! The first proof prints are made on my
inexpensive StyleWriter 2500 ink jet printer. The artwork is very delicately
manipulated so the overall quality is not effected whilst the print begins to
take shape. Eventually it's ready for professional proofing.
The final proofs and prints are made on an Iris printer. It's an $150,000 high
fidelity system that combines an electrostatic ink jet print head with a pump
mechanism and produces extremely fine detail and saturation. Originally
developed as a proofing printer for the reprographics industry it has been
increasingly used by artists and photographers for one-off and editioned prints
since its introduction in the late 1980's.
"Ceiling" is printed on the standard Iris semi matt paper which has a
photographic finish that enhances the saturation and contrast of the image.
The Iris can also print on art stocks like Arches Aquarelle 100% cotton cold
pressed 300 gsm paper. The patina of watercolour paper adds a wonderful
quality to a print although the saturation suffers. The inks are improving but
they are UV sensitive and greater longevity can be achieved by applying UV
coatings or framing behind acrylic instead of glass.
My printers are Imaging Tank Pty., Ltd. in Brisbane
who have been specialising in computer graphic imaging for many years. Pasi
Ihalainen, who looks after this side of their business is himself an artist and
is sympathetic to the needs of creative people. This relationship is
important. I've done work with other less sensitive print bureaux with very
I have been working with technology since the mid sixties and first used
computers in 1974. They quickly became my "medium" of choice despite the fact
that, back then, the only way to "interact" was writing programs in Fortran or
Assembler. Weeks of effort were required to create the simplest image. I'm
still interested in programming as a medium and have just been awarded a grant
by the New Media Arts Fund of the Australia Council to continue my research in
this area during 1997.
However I'm increasingly making use of "packaged" application software, like
FreeHand and PhotoShop, that has been developed for the graphic design and
photographic industries and I am impressed by the power of these "ready made"
Nevertheless I remain concerned about the metaphorical allusions that are
embedded in these software tools. I believe that unconsidered use of such
tools has encouraged the proliferation of "post modernist" illusion and
appropriation. Work is often signed by the medium, and its capabilities,
rather than by the artist with their skill and knowledge.
In my own work I hope to build a bridge between modernist concerns with
"intrinsic" qualities of the computational metamedium (metamedia?) and these
"simulatory" qualities of metaphor-based "user-friendly" technology.
Commissioned by and first published in Imprint the quarterly journal
of the Print Council of Australia, Vol. 31, No. 4, pp. 21-22. For
more information contact:
The Print Council of Australia Inc.
459 Swanston Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 2 9639 2463 phone
+61 2 9663 2331 fax
Ceiling Detail was printed by Pasi Ihalainen at:
Imaging Tank Pty., Ltd.
39 Merthyr Road
New Farm QLD 4005
+61 7 3254 2586 phone
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