Digital artists are exploring new territories from art galleries to the Palace of Justice.
Three decades ago, New York-based pop art figure Andy Warhol created digital art using a Commodore Amiga computer. The eccentric Warhol, famed for his painting of 32 cans of Campbell soup, manipulated a black and white image of Blondie singer Debbie Harry with a graphics program called ProPaint.
Over here, the late Ismail Zain started experimenting with digital art with a Macintosh computer in 1983 using the Mac Draw software when he was 53 years old to create a digital collage.
Digital art may have gotten an early start but it hasn’t been profitable for the longest time because most art buyers feel that digital art is not one of a kind.
But this is starting to change now.
Today, digital art has progressed as artists are beginning to sell their works.
Digital art is any form of expression that is produced, processed, stored and presented with digital tools. It can be an illustration drawn with a pencil or pen and then scanned and coloured with computer software. Or the artist can choose to go digital all the way by drawing directly on a tablet with a stylus.
Typically, digital artists use Wacom tablets to draw and Adobe’s software to enhance or manipulate images.
Dollars in digital art
Over the past few years, local artists have not only been recognised for their works but have managed to sell their artworks for thousands of ringgit, although the amount is still lower than that of contemporary art pieces.
“It’s still a start,” said Muid Latif, who has been a digital artist for 13 years, and has sold two of his digital art pieces called Lovely Disturbia 1 and 2.
Penang State Art Gallery (PSAG) acquired Disturbia 1 for RM1,700 in 2010 and Disturbia 2 for RM1,300 in 2012.
“It was encouraging. I felt that the gallery was open to new ideas and PSAG wants to invest in artists with potential.”
Penang State Museum and Art Gallery curator Haryany Mohamad said, “We always encourage artists to propose and collaborate on exhibitions, workshops and talks on digital art forms to raise awareness.”
Muid explains the inspiration behind his art: “Disturbia was influenced by nature. I spent some time at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, taking pictures of roots and dry leaves and then tweaking them on the computer with Adobe’s software. The whole process took me a few weeks.”
Another digital artist, Syafiq Samat, sold his digital art called Hulu Hilir to PSAG for RM3,000 in 2013.
For this piece Syafiq manipulated ambient sounds captured in Sungai Petani into visuals by using Adobe Flash before printing out the results.
“I used a camera to record the sounds as I drove around the Sungai Petani village and town,” said Syafiq who has been passionate about digital art for the past five years.
Last year, Katon Aqhari, who has also been a digital artist for five years, entered the Malaysian Book of Records for being the first to create 57 caricatures of local film legends like P. Ramlee and Saloma.
Katon, who is also a traditional oil-on-canvas artist, has sold more than a thousand cartoon portraits (a mix of cartoon and photograph) through the Society 6 website which offers caricatures of famous people like Turkish soccer midfielder Arda Turan on shower curtains and iPhone cases.
He has also sold a cartoon portrait of former national hockey player Mirnawan Nawawi for RM200 to an art collector.
His main tools are Corel Painter, Adobe Photoshop and Wacom Cintiq 12WX.
Marvel and DC comics freelance artist Tan Eng Huat, who has created black and white artworks of Silver Surfer, Ghost Rider and Batman, is experimenting with digital art.
Tan, who sold 60 of his works at last year’s Comic Convention at the KL Convention Centre, said when it comes to digital art you have to do something really unique to stand out.
Last year, another artist Keat Leong sold five pieces of art to individual collectors through various exhibitions.
“The prices ranged from RM1,000 to RM3,900. The first time someone bought my work was at an exhibition at the Sepang Gold Coast, I was so stunned I didn’t know what to say,” said the film and animation graduate.
“I had been doing this for nine years and never really expected to make money because you set out to create your best art first. Whether it will actually sell is impossible to guess.”
One of the acquirers of Keat Leong’s artpieces was first-time buyer Jouvy Liew. The 24-year-old, who works at the front desk of Pi Hotel, saw the artwork at the digital art exhibition called Satu, Dua, Tiga last month, which she helped organise.
“Keat Leong’s art called Free 1 had two birds in it and I connected with it immediately, as it meant freedom to me. I had no problems with the piece being digital art. Good art is good art, whether it’s digital or not,” she said.
Not everyone sees things the same way. Art collector Amir Rashidi, who has close to 40 traditional artworks, said that some collectors shy away from digital art because it can be reproduced easily and is not one of a kind.
Pakhruddin Sulaiman, who has been collecting contemporary art for 20 years, has not bought any digital art. “There needs to be more promotion and exposure for it to grow. Also, more galleries need to support it,” he said.
Datuk Izuddin Hani concurred, as he started a digital art gallery in Central Market in 2007, only to close it down two years later due to a lack of response.
“There weren’t many local digital artists around at that time. I think we probably sold 20 pieces of art, mostly from Japan, in the whole two years we were open. But the awareness is improving,” he said.
Case in point is the Petronas Gallery called Masterpieces, a digital art exhibition sponsored by Samsung, which drew over 10,000 visitors.
Rosli Rahim, the general manager of the gallery said, “This is indeed a good indication that the public is getting more aware and sophisticated in its taste for art.”
He said the Young Malaysia Artists biennial series which began in 2011 also featured digital art, including the works of Muid.
“In the last few years museums have started taking us more seriously,” said Muid.
Besides Petronas Gallery and PSAG, the galleries that have exhibited digital art include Muzium & Galeri Tuanku Fauziah, Pelita Hati and the National Visual Arts Gallery.
Digital and dynamic
Digital art isn’t something static. Muid used acrylic and poster colours to paint his Jupiteraya series, a homage to the Gallilean moons of Jupiter. He then scanned it digitally before adding effects using Photoshop and Illustrator.
To incorporate 3D elements he used software like Cinema 4D and Sketch Up.
Muid spent six months researching the planet and its moons and his hard work paid off as Jupiteraya was displayed at the Young Malaysian Artists: New Object(ion) II exhibition hosted by Galeri Petronas in 2013.
Muhd Syahman took a high tech approach to art while he was attached to Motiofixo Visuals. He helped the company create Lux to explore how light reacts to body movements in order to enhance dance performances.
Motiofixo Visuals used Microsoft Xbox 360’s Kinect sensors to detect body movements. The company used a custom software to translate the data into lights which were projected onto a screen.
“A Lux live performance was held at the Visual Graphics Arts Fest in Kuala Lumpur in 2013,” he said.
Syahman said Lux could be used at events, launches and even concert tours. “There is definitely a market for this type of interactive art,” he said.
In 2014, Motiofixo Visuals was commissioned to work on a large-scale showcase to highlight the Palace of Justice’s architecture by using 3D motion effects and optical illusions.
The showcase called Lampu (Light and motion Putrajaya) was projected on the building for six minutes for three consecutive nights. It was 200m wide and five storeys high.
Fariz Hanapiah, executive creative director of Motiofixo Visuals, said, “There were eight 4K projectors placed across the street about 60m away,” he said.
“We assigned different effects to different parts of the building to create a spellbinding experience.”
Motiofixo Visuals started experimenting with projection mapping five years ago, said Fariz.
“The awareness has been building steadily. People started giving us jobs three years ago and now it’s a big part of our business,” he said.
Gabriel Lim, the managing director of Motiofixo Visuals, sees a bright future for digital art in general.
“It was a struggle in the beginning. But the market is getting mature now and people are more accepting,” he said.
Other artists concur. Keat Leong, for instance, sees a future in digital art. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s digital or not. At the end of the day people buy art for one simple reason. They feel connected to it,” he said.