by Dan Koon
One could easily make an argument that the Impressionist movement in art would never have happened had it not been for the invention of the collapsible tin tube in the 1840s. Before then, artists stored their paints in tiny pig bladders which were fragile and difficult to transport. Tube paint freed artists to move from the studio to the great outdoors. Artists could explore nature in ways never before available to them.
Today, Pennsylvania artist Lisa Wray uses the breakthroughs of the Digital Age to enter realms beyond the boundaries of nature. Inspired at first by a group of Visionary artists in California as well as the lavish illuminations from the famous 9th Century manuscript, the Book of Kells, Lisa has bent the 0s and 1s of digital technology to create art of a decidedly spiritual nature.
“I am a tradigital artist now,” she says, “having been influenced by the time I live in and my profession as a color production artist for the book industry. I combine any media that inspires me and put it all together inside the computer – that might include drawing with the computer as well as drawings or paintings by hand. I haven’t made that many paintings, and of the ones I did make, I painted over many of them as I had no money at the time. Painting and drawing have been more about learning for me, developing my eye and skills so that I know how to use the tools in a technical sense. This way I can accomplish my ideas using computer programs, tools, drawings, paintings, photographs, etc.
“I first came across the word ‘tradigital’ around 1990 in a computer trade magazine. It was a word I had never heard before, but it described the combination of traditionally created art with digital media. This was exactly what I was doing. I found out much later that the word tradigital originally referred to animation art that combined traditional and computer generated art media.”
Lisa uses the term to describe a new type of fine art that combines traditional painting, drawing and photography with digital media (software and digital tools). “I like to think of it as a bridge that unites the past, present, and future into a completely new form,” she says.
Lisa’s new forms have a solid foundation in the classical disciplines of drawing, painting, observation and the other aspects of a standard art school curriculum. Developing a love for drawing at an early age, her engineer father stressed a practical education for Lisa if she was going to pursue her passion. She got that training at Philadelphia’s Hussian School of Art where, as Lisa tells it, “I was lucky to be interviewed by John Hussian himself, an old world European man. His interview changed my way of looking at things. He was very serious, direct and firm and would ask you questions like ‘Why did you do this?’ ‘What is the purpose for this?’ You would really have to think about it and question yourself because you didn’t know why or where it came from … you were immature and undeveloped … and when you discovered where it did come from, you discovered the source of your creativity!”
At Hussian, Lisa received a four year commercial art education founded on classic studies: drawing, painting, illustration, color & design, perspective, photography, advertising, typography, printmaking and art history. All her professors were professional commercial or fine artists making their living in the field.
A freelance career began after graduation as did a career as a color production artist for the foremost digital printing company in America, Offset Paperback Book Mfgrs. In the early, early days of the Internet, Lisa discovered the software, scanners, color film transparencies, magnetic tape, etc., tools we now view as prehistoric, but which in 1983 inspired her naiveté with limitless possibilities for means of expression.
Breakthrough to a New Reality
“Thinking back, I would say that my style really started to develop in 1983. I was heavily influenced by music and I applied a stream of consciousness mentality to my imaginative flow—much like a writer might do to begin the creative process. To this day, music is important to me as an inspirational influence.”
Thus began a three year period of investigation, taking traditionally produced pieces, scanning them into computers, modifying them and in the process discovering different tools, plug-ins and color controls through various software programs. Lisa has followed this path for two decades, and her masterpieces are mostly now created in the virtual world. As such, they reflect the clarity, lightness and subtleties of the tiny electrical impulses which are her medium. Strokes of color from a hand held brush are utterly lacking here. Instead, one sees rich, ethereal, finely rendered compositions inspired by diverse sources: music, literature, nature, and fellow artists.
The key question, however, is how Lisa’s art came to be so spiritual in nature. There’s nothing inherent in computer technology that speaks to the non-material side of life. But, as so often happens in the push and pull of living, one finds oneself in a condition that absolutely needs to change if one is going to survive. Lisa found herself in such a position in 1987, ensnared in a very bad marriage. She escaped by the grace of God but found herself at a crossroads.
“When you’ve hit bottom, you either leave the planet, or you have an epiphany– a realization that there is more to life than the material world,” she explains. “For the first time, I was open to receiving a gift from another realm, and that was the gift of faith. The first book I was led to was Think and Grow Rich with Peace of Mind [by Napoleon Hill]. I realized how important was peace of mind, and how it superseded the desire for money, health, almost everything I could think of, so this was a real mind expander and led to many other enlightening concepts, and a continuing search for universal truths from ancient times to now. During this time period, I was able to let go of everything and was able to start anew, reinvent myself and my life. I was given a second chance, I lost everything I had, and found it to be liberating. It was the beginning of my journey to where I am presently.”
