Pigments of the Imagination

Adrian Buckley BSoA 1960-62 has written to us of his fond memories of the old art school. What is particularly interesting about Adrian’s most recent work is that it is a fine example that our generation can embrace computers that provide us with ever amazing opportunities to seek new dimensions of space, colour and design. His I Blue It seen here is but one example. To see more of Adrian’s art click on linktext .

Pigments of the Imagination

My time at BSoA was from 1960 to its closure as a full time art college in 1962. These were good years to be an art student there. A muddy abstractionism in painting still lingered from the 40s and 50s but a new wave in the arts was starting to spread a little colour and excitement into all our lives. In those days with icons such as Brigitte Bardot and Elvis Presley, the dawn of the television age and wild stuff going on across the pond, the plate tectonics of the art world were on the move again. Naturally, the students were more tuned in than the teachers.

The curriculum was wide ranging and we worked hard. Preparing as we were for the Intermediate prior to the NDD, the hours were long – often from 9am to 9pm. The work was undertaken not only at the main building but at various annexes – 25 Beckenham Road, 80 Croydon Road and Churchfields Road. The subjects included life and costume drawing, still life, pictorial composition, printmaking, calligraphy, graphic design, perspective, pottery, art history and history of film. The latter was voluntary and the films usually mind boggling.

The teachers I can recollect I do so with affection. In no particular order: Don Buley, the principal John Cole, Fred Packer, Ron Wildman, George Fry, Mrs Cole, Graham Arnold, Mr Collins, Doc. Weissenborn, Mr Norris, Ivor Johns, Peter Midgley, Vanda Cutler, Miriam Stribley and Harvey Sklair (80 this year). Also, Charlie in charge of the equipment store and the ever fragrant Mrs Epps (“cuppa tea dear?”) of the Baths Cafe.

Among a particularly fine looking bunch of students during those two years were Adrian Williams, Tony Parkin, Tony Jones, Antoinette Mann, the mega talented Bruce Pennington, (check his website click on: linktext ) Diane Buckland, Dick Simmons, Hilary Graham, Graham Barrow, Geoff Pearson (he could draw HMS Hood down to the last rivet), Hilary Jones, Jackie Stenning, Robin Harris, Alan Bush, Joy Holland, Maureen Alexander, Pete Neilson, Sonia Dobson, Judy Lewis, Mike Miles and who could forget the ravishing Jane Sinclair?

Tom Freeth and Kass were often to be seen nattering in the main corridor but they had little contact with us tyros. That would all change at Ravensbourne, but that’s another story…

Computers and Alternative Realities
Images generated by a computer are sometimes referred to as computer art. The idea of pictures made by a machine is still anathema to many even though computer art already has a long and distinguished history. Its origins can be traced back to the early 1960s. In 1962 Desmond Paul Henry exhibited “machine-generated” pictures at London’s Reid Gallery and in 1963 Joan Shogren produced computer programmes resulting in computer art exhibitions in New York. Galleries in London, Stuttgart, New York and San Jose, California were exhibiting “computer generated pictures” in 1965 and in 1968 London’s ICA hosted the influential Cybernetics Serendipity exhibition. The following year the Computer Arts Society was founded in London.

By the mid 1970s, with the invention of the inkjet printer (replacing dot matrix) together with the expanding popularity of the personal computer, the field was opening up. As we all know, the next decades saw an exponential growth in pc technology including image editing facilities: Adobe Illustrator in 1987, Adobe Photoshop in 1990, Corel Paint Shop (a key competitor with the market leader Photoshop) in 1991 and so on. In 2004 Corel acquired the Minneapolis-based JASC Software and rebranded it as Corel Paint Shop Pro X in 2005. This is the image editing programme I use.

