Perceiving the Tactile in a Digital World

One of the aspects of being an artist that is rarely mentioned but very enjoyable is the actual tactile experience of drawing and painting. Each medium comes with its own reward that translates directly into the hands, such as the feeling that comes from dragging soft pastels on a toothy paper, the way cold press watercolor paper accepts transparent layers of color to blend with clarity and the almost sensuous enjoyment of soft graphite that can glide across vellum paper with boldness. These are just a few of the endless bits of information that are collected along the way during the process of making art. The end product is visual but the making can be multisensory.

different use of paint
Jackson Pollock throwing and dripping paint onto canvas.
mid-air painting
James Nares suspends himself for dynamic brush strokes.
sample of action painting
Sea Change, © Jackson Pollock
action painting in the air
Make ‘Em 2005 ©James Nares

When the exploded rubber meets the road

Six years ago I had a health crisis with Lyme disease that kicked off Reactive Arthritis. This left my hands partly challenged to manipulate art materials. I decided to add a new tool that would be easy for me to handle: digital mediums. I went from using watercolors and mixed media to exploring photography and digital illustration.
This idea started with collecting “found objects” along the side of the road. The original idea was to turn them into sculptures. As I started to photograph them for preliminary sketches of the sculptures, I found the images of the tires alone more beautiful and expressive as a photographs than I had imagined. It wasn’t long after those photos were taken that I made the connection to zen calligraphy. The expression of steel belted wires of the tires related directly to the bold brush strokes of zen calligraphy, both conveying a moment in time. The exhaled breath used for calligraphy now had a relationship to the tire parts as they lost their air and changed form.
At first, I brought the tire photographs into photoshop and bent the images in a circle to see how close I could come to imitating the expression of Japanese Enso circle art. In some ways I was returning them to their original configuration but with a new kind of expression. Later experiments evoked an emotional quality that could be likened to a Rorschach test and others became more illustrative when combines with other traditional landscapes. Even though the brush or pencil was not in my hand, the expression and emotion of those mediums were still very much available as guides in creating images this new way.

As it turns out, the end product is a combination of actual and imagined experiences, similar to real life.

“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”

~ Andre Gide