Life Fragments

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Life Fragements I, Feature 2
Life Fragments I, Feature

ORT_Logo  Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 2 January 2021

Life Fragments I

A work by Tony Stewart in September 2002.


One of the pluses and minuses of making photomedia artworks on the computer — as well as not enough time in the fresh air — is that it is possible to make very large works that will sit in cyberspace for years, before you have enough money or a convincing enough reason to print them in hard copy.

In the next few articles on my making art, I am going to describe and attempt to show large works – some of which I have exhibited and some of which I haven’t. The latter I have only viewed as small-scale versions and as details.

Terms for Digital Works

In my article Pandemic Art Update is used the word cartoon as a description of a small-scale physical print of a much larger work. This isn’t an ideal term as cartoon in art used to refer to a full-size drawing or modello (model) for a painting, stained glass, or tapestry. Cartoons are particularly relevant to frescoes, but also to tapestry, where pin-pricks can be used to transfer the design to a wall or pattern.

There are no new words for these words in digital art. A sketch is traditionally a rough drawing or painting, in which an artist explores preliminary ideas for a much larger work to be made with much more precision and detail. My friend Allan Byrne suggested digi-sketch. In one sense digi-sketch is appropriate because the smaller version, together with details (a blown up specific area of the work) may suggest changes before the larger work is printed, but in another it is not because the digi-sketch is an exact copy of the final version of the artwork.

Life Fragments 1, Detail 1990s to 2000
Life Fragments 1, Detail 1990s to 2000

In other words a smaller-version in digital art is useful in the sense of creating a model that one can use to examine and correct, before embarking on the final printing of the large-scale version. Another concept that of a detail, a blown-up or expanded part of the whole, is also incredibly useful in the decision-making process. And, is a term that is both useful in conventional and digital art. (The use of details is important in describing paintings: see my article on Hieronymus Bosch.)

Thumbnail is another concept that though useful and important does not describe what I am talking about, either. However, let’s not get caught up in semantics. It is the process that is important not the label.

Another way of looking at the issue is to think of postcards and larger catalogue prints of major well-known artworks (let’s not worry about the issue of colour reproduction and assume that the colours are a perfect representation of the original).

Unless, you know the original painting — a knowledge based solely on a postcard or even a good catalogue print, often means that you are completely surprised when you finally view the original artwork, because it is not at all what you had expected.

The problem with a digital ‘cartoon’ or a digi-sketch for a much larger-scale work is that it does not really reflect what the work is going to look like in a much larger size. In my work this is sometimes not a problem, but sometimes it’s a major problem.

Descriptions of a Large Work

Sometimes the large-scale work is not really represented by a small-scale cartoon and you need to provide descriptions and details to support the small-scale version to try to provide some idea of the large work that makes sense.

That is my task in this article and the ones to follow.

Life Fragments I

Life fragments I, September 2002, Digital Mixed Media, 349×79 cm, Edition of 5, Archive: # 020939D.

Life Fragments I, Small Detail 1
Life Fragments I, Small Detail 1

Life Fragments I was my first large and major work, perhaps a museum piece (another term or expression), which evolved by chance. (It is weirdly similar in a strange way to Tracey Emin’s Everyone I have ever slept with 1963-1995, a tent appliqued with names — slept with didn’t necessarily mean had sex with — although I wasn’t aware of her work at the time.)

Life Fragments I was first exhibited in Transit, my first solo exhibition at Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Manuka, 27 September to 6 October 2002. It was set-up once at PhotoAccess to look for an easier way to hang it. And, also exhibited at the Churchie Emerging Art Exhibition in Brisbane in May, 2003.

The cloth border was modified from a Hmong small Paj Ntaub (flower cloth), shirt collar patch applique embroidery, purchased on the street in Luang Prabang, Laos in 2001.

Life Fragments I, Large Sample 1
Life Fragments I, Large Sample 1

I’m still somewhat gobsmacked, at what I achieved with Life Fragments I, which, as well as being technically difficult at that stage was also artistically transformative.

Sasha Grishin said in the Canberra Times Review of Transit (2002):

The large scroll image Life Fragments I, is the real show stopper, quite brilliant in its conception and execution.

A friend of Helene George, who managed a private contemporary art collection offered to buy it but later withdrew, most probably because I was an emerging artist with no marketable credibility.

Helene George encouraged me to enter the Churchie Emerging Art Exhibition in 2003 and also helped me to hang the work, which from memory was difficult and stressful for us both. Nevertheless, she had a refreshing cynicism about the exercise and commented wryly to me that Life Fragments I:

was out of place in an emerging art exhibition, because the art practice was too polished, that is, fully conceptualised and complete.

I did not have to describe Life Fragments I in my Transit Exhibition because it was there physically. But, when it came to my entry for the Churchie Exhibition, I did have to describe the work and to provide a hard copy example, because email entries and digital reproductions weren’t acceptable then.

To Continue, CLICK HERE.

Posted in Canberra


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