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"In the style of Van Gogh"
Susan Knight, "In the style of Van Gogh," 2010, 19” x 25” digitally manipulated digital photograph.
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"In the style of Rivera"
Susan Knight, "In the style of Rivera," 2010, 15” x 19” digitally manipulated digital photograph.
SUSAN KNIGHT, Under the Influence
Hive Artists' Hub, Medicine Hat, Alberta
Dec 10, 2010 – January 19, 2011
By Quentin Randall
Photoshop and its relationship to Fine Art has been contentious for some time. The general sentiment around Photoshop art is that it is either gimmicky, niche or confined to the more commercial-friendly graphic design realm. It struggles to be taken seriously. In Under the Influence, Medicine Hat artist Susan Knight puts the question front and centre: can highly processed, digital photography hold its own on the walls of an art gallery?
The exhibition showcases Knight's most recent body of work, In the style of ... which is influenced heavily by artists who contributed a great deal to pop culture, including Andy Warhol, Diego Rivera and Vincent Van Gogh. It is interesting that, although most of Knight's chosen artists are pop culture icons, they have been widely accepted by the greater art community as well. Whether this is deliberate or accidental, it again raises the question of artistic technique and adds another dimension to the discussion. With Knight's new images, which borrow heavily from the chosen artists, she places herself, as the artist, in the pop culture versus fine art conversation.
The exhibition creates an interesting dynamic in the gallery – one that encourages exploration of the question from a variety of angles, simultaneously. On one hand is the validity of digitized photography itself, a world that anyone with a camera and computer can enter.
On the other hand is the question of pop art versus fine art, which really is a discussion of fads versus staying power. Under the Influence brings these two questions together and asks the viewer to decide whether digitized photography will be able to move beyond a fad, into the pop culture world, with the most talented being accepted in the fine art world.
The exhibition suggests that Knight has a good understanding of her subjects' aesthetic. Digitally processing self-portraits to the degree required leaves the artist open to the possibility of cheapening the work. One mis-step and a fine work can become a cliché. It is a very difficult balance to strike and is one that Knight has managed well.
Aesthetically, the self-portraits (seemingly, a nod to Van Gogh in itself) are recognizable as imitations of the original artist without appearing forced. In fact, Knight's confident, well-informed touch has lead to achieving a certain level of ease that makes the work accessible to everyone on a basic level while prompting conversation and standing up under tough artistic scrutiny. But what perhaps is even more interesting is Knight's ability to capture the emotion communicated in the imitated work. As with In The Style of Diego Rivera, there is an unmistakable sense of anticipation and sensuality between the artist and subject. It is a particularly interesting image given that both roles were played by Knight herself.
Whether digital photography can make a home on art gallery walls is going to be an ongoing discussion. Under the Influence contributes more questions than answers. But what Knight has managed to do is provide an arena where such a discussion can take place. And through her tasteful re-creations of artistic masters, she makes a strong case for the inclusion of digital techniques in fine art conversations.