Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Veil Series: What is in a name?

Veil Series: 5
2010, Photo Composition, 23"x46"
Artist: Anthony Vodraska

Should a work of visual art be freed of names?  Is narrative, subject or the artist's own thoughts about the work necessary?  How far can the work depart from the familiar and still engage the viewer?  Is it sufficient that a work be evocative, as opposed to provocative?  Or is there a place for the transcendent in work and how can a viewer experience that anew freed of common symbols or references designed to evoke emotions, memories and associations?  

As the Veil Series matures with subsequent works, these questions are emerging as important to my understanding of this body of work.  The art of blending has effectively obscured the source images that I took of Frank Gehry's architecture which was used to create "Veil Series: 5."  I developed a narrative for the Veil Series after completing the first piece in this series, entitled "Burn Away the Veils."  Does that make the narrative incidental to the work of art?

The most common response when people see work in this Series is to make a nautical reference to sails blowing in the wind.  Is that association any less important than the narrative that I have come to associate with the work?  More importantly, does the spiritual content of my narrative in itself make the work transcendent?  Probably not.  But it does motivate me to carry on developing this series.  And so I will.   

I am fortunate to be married to fellow artist, Anita Gilbert, and enjoy long discussions over coffee pondering some of these questions.

Anthony Vodraska


Monday, May 31, 2010

The Art of Blending - Part Two

"Seeds of Life"
2010, Digital Composition, 30"x18"
Artist: Anthony Vodraska

Inspiration:  In March, I began exploring more explicitly my thoughts and practice of blending as a source of inspiration in my creative process.  In this blog posting, I will develop this further.  The work entitled "Seeds of Life" began as a series of photographs of late afternoon reflections on the water surface taken off a dock at Emerson Bay on West Okoboji, Iowa.  I am drawn to water reflections (along with shadows) as a source for inspiration.  Their ambiguity serves as a tool in eliciting creative thoughts and visions.

The pod is a metaphor for that pre-existent spirit.  It is immersed in a field of creative potential awaiting to be individualized at conception as an embodied soul to begin its earthly sojourn.  Each is unique and latent with potentialities awaiting to become capacities that are expressed in our lives.  At least that is the narrative that guided the development of this work.  But like all narratives, it may only carry a grain of truth.     

Source Images: This digital composition started from just two water reflection images. I went down the "rabbit hole" and teased out a figurative element from the water reflections floating in a sea of dreamlike energy streams.  Fellow artist, Anita Gilbert, upon viewing that work in progress, suggested that the water patterns may look interesting on the surface of a seed pod. That sent me down yet another path of blending and conjuring new visual metaphors from everyday images.        

We collect seed pods and have many images to select from but in the end I was drawn to aesthetic beauty and simplicity of Andy Goldsworthy's negative space cairn shape, part of the Three Cairns outdoor sculpture installation at the Des Moines Art Center which I photographed in 2009.  As the intermediate images developed, I felt a need for more defined lines that implied a simplified structure (and visual tension with the preponderance of organic curvilinear forms) as an expression of intentionality in the organic order of things.  I blended in lines from a panel out of my triptych entitled Veil Series: 1 "Burn Away the Veils" inspired by the architecture of Frank Gerry and discussed in an earlier blog posting.  These were my sources and from there everything else flowed.

Conceptual Process:  Previous blog postings have discussed the technical aspects (e.g. tools, techniques) of blending images.  I will focus in this blog on describing a possible conceptual process for blending.  The external world presents a vast range of potential perceptual experiences.  We navigate our world by filtering out from conscious awareness most of what is potentially there to experience.  What we consciously experience is the result of complex largely subconscious processes that filter (i.e., veil), select, and frame the set of stimuli that we eventually become aware of and respond to.

With practice one can be more mindful of some aspects of these processes operating at the preconscious level of awareness, sometimes experienced as intuitions.  These intuitions can guide our response to experiences and for visual artists this may guide their efforts to capture/create images linked to those experiences.  For me, there may be no clear intention as to how I will use these images, just a compelling desire to record some aspect of the experience at that moment.

Back in the studio, in a very limited and controlled environment separated by time (weeks, months and even years) from the original experiences, I review the images.  The tool (i.e. Adobe Bridge) becomes a necessarily limited surrogate for the external world and some of the original intuitions and responses are experienced again, filtered and shaped by many other intervening experiences.  I usually select two or three images and start a process of blending them with a software tool (i.e., Adobe Photoshop) usually starting with a set of favorite blending techniques that I continuously expand upon. 

