About the Cover: Landscapes of the Digital Baroque
By Gary Singh
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“It’s one more time trying to blur the categories, to create ambiguity in the hope that this rebellion will bring something new, unsuspected, or in some cases, the same old stuff, but now under another light.” — Alvaro Ocampo
Alvaro Ocampo traversed many landscapes to arrive at his current space in the digital art landscape. After graduating with an architecture degree from the Universidad Piloto de Colombia in Bogota, Colombia, he made his way to Montreal, where he studied fine art and spent extensive time honing his etching talents at L’atelier Circulaire, an artist-run printmaking center. Ocampo then made his way to the digital world, where he is no longer subjected to the tyranny of the one-off.
“For me, digital art is the new version of traditional etching in the way that it eliminates the idea of the one original piece of art,” says Ocampo. “The ability to produce large quantities of originals make this form of art more democratic and less fetishist.”
Also, as the owner of a paint company producing specialized paint finishes, Ocampo spent years working with traditional analog paint, so it was only a matter of time before he felt the urge to spend more time creating for himself as opposed to his clients. Like many others before him, he found the computer less messy and physical than analog paint. The digital process permitted him to work by trial and error and save endless versions of the same intuitive process.
Most importantly, in his professional work, Ocampo always felt like he was trying to operate in reverse mode. Normally a painter tends to illuminate objects the same way it happens in nature, by putting the light on top of the object. In Ocampo’s case, he tended to work the other way around. He was trying to illuminate the object from behind, an aspect he refers to as “imminent light.” When he arrived at the computer as a digital painting tool, this technique was immediately available. The light coming from the computer screen provided a similar effect. All of this logically led to the mirror effects and juxtapositions of lighting perspectives one perceives in his imagery.
Ocampo says his work is rooted in the Baroque stylings of Latin America and Europe with “some sporadic influences of Oriental art.” Although one might hesitate to place his images alongside Baroque artists like Caravaggio or Velazquez, Ocampo claims classic baroque strategies emerge in his work, including but not limited to mirror effects, intricate forms, reversibilility, multiple light sources, and perspectivism. They simply emerge in a more convoluted fashion thanks to the advantages of the digital world. Dionysus and Apollo may be present, but their collective balance is thrown into a hall of mirrors. Baroque and neo-Baroque tended to flourish in periods of transformation and crises, so Ocampo says he champions the irrational, but in these images he doesn’t let it dominate. There still exists the influence of raw nature, suggesting that, through noise and disorientation, one may find a route to beauty somehow.
Upon closer observation, the eastern influence is much more than just sporadic. A pleasantly puzzling harmonization of opposites tends to characterize Ocampo’s work on many levels: intimacy and distance, sublime and folly, serenity and crisis, natural and digital.
“The philosophical intuitions of Baroque are expressed in my art through radical ambiguity in images that praise the sublime, the folly, the piffle, the cosmic, and the oneiric landscape,” Ocampo says. “In my images, the conception of the space is very corporeal. They can be very intimate or very far from our humanity. As a result, feelings can be disorienting and disturbing — all that in order to try to shake our perceptual body of the detour of imagination.”
As such, Ocampo does not talk about individual images per se. Any explanation would betray the image, he says. In the case of the cover image, Moon Flower, as well as Night Traveler and Underground Vacation (see Figures 1 and 2), he started with photos of representational imagery from the natural world, but then digitally manipulated certain pieces of the photos, with all of the aforementioned dynamics unfolding as the images progressed. The natural world is present through the influence of caverns, trees, water, and even rocks, but it’s all piped through a digital hall of mirrors, representation and presentation merging together.
Night Traveler. In Ocampo’s imagery, one perceives mirror effects and juxtapositions of lighting perspectives.
Underground Vacation. The artist often starts with photos of representational imagery from the natural world, but then digitally manipulates certain pieces of the photos.
“It’s one more time trying to blur the categories, to create ambiguity in the hope that this rebellion will bring something new, unsuspected, or in some cases, the same old stuff, but now under another light,” Ocampo says.
Totem Insight (see Figure 3) is an earlier image from back when Ocampo first explored new ways to work with digital media. The image is a simple photo manipulation done with Photoshop.
Totem Insight. Ocampo says his work is rooted in the Baroque stylings of Latin America and Europe with “some sporadic influences of Oriental art.”
“Very often in my work, I try to marry the forms that come from the empirical world with abstractions that came from the same world,” he says. “But often the photos are already very abstract.”
In seemingly every one of Ocampo’s images, when all is said and done, a natural harmonization of opposites, the interplay between intimacy and distance, is what pours from these images on multiple levels. It’s a matter of vision, Ocampo says. Of the five senses, vision is the one he says inspires him the most. Vision is just an elegant way of touching, but at a distance.
In the end, Ocampo’s images are not entirely improvised. He tries to define very specific limitations when he begins the process.
“When I start a new project, what is important is not the inspiration but the restrictions that I impose on that project,” Ocampo says, adding that he may decide on red as a dominant color after working too much with blue in a previous image. He may preconceive a certain level of abstraction or even the specific mirroring effect.
Creativity becomes more successful when emerging under constraints and boundaries, as opposed to wide-open, limitless contexts.
“I need to give myself restrictions because too much freedom can end up diluting the challenge,” Ocampo says. “As a result, my work can miss unity and can go in multiple directions since images react to each other. But all the work can relate to the notion of landscape in the larger sense.”
About the Author
Gary Singh lives and writes in San Jose, California.