Computers are able to grab images from a variety of sources and then manipulate them. This is the essence of image editing and the foundation of most computer art. Graphic software programmes used in image editing include vector graphic editors and raster graphic editors. Computers store raster images in a grid of picture elements or pixels, each of which can be manipulated in many ways. Vector images, on the other hand, are stored as linear elements which can be scaled up indefinitely without blurring or pixilation. Both have their uses and advantages. Paint Shop Pro is one of many raster-based digital image editors.

By the time I acquired my first computer I was of an age to qualify for free prescriptions and to travel on the tube and buses without paying. I mention this only to excuse my almost total lack of technical knowledge regarding computers. However, with use, practice, trial and error one can learn to navigate the controls with only a superficial appreciation of what’s going on inside the box. I’m sure that to varying degrees this is the case with just about everybody who uses a computer – even computer whizz-kids, who in my experience, seem to abandon their mother tongue when trying to explain computer stuff.

As far as my images are concerned, I make use of my own digital photographs, scanned images, pictures from the internet and preloaded special effects such as picture tubes. These are small graphic images with no background. Once suitably distorted they can provide the starting point for more complex images or used as layers to add detail, depth and complication as needed. Layers are a feature of image editors and have lately become essential to my work. They are analogous to stacking transparent acetate sheets, each one containing a picture element, on top of each other. Each layer can be individually manipulated in any number of ways.

As well as layers, there are many other features to be found on most image editing programmes. A brief list would include: Image size alteration, cropping, removal of unwanted elements, selective colour change, image orientation, perspective correction and distortion, sharpening and softening images, selecting and merging images, special effects, changing colour depth, contrast change and brightening, colour adjustments, cloning (this is very useful but difficult to explain) and of course printing.

However, before realising that there were such things as picture editors, I relied on Paint (formerly Paintbrush for Windows). This is a simple graphics painting programme found on most versions of Windows and it has proved a popular introduction to creating images on a computer. The programme includes a number of options among which are free-form select, erase, colour fill, colour selection, magnify, pencil, brush and airbrush. Images can be flipped or skewed. A few pictures that were made entirely with Paint remain on my website (www.adrianbuckley.org). For instance, on Portfolio 2, “Highway”. On Portfolio 3, “Gray matter” and “Washday on Mimas”. And on Portfolio 4, “ Alpha Ralpha Boulevard”.

Whichever programme is utilised, a picture can start from the vaguest of ideas which in my case usually, but not inevitably, seem to involve subjects of a somewhat downbeat and sombre nature. For instance, some favourite themes may involve figures in abandoned landscapes or towns, feelings of menace or that something’s not quite right. Or perhaps alien, abstract or imaginary environments, a snapshot taken just after the main event, an impression of massive redundant machinery, surreal juxtapositions, etc. A picture could start from any previous image – abstract or representational. If it looks like it would benefit from varying degrees of distortion, so much the better. Once the process is underway, there is no telling in which direction it will go or where it may end. The beauty of modern image editors (and their draw back) is the possibility of literally endless variations that can be brought to bear on an image (or part of an image) at any stage throughout its manufacture. So much freedom of choice can be either overwhelming or liberating.

The wellspring of the type of imagery that interests me most is science fiction. As literature, this form is both fascinating and provocative. From the pulps of the 1930s and 40s through the Golden-Age and the cold war neuroses of the 1950s, the New Wave of the late 1960s and 70s, the Cyberpunk of the 1980s to today’s hardcore-sf masterpieces, it was always streets ahead in ideas and imagination. Until the late 1960s, science fiction art was to be found mainly on the covers of the wonderful pulp magazines such as Startling Stories and Planet Stories and then later, Astounding, Analog, F&SF and New Worlds. Later, thanks to artist/illustrators like Tim White, Jim Burns, Chris Foss and Bruce Pennington it became an established form especially on book covers. Like other art movements, it has evolved through various phases and now relies heavily on computer generated images. Science fiction stories predicted computers nearly a century ago. So it seems appropriate that the nuts-and-bolts heirs to these fantasies should now repay the genre by producing a wealth of sf inspired imagery.

Adrian Buckley
BSoA 1960-62

May 2010