Embracing new media
My artwork is always expressive, either portraying the beauty of the world in which we live or in social and cultural comment. I use lush rich colours on contemporary hand painted digital canvasses. The unique methods I utilise have been developed through a love of experimentation. Embracing the new media of digitally creating has replaced my years of traditional canvas paintings, as medium of choice.
The visual metaphors and symbolism in my works allow me to convey thoughts and emotions of who we are and our place in the world.
Who is Carl Rolfe?
I'm an Australian artist, born in Sydney. I have lived most of my life in the major cities of Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne but have long dreamed of living in the countryside - or the Bush, as we call it in Australia. My partner and I bit the bullet 17 years ago and moved to the rural outskirts of the beautiful old gold rush town of Bendigo, in north-central Victoria. As an artist, I love being surrounded by natural beauty, an abundance of colourful bird life and kangaroos nibbling the grass outside the window, all of which instils a great calmness and a sense of the simple joy of existence. The tranquillity allows me to be in a state of mind to create; unhindered by the daily pressures we all endure.
What is your background? Why did you become an artist?
Many of my ancestors were involved in some way in the arts. My great grandfather directed, wrote, acted and produced early Australian films including what is considered the first feature film “Robbery Underarms.” My mother – a respected and sought after portrait painter and winner of the prestigious Portia Geach Portrait Prize in 1985 - was the greatest influence on me. I have been exposed to art from birth by my mother who instilled in me a love of art and an endorsement of art as a valid way to live your life. As a child, I was supplied with the raw materials to create paintings and sculptures. I was also given an old Kodak Box Brownie, which was a wonderful camera for the time. I still have and treasure that little metal box. All this led me into studying fine art painting at the Canberra School of Art, which included photography and print making.
What is the meaning of life for you?
I am mostly an optimist who loves to travel. Whether staying in a dirt-floor hut with a local family in the middle of the jungle in northern Cambodia or experiencing the chaos of the major cities of the world, I always try to immerse myself in the local culture rather than peering out of a tourist bus window as it whizzes past. Nature and man have created some truly magnificent sights in the world. At times I do battle to prevent myself from being overwhelmed by the negatives of the world such as, corruption, racism, injustice and greed. It’s then that I force myself to refocus on beauty or use my art to express a burden of thought I carry. I have learnt that the common man is inherently good, and the less people have the more generous they can be.
What inspires you, what doesn't?
I border on obsessive behaviour, seeing everything around me as images. My wife teases me sometimes that when she is talking to me she can see that I'm studying the way the sunlight falls on the curve of her cheek bone or the silhouette of her hair backlit by the lounge room lamp, I reassure her that I'm listening to every word she is saying - well at least most of it. Shapes, texture, composition and in particular colour give me a natural high that inspires all of my work.
How would you define your style?
Modern Expressionism is possibly the closest way to describe my work.
What role do photographs play in your artwork?
I have always been a painter who used photos and sketches as reference material. Where the photographic image is the end result for a photographer, for me it’s a starting point. I use the same canvas painting ethos for my digital paintings, by captialising on my doctored photography as the base building block.
Your pictures have a unique style. Is that intentional?
It's not a conscious act on my part to create in a particular style; it is something that has developed over time and flows naturally. It is not static and is always evolving, but there is an inescapable core doctrine that runs through my work, the love of colour, beauty and image dynamics.
How do you work?
I work in two ways, either starting with a blank white digital canvas or using digital image as a base.I carry a camera wherever I go. Although I have a DSLR Canon 40D I prefer to use my Sony DSC-HX9V when travelling or even just out and about. The camera fits neatly in the palm of my hand and is easily stowed in a pocket. The other benefit is it is less intrusive, allowing more natural photos of people who can be unaware that I have a camera. This way, I can capture the natural moment rather than a posed shot. In Photoshop when I use photos as the base, I remove undesirable elements and may make a composite image by using elements from other photos, which gives a base image for me to then develop up. Having created my own set of digital brushes and designing and building filters for specific needs, I proceed to paint using a Wacom tablet and pen on different layers - sometimes up to 30 layers. I blend, filter, and manipulate the layers till I'm happy with the combined result. When needed, I'll use Nik Viveza in the final stages to adjust/correct colours within specific areas of the image. I finish off with Photoshop’s unsharp filter on a low setting to sharpen and unify the final image.
Are you influenced by any particular artist?
It is unavoidable not to be influenced by all that is around us and what has gone before, which is a good thing as long as it isn't merely copying which only stifles someone’s creativity. Individuality is essential to the progression of art and personal expression. I have a great love of Van Gogh who, in my opinion, is the greatest artist to have lived. His use of colour and his emotive brush strokes are captivating. The famous Australian painter, Brett Whiteley, who was also influenced by Van Gogh, is another artist I greatly admire. Though my work doesn't mimic theirs, I can see a parallels in the use of colour and expressive strokes.
Why is Digital Painting your favourite medium?
Now more than ever with the advent and availability of digital cameras, with it's low cost shooting/processing, and its capacity to take thousands of shots compared to the restriction of 36 or 24 frames film of the past, photography is available to virtually everyone. From a mother taking a snap shot of their child's birthday party, a photo journalist capturing an incredible moment in history, science peering into a distant galaxy, medical imaging of a cancer cell dividing, the great skill of a fine art photographer or an artist like myself who uses it as a building block to express themselves. Photographs can fill you with joy, sadness, sympathy, amazement or just make you smile. There is no other medium with the same diversity and capacity on so many levels. Photography is amongst the greatest inventions of the human race. But with that said it isn't enough for me, I need to reconstruct reality.
What is the best or the worst that has been said about your work?
A couple of years ago I had my first digital artwork exhibition after a long history of paint on canvas exhibitions. On the opening night a fellow artist approached me, outraged that I had betrayed fine art, "this isn't art, the computer does it for you" was a line I remember. I endeavour to explain the intricacy of construction, the use of the artist’s eye and hand, and how digital brushes are used in the same way as a horse hair brush is on a canvas. While digital work is acknowledged as art, I realize there is still resistance from some traditionalists in accepting digital painting as fine art, partly due to a lack of understanding of the processes involved and partly from the dogma and fear of the new. A hundred years ago photography, while in its infancy was not accepted as art let alone fine art. Nowadays there is no debate about its integration into society as another medium through which fine art can be created. I have no doubt digital painting will traverse the same rocky ground and become totally accepted as another fine art medium. As an artist you need to develop a thick skin against criticism and equaly against praise. I've had many nice compliments over the years, some totally sincere, others because they feel it's right thing to say, it's hard often to tell the difference. There will always be people who don't like your art and people who love it. Taking either on board can stifle experimentation and progression. Stagnation is the enemy of all artists.
Original interview first appeared in the French magazine Urban http//factory.3.com