Laurence Gartel was commissioned by Tesla Motors to pimp their ride at Art Basel in Miami Beach. “No major artist ever received a commission to produce art for an Electric Car. I’ve trumped them all by doing so. Electric Art for an Electric Car. Makes sense.” A creative process and exuberant moment of digital art display-using a commercial vehicle wrapping process on printed vinyl. “It is so detailed and something that could never have been painted or conceived by traditional media.”
Gartel is the most celebrated face of an art movement that began in the late 60’s and early 70’s with art star Nam June Paik as the protagonist. Tribes of analog video geeks… the VideoFreex in the Catskills, and Jack Moore’s VideoHeads in Amsterdam… were pushing analog video to the breaking point. Legions of new recruits were attracted to the bright lights and swirly shapes of video feedback emanating from the Experimental Television Center in upstate New York.
Gartel was present but while others focused on making art move in unpredictable ways, he saw a different angle. Aiming his still camera at the screen he captured an electronic instant; a wild, colorful, distorted and compelling instant. By making colorful collages from over-saturated frame-buffered synthesized electronic imagery, then reproducing it in traditional formats, he turned the video art concept around.
Gartel’s pixel graffiti caught the attention of Andy Warhol, whom he tutored in the use of the Amiga computer. Warhol used it to simulate his earlier silk-screen style and became the celebrity face of Amiga’s marketing strategy. Perhaps working next to the art world’s best self-promoter taught Gartel a few things too. Commercial commissions soon followed for Coca-Cola and Absolut vodka, both of which had also commissioned Warhol.
“Artists today use Digital Art for the ‘cool factor’, for the fad. Every school today has a digital lab and they are all offering courses in Digital Art, New Media, New Genres, Computer Art. They don’t know what to call it, whatever the latest catch phrase, but this is not how innovation happens. It takes place by not following trends. Thinking outside the box. Now that the box is digital, I would be thinking something else. We must turn our attention back to beauty. Whether it be digital or not, the aesthetic has to be there. The real case in point is my 1999 masterpiece, Coney Island Baby. I’ve tried to top this image and its impossible. How was it created? I couldn’t tell you. One puzzle piece at a time. In its physical form, it is tremendously powerful.”
Even though the artists and technology were pretty sophisticated, early computer art was still naive. “Any artist understands that their first attempts are always going to be their strongest” Gartel explains, “I think the real discussion is about how hard it was to make a picture. The early attempts took so much effort. Lets just say nobody went to Best Buy to pick up an 8 gig card for $29.95. There was no such thing as memory chips. The computer systems that were necessary for the creation of art imagery had to fill a room. All the systems I ever knew just so happen to be upstate New York. Media Study/Buffalo was the first system I used. Then it was the Experimental Television Center in upstate New York. I often see people like David Jones as a Nikola Tesla. David is an innovator and great thinker of technology. Each year for over 25 years I would go to ETC and wonder what did David create now? The hardware was just as creative as anything else, except I had no idea about that then. I was just a ‘user.’ Someone obviously had to design the tools. In any case, I love early electronic art and it should never go unrecognized. It was the precursor for every person who walks into an Apple Store.”
Photographs by Michael Colanero