The Listening Heaven by Elizabeth Mansco
I Know What I Like
My aesthetic sensibilities apparently run counter to the prevailing grain when it comes to my personal taste in fractal art. Photography, especially the digital variety, naturally appears to be a closer cousin with fractal art than does painting. Both digital photography and (software-based) fractal art rely more heavily on the filters of technology — technical adjustments — "tweaking" in the UF List parlance — or perhaps the metaphors of pushed buttons and turned dials that Tim has used so strikingly.
Painting, on the other hand, is a more physical procedure grounded in gesture and controlled motion — and I don’t think mouse-clicking, however emphatic, is in any way comparable. And, I confess, despite the similarities of sharing violent figurative language, I prefer art that is dabbed and splattered over art that is shot or captured.
I elaborated on my predilection for painting in a 2005 cover article about my work that appeared in IEEE Computer Graphics magazine. Gary Singh noted
[Wright] says he took a painting class as an undergraduate, but the professor told him he had no talent, so Wright dropped the class. “It was true that I had no feel for a brush and canvas, nor could I manipulate the tools to my satisfaction,” he explained. “Still, I had always longed to paint. Computers finally gave me the opportunity—and I found I could use them to replicate what I saw in my head.”
Some of OT’s gentle readers might feel that I’m still waiting for my talent bank to receive its first decent deposit (and that’s cool). I only mention the article to show my penchant for admiring painting(s) is longstanding.
At any rate, there’s no question about the talent of the artists I want to discuss in this and in my next post.
Elizabeth Mansco is unquestionably one of my favorite fractal-digital artists. I suppose it helps that she actually holds a degree in Visual Arts, but I am most attracted to what she describes as her "digital paintings." Tim argued last year that one primary way that fractal art could reboot itself is by stopping thumbing its nose at the idea of post-processing, although the phrase he used was "graphical experimentation." Mansco heard this clarion call years ago, and her decision to color outside the lines has served her well. She has moved beyond the abstract-decorative tar pit that bogs down so much current fractal art and leaves it so non-resonating — little more than mute eye candy. Instead, she uses graphic processing tools like paint layers on a canvas to push our discipline ever closer towards representation. By doing so, Mansco opens up fractal art to near-infinite "rivers of suggestion," as Michael Stipe of REM once said.
In The Listening Heaven above, the improved arsenal of artistic weaponry made immediately available by post-processing is on full display. The "fractal trees," designed in most fractal art to show a technical (and static) link between an algorithm and nature, are here literally placed in a natural context — the blue space heaven found between land and sky. The paper (looking) moon, either a direct multimedia touch or a suggestion of such (with the same effect either way), solidifies the main theme. And look carefully at how the elements of design suddenly come into play as well — light and depth and texture, yes, but especially the startling visual disarray due to the work’s cut-up, collaged perspective. I find this an arresting work filled with both beauty and power.
Sailing by Elizabeth Mansco
Here, Mansco manipulates a photograph of harbor ships by adding fractal imagery — and the result is much more moving than either the photo or the fractal(s) would ever be on their own. Again, the result transcends ornamentation and becomes hyperreal scenery. The fractal imagery reveals both a sunset and that sunset reflected in the water of the harbor. The swirling appearance of the fractal imagery isn’t merely present to more decoratively illustrate its parameter file; it now means something. It mirrors the motion of water — but only because of Mansco’s vision and composition. It is, as I once argued about Jock Cooper’s "Mechanicals" series, about something.
Notice, too, the use of lines and depth in Sailing. The ships’ masts rise into the sky but also bend and twist downward when reflected. The dark brown shadow-chunks of the boats also drip downward — like oil slicks. And the bands of lines in the sky, whether blue or yellow-red, further suggest the vagaries of natural elements — like wind or the refractions of atmospheric particles.
Latest Fashion Trends by Elizabeth Mansco
Even in works that don’t appear to be heavily post-processed, Mansco’s gift for intimating representation pays off. In the piece above, she is able to broach an area few fractal artists, too busy perfecting their self-similar embellishment, ever reach: social and cultural criticism. The female forms, headless as mannequins, show the fickleness of style with stylistic aplomb. While the main "model" spends her 15 minutes of fame being ogled by the viewer at the end of the pageant ramp, a seemingly endless recursion of clones, eager to show off even newer trends, wait behind her in the wings. Meanwhile, wandering off stage right is another interminable parade of discarded models, green with envy, who remain garbed in the hand-me-down clothes that have quickly become outdated and blasé. Ironically, these superannuated models appear to be marching off into a fiery underworld. The once highlighted fashion icons now pose in clothes that are nostalgic — or, worse, untrendy and suitable only for thrift stores. Note, too, in another subtle social critique, how the patterns in each past-present-future fashion trend are slight variations of a similar print.
Can you show me even one winner in last year’s Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest that speaks as satirically and devastatingly on the state of culture as Mansco does in this piece?
Lost Between the Electric Posts by Elizabeth Mansco
Although this image is extremely busy, it feels serene because all its elements work seamlessly together — whether light or dark hues or hard or rounded lines. The background has the texture of fabric, even complete with folds, but comes pockmarked with confusion, with disassociation — black holes, fraying cables, hints of aerial views of urban landscapes. I think we all got our wires crossed somewhere. What gets lost between the electric posts (and cell phone towers) is our ability to truly communicate. We babble and tweet and text and even post to blogs. But what we say and mean gets tangled up in the electrical grid and is soon mislaid inside the abyss of cyberspace.
Tim wrote recently about the travails of excessive watermarking. If I have one complaint with Mansco, it’s that she doesn’t make it easy to view her work. Given its many attractions, I can understand if she has more of a problem with piracy than most fractal artists. Still, so much of her online art is buried under thick protective signatures/titles and disquieting watermarks and heavy-handed copyright symbols. Worst of all, at least in her Renderosity gallery, she’s begun leaving cat tracks and even washing out half of entire images — as in this (what I imagine to be a) stunning piece. I do think there’s a reasonable line between taking cautious steps for copyright protection and deliberately defacing one’s own work. After all, if I go to a museum to see an exhibition by Rodin, I assume the sculptor hasn’t taken a pick-ax to his work before I can get through the gallery door.
Next Time: "But Maybe I Don’t Know Why I Like What I Like." Thoughts on work by Tina Oloyede, Jennifer Stewart, and Maria K. Lemming.