“The medium is the message” – Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan.
Art has, for generations, been a medium delivering the message of emotions, ideas, creativity, and aesthetic. In many ways, that medium has been enhanced by technology. A canvas or paper can be replaced by a display. The brush or pencil can be replaced by a stylus. The point an artwork tries to put across remains the same, just that an artist now has digital tools, that is hardware and software algorithms, adding dimensions to work with.
The Digital Artists in Residence programme at the 2023 India Art Fair in New Delhi, that will go on till February 12, hosts three artists – Varun Desai, who wears many hats, including those of a coder and music producer; Mira Felicia Malhotra, who is a visual artist and illustrator; and Gaurav Ogale is an artist, poet and writer.
The common thread for all three artists? HT interacted with them on the preview day of the 2023 India Art Fair. They are showcasing artworks created using computing devices within the Apple ecosystem, and a variety of apps by various developers, that we can also download and take for a spin.
Take for instance, ‘Ascension’, an illustrated family portrait by Mumbai based Mira Felicia Malhotra, which utilises augmented reality to add an otherwise hidden layer of emotions, sentiments and feelings, to what otherwise looks like a single dimensional artwork. That is just one example.
“The first @IndiaArtFair Digital Artists in Residence program shows how technology can unlock creativity. Great to see how iPad Pro is helping artists Mira, Varun, and Gaurav to tap into such incredible creative expression,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a tweet.
“India has such a vibrant creative community, and we love seeing the ways these talented artists are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible on iPad Pro to take their innovative ideas to the next level,” says Bob Borchers, vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing at Apple. The company’s iPad line-up is now the widest it has ever been, including two screen sizes for the iPad Pro, alongside the iPad Air, a redesigned iPad and the iPad Mini.
Dimorphism: Unifying the distinct forms
“What I’m trying to do is to explore the framework of additional reality, which is becoming more and more important in our lives which is expressed in my installation as well,” Desai tells us.
Kolkata based Varun Desai’s showcase at the 2023 India Art Fair in New Delhi, called ‘Dimorphism’, is essentially emerging in the final form because of the use of 3D scanning through a LiDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging, sensor on an Apple iPad Pro and animation work on a Mac Studio and Studio Display setup. Stand within the installation, and there is a sense you are static and out of place, amidst fluid motion.
Reminds me of how virtual reality (VR) headsets felt like, in their early days.
“When I model my final installation on Studio Display, I can see all the different screens together, so I can visualise what it’s going to look like while I’m working on it rather than having to wait until installation day,” says Desai.
He explains how the different elements have come together using different apps. The 3D scanning is done of real human beings, but they are largely a suggestion – the inclusions in the art installation aren’t exact replicas of the humans scanned, but an inspiration. The perspective grids are coded and interspersed with hand drawn elements; the streets of Kolkata inspired Desai.
There is also the aspect of visualising what the final structure and detailing would be, without having to wait for the unpredictability of the last moment checks. If need be, changes and corrections can be made well in advance. “The entire pipeline, from concept to final animation, is very much in the box with these devices. It’s very efficient,” he adds.
A layer of augmented reality bubbling to the top
Mira Felicia Malhotra, who is showcasing the title ‘Log Kya Kahenge’, also utilises the powers of a tech ecosystem for art creation. The uniqueness of her artwork is that it isn’t a single layer, but instead, there is a secondary animated layer which tries to convey dynamics of a human relationship – a family portrait that we simply see as a portrait, but now with the attempt to add emotions, sentiments and aspirations.
How does a viewer see this otherwise hidden layer? The app for that is an augmented reality app called Artivive, which is available for the Mac, iPad and iPhone.
What apps did Malhotra use for creating the artwork? She uses an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil for sketching, while using the Procreate app. She also uses her iPhone 14 to capture images of the subjects, which are then added to, with layers of illustrations. She uses the Procreate which can export files in PSD format, which is Adobe’s native file format, for further editing on the Adobe Photoshop suite.
“I want a feel that is similar to drawing on paper, as opposed to looking at the screen and drawing with another mouse-like device,” says Malhotra. “With iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, it’s the pen and paper, the brush and canvas, all in one,” she adds.
Bestsellers: When books and sounds come together
Gaurav Ogale faces a rather unique challenge, on a daily basis. He doesn’t have a fixed studio space and must take what he describes as a “nomadic approach”. It is something he seems to prefer, being a regular traveller from a very young age with curiosity to document memories along the way and the people he meets. Hence, the animated, nostalgic short films.
Ogale talks about the interest in someone else’s curiosities as one of the core tenets of capturing the smallest, but lasting moments, in artwork. “What is it that would stand out for you, if you are to design the biography for that person,” he tells us. “It talks about delving into their aesthetics and where they come from,” he adds.
His work on showcase at the India Art Fair 2023 is called ‘Best Sellers’, which wants to reconnect us with the lost art of browsing books in a bookstore. When viewed on the iPad Pro, in this case the device itself blends in seamlessly as a part of the art, there are layers of stories which aren’t otherwise visible on a two-dimensional work of art.
There is a very distinct sense of personal space as one experiences Ogale’