Lisa explains the source of the spiritual message of her art as the Divine Imagination. She finds in contemplation the Divine consciousness which exists along with the physical world as we know it. Here, Lisa finds a realm clearly illuminated by the words and images of others through history, which are its signposts. “It is the Universal Mind that we all can tap into,” she says, “when we are in the right state of consciousness, open to receiving without judgment.”
Can Digital Art be Fine Art? A hundred years ago, people were asking a similar question about photography. Lisa’s art, conceptually, traces to the Greek born-Italian artist, Giorgio De Chirico, who experimented with what he called, Metaphysical Painting. De Chirico’s ideas closely resembled her own personal mind-set and vision.
In his words: “To become truly immortal, a work of art must escape all human limits: logic and common sense will only interfere. But once these barriers are broken, it will enter the regions of childhood visions and dreams. … Everything has two aspects: the current aspect, which we see nearly always and which ordinary men see, and the ghostly and metaphysical aspect, which only rare individuals may see in moments of clairvoyance and metaphysical abstraction. A work of art must narrate something that does not appear within its outline. I remember one vivid winter’s day at Versailles. Silence and calm reigned supreme. Everything gazed at me with mysterious, questioning eyes. And then I realized that every corner of the palace, every column, every window possessed a spirit, an impenetrable soul. At that moment I grew aware of the mystery which urges men to create certain strange forms. And the creation appeared more extraordinary than the creators.”
Noted astrologer, Joseph Polansky writes of Lisa’s art, “Many of her works are of the Mandala style—hieroglyphs of wholeness – nature forms seen in a new way. But many are reminiscent of Dali and his surrealism – we are in another space, where nature forms and human forms coexist and tell a dream-like story.”
Each of her works is the result of meditation using the computer as her canvas. “The final resulting imagery is a picture of the subconscious thoughts that I receive during this meditation,” she says. In her own way, Lisa’s approach to creating is similar to many artists.
Digitally produced art, however, raises questions. Each piece is essentially an illusion, Lisa feels, as is life itself on the Quantum level. The final art exists as mathematical information on a computer hard drive. It’s similar to a photographic negative except that a print from a negative is a second generation image. Each image Lisa prints is first generation, and after much thought and consultation with experts in their fields, Joan Altabe, fine art critic, Chris Tong, computer science PhD, and others, Lisa realized what her works truly are: first generation multiples of originals. It’s a new concept but a needed one, since tradigital art is a new visual form.
Keeping a Record of it All
With digitally produced art, the potential to reach art lovers is huge. But there also comes the need to record and manage one’s output. And, when dealing with first generation multiples of originals, how does one identify its uniqueness among others of the same image? Lisa was grappling with this problem when her fine art rep in Chicago, Teri Peterson, advised her to investigate the new services available at the artregistration.com .
As Lisa puts it, the rep told her that, “I would need to have to have each of my first generation multiple originals permanently registered. She told me that this would become the norm in the future. I had never heard of artregistration.com at the time, so I went on line and researched the concept, and understood the historical value of the concept immediately.
“I have worked for many years in the book business, and a similar concept would be a unique ISBN number – for an edition of a book. This goes further, in that instead of 30, 100 or 1000 limited edition prints of the same art image, each first generation multiple original becomes even more unique because it has a number that will never be assigned again to any other first generation multiple original.
“This means that in my lifetime, I may only ever produce a very few artregistration.com numbered first generation multiple of originals, which will make them even more valuable for collectors in the future, or I may print and register several of a first generation multiple original that is more popular. Each one will be hand made with archival quality pigments and substrates, will be signed and dated and some will include my embossed seal with date of printing or creation. This system fits perfectly for me, and my personal integrity as an artist.”
More than that, Lisa appreciates the support artregistration.com provides to artists. She feels that artregistration.com Founder and CEO Theresa Franks is “very interested in artists and art and I don’t mean in a superficial way. She genuinely cares about art and artists.” In commenting on other sites she looked at while researching artregistration.com, Lisa thinks they are little more than money making opportunities. “So many people,” she says, “feed off artists, their trusting natures, their desire to please and their insecurities. Of course, artists allow this to happen … it’s part of a growing process.”
“My future as an artist is what is happening now. I am learning to live in the moment, and not project too much into the future. My plans are to get the work out into the world. I want to inspire others as well.”
Part of that “now” is to use her imagery on textiles. She has designs in progress for tapestries and when the right offer comes along, we will see Lisa branching into other media. For the time being, people can see her art in eclectic gift shops and galleries in the U.S. or on her self-created website, www.lisawray.com.
Lisa often combines imagery with inspirational writings, prayers or, in the case of her Book of Patterns Dedicated to the American Indian, scores of her pattern portfolio images accompanied by teachings and wisdom from Native American lore and tribal leaders. This impressive compilation, a convergence of modern technology and timeless truths, is at once visually captivating and spiritually uplifting—a realization of Lisa Wray’s artistic purpose to lead us to the essence of who we truly are.
— Dan Koon | March 5, 2007