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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 9, 2002

Exhibition marks the coming of age of digital printmaking

By Victoria Gail-White

 •  'Breaking New Ground: explorations in digital printmaking'

Koa Gallery, Kapi'olani Community College, through June 30


Workshop: The University of Hawai'i-Manoa's Outreach College is offering a one day workshop on digital photography.

9 a.m. — 4 p.m. July 28

Cost is $120.

PhotoShop: an Introduction to PhotoShop class

9 a.m.-4 pm.

July 26 and July 27

Cost is $240.


For centuries, new art forms have been ridiculed by the more traditional art community. Digital printmaking is no exception. It has been criticized and misunderstood, but now we are about to witness a renaissance.

A handful of Honolulu digital printmaking warriors have gathered together to uphold and celebrate their own artistic journey through the virtual jungles of fine art and computer technology. The artists — Mark Ammen, Bobby Crockett, Hansolo, Jan Hathaway, Diana Jeon, Laura Ruby, David B. Smith and Shuzo Uemoto — have something to be excited about: the first show, curated by Jan Hathaway, of fine-art digital printmaking in Hawai'i. Thanks go to David Behlke, curator of the Koa Gallery, for making it possible.

"Breaking New Ground: explorations in digital printmaking" is a fusion of traditional printmaking and photography with digital imaging and digital printmaking. "Digital imaging is the tool set for creating the virtual image matrix," their handout says, and "digital printmaking is the physical expression of that matrix."

In a nutshell, the Art and Technology movement was originally fuelled by a collaboration between scientists and artists in the late 1960s. Digital technology provided paint systems for illustrators and art directors in the 1980s which imitated the use of brushes and palettes. Adobe PhotoShop's appearance in the 1990s heralded a future for fine artists and photographers as extensive, more precise controls increased the flexibility needed to experiment. A rapid advance in printer technology has finally made it possible for artists to maximize archival ratings for their prints. New (albeit expensive) printers have the capacity to handle rolls of 44-inch-wide paper that are printed with archival inks and pigments. This is a whole new art world.

In an interview at the Koa Gallery, digital printmakers Mark Ammen, Bobby Crockett, Jan Hathaway, Diana Jeon and David B. Smith revealed a depth of knowledge about the process and shared their vigorous spirit of exploration.

"There is an enormous difference between what a novice can do with a $500 desktop printer and what artists can do with printmaking on relatively high-end printers that can take fine-art archival papers and archival pigments. Digital printmaking is not something that has been seen or promoted, certainly not here, so there is not a real understanding of what is involved or possible. We wanted to have an exhibition that focused on that and offered artists (like David B. Smith, a traditional lithographer) the opportunity to experiment," Hathaway said.

Mark Ammen relates that this is the first curated show of its kind in Hawai'i. "We all come from diverse backgrounds with the intent of exploring the medium," he said.

Hathaway comes from a hybrid background of printmaking and photography. She teaches the New Media Arts program at Kapi'olani Community College. Ammen has a background in photography, monotype and intaglio. Smith has a graphic printmaking background and teaches lithography at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

Jeon is majoring in digital media and intermedia at the University of Hawai'i, and has a background in photography and painting. Crockett's background is in textile design, weaving and serigraphy.

The artists acknowledge digital printing's heretofore bad reputation. However, "artists have played with it and have realized its potential to produce amazing effects," Smith said. "Time has passed. The breaking up in camps has lessened and people are trying not to define themselves specifically. It is more, "Let's open our eyes, let's see what it can do."

Crockett said that about 10 years ago, at a symposium at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, "Everyone on the panel was discussing digital, and they were all against it. Nobody understood what was going on, and there was none of this passing of information that we have now.

"I think the attitude has changed," Crockett said. "This show is possible now."

I asked if the digital tools have the freedom and reach they appear to have, and if the process is enjoyable for the artists. In response, Ammen emphasized the dynamic nature of the work. "You can pull in a tremendous array of textures, light and colors, (and) that is where the fun begins, because when you pull these in, you can layer them, you can cause them to do something that can't happen anywhere else — you can cause them to interact," he said. "It is pretty surprising. ...

"In a more physical process, you are sometimes limited by the perception that you might destroy, in experimenting further, what you have already created. Whereas in the digital realm, you can just do it, boom, and you can undo it. You have total freedom."