Once again, I try to be mindful of my intuitive response to the emerging blended imagery looking for what it evokes in me.  This is an intensely creative process constantly shifting between analytical, aesthetic and metaphorical responses that lead to further adjustments and blending of the images.  The search for meaning drives my work.  Eventually, the elements of a narrative develops and becomes a lens for how I view the work.  This lens then guides the final blending and refinement of the image.

Once the image is printed and made available as a work of art, it becomes a part of the world of potential experiences.  Others may contemplate or ignore the work based on their own filters, intuitions and memories.  Whether the work evokes anything of the original narrative intended by the artist is actually secondary to the creative response it evokes in viewers as they construct their own meaningful relationship.   

Anthony Vodraska

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Art of Blending

2010, 23"x39"
Artist: Anthony Vodraska

Inspiration: The impressions of a day are often blended into memories like precious found objects that I hold in the pocket of my mind to rediscover and caress over and over. Last Fall, Anita and I traveled to Des Moines, Iowa with Bill Lieb, a sculptor, to visit the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park and the sculpture garden at the American Republic Insurance building.  It was a day full of impressions that I return to often during quiet moments.  Only recently, I have started to tap them for visual inspiration.  Fortunately, I took many pictures.

The piece entitled "Cognition" is the first in a series of new work that have at their core a homage to sculpture.  Sculpture can stimulate creative flourishes in the viewer that travel down paths that even the sculptor could not have foreseen.  I photographed elements of the sculpture that resonated with me on that day and allowed time for those images to blend in my own mind before sitting down to work with them.  When I finally brought them into a creative tool, new relationships emerged with surprising metaphorical and symbolic meanings.  I imagined a visual representation of my higher self looking down on my embodied mind - cognitive structures connected yet floating over a surface of pulsating brain activity awash in waves of emotion and desire.  The experience of contemplating, manipulating and blending the source images allowed my deeper concerns and interests to find expression.

Process: The source images for this work started with these three images:

The selective image of the Pomodoro sculpture represented the elements of drives, instincts and sensory systems while the Regier sculpture reflected higher cognitive structures of thought and control systems.  The image of a reflection of a tree in an office building window took on the appearance of neural dendrites in a medium of pulsating energy.

All of the compositing, transforming blending, masking, coloring, and editing of the images was done in a Photoshop CS3 environment. Two great resources that I have relied on in the past to build my skills are books by Katrin Eismann, Photoshop Masking & Compositing, and Susan Ruddick Bloom, Digital Collage and Painting.  But when I am in the creative mode, though, I like to work with what I know rather than loose the thread of my inspiration while developing new skills.  

I develop a dialogue with my creative tools in which each movement of my stylus over the Wacom Intuos tablet is like following a path that can lead to new possibilities or dead ends.  Adjusting blending modes, opacity, levels, hues, and saturation on many llayers can leave me filling lost down the rabbit hole at times.    Using test prints, I further calibrate the color and observe how my eyes flow over the surface image and settle in one area or another.  Depending how this enhances or detracts from the visual experience, I further edit those areas.

The work is printed on demand on satin fine art paper using an HP DesignJet Z3100.  The surface is further enhanced with a Golden Gel Topcoat w/UVLS and Golden Archival Varnish w/UVLS.  The prints are mounted on hardboard.  

Anthony Vodraska


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Technology's Embrace

 "Star Maker"
23"x46" Digital Photomontage Print on Hardboard
Artist: Anthony Vodraska

Inspiration: I sometimes see the nearly complete work in my "mind's eye" and then set about realizing this vision.  Frequently, though, I discover the work during the creative-technical process somewhere between image capture, digital compositing and post-print surface treatments.  At some point the work connects with me in a certain way and I feel that quickening wind of inspiration guiding my every action.  

The inspiration for "Star Maker" occurred deep in the process of digitally manipulating and blending several images to create a photomontage.  Each successive refinement (force lines, enclosed symmetry, veiled inner workings, primordial essence and subdued colors) revealed a sense of foreboding over mankind's embrace of technology to unleash forces we dimly understand.

Process:   My work is deeply anchored in the places I have lived and my imagination uses those local impressions and imprints to transport my creative vision to new places. In this instance, the several images used to create this work were drawn from the architecture, atmosphere, textures and animals of the Midwest region.  Remarkably uninspiring source images were transformed into something all together captivating.  Even the choice of those source images may go beyond visual interest and carry their own hidden meaning to the work.        

As described in more detail in the post "Burn Away the Veils," I used Photomatrix Pro  and Photoshop software to create the final composition. The work is printed on demand as an open edition print on satin fine art paper using an HP DesignJet Z3100.  The prints are mounted on hardboard.  

Anthony Vodraska

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Burn Away The Veils

Veil Series: "Burn Away The Veils"
Triptych - 73"x48", Digital Photo-Montage Prints, 2009
Artist: Anthony Vodraska

"The Hand of Divine power will, assuredly, lift up the veil, and expose to the sight of men that which shall cheer and lighten the eye of the world."    Baha'u'llah

Inspiration: The word "veil" has multiple metaphorical uses in sacred texts, especially in the Baha'i Writings. The notion of veils as concealing, protecting, obscuring, or dimly revealing spiritual realities is intriguing to me as artist.    The Veil Series is an abstract exploration of veils in which changing blended layers of luminosity, color, line and form are used to suggest possible meanings.  Sometimes the title of the work hints at one interpretation but hopefully the viewer is free to creatively explore and find their own connection with the work.     

Process: Serendipity stimulated this particular work.  A chance visit to the Weisman Art Museum to view Frank Gehry's splendid architecture produced some interesting images of exterior stainless steel surfaces.  Back in the studio, I  process three or more different images in Photomatrix Pro software [more typically used for bracketed images of the same subject to create high dynamic range (HDR) images] to create a unique blended image that can suggest ideas for later photo-montage work.  In this instance, the resulting preliminary images suggested translucent veils and the next direction to take.

After more systematic HDR blending of images in Photomatrix Pro, the composite images became layers for further blending, distorting and fine tuning using Photoshop software. This process allowed the structural surfaces to be transformed to refine the expression of the metaphor's meaning - the interposing nature of veils changing over time, thinning and revealing hidden meaning as expressed in the sunlight reflecting off the stainless steel surface.  The scale of the work engages the viewer to create their own individual experience with the work, which may be much different than my conscious intent.   

The work is printed on demand as an open edition print on satin fine art paper using an HP DesignJet Z3100.  The surface is further enhanced with a Golden Gel Topcoat w/UVLS and Golden Archival Varnish w/UVLS.  The prints are mounted on hardboard.  

Questions about inspiration or process can be posted in the comment box below.  Inquiries about purchasing the work can be made via e-mail by clicking on the artist's name below. 

Anthony Vodraska 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Welcome to X-Alt Art Studio

Anita Gilbert and Anthony Vodraska established X-Alt Art Studio in 2007 in a rural location outside of Spencer in Northwest Iowa.  Adrienne Vodraska is an Associate Artist with the Studio and periodically collaborates and exhibits under the X-Alt Art Studio heading.  The Studio consists of three working studios: a clay studio, a digital art studio, and a painting studio plus additional workshops. The Studio is used by the artists to explore and share new techniques that enable each artist to find innovative approaches to support their creative vision.  This blog will allow the individual artists to share with others their thoughts along the path of creating new work, their sources of inspiration, highlight other artists that they admire, their progress on individual works of art or series, and the techniques they are learning or developing to further their artistic expression.    

Currently the artists work with a variety of tools and media.  The clay studio includes equipment for
wheel-thrown, slab-built, extruded, oxidation fired, and raku fired clay work employing a variety of glaze and "naked clay" techniques.  The resident artists specialize in both low-fire functional clay and paper-clay sculptural forms utilizing glazes, digital image transfers on glazes, raku firing, saggar firing and non-traditional surface treatments using oil/acrylic patinas and digitally printed polymer gel transfers on clay.

The digital art studio includes high resolution image capture tools, PCs, digital image processing software and large format printing capabilities.  The artists specialize in digital photo-montage compositions on fabric, digital over-glaze decal designs for clay, and digital gel transfers for mixed media work. The painting studio supports acrylic and oil painting on canvas, over-painting digital prints, painting on fired clay sculptural forms, and mono-type work.

There is a lot to explore and share.  We want others to benefit from what we have learned from many artists and how we have adapted their experience to serve our artistic visions.  We hope through your comments and questions to learn something from our readers as well.  Please join us on this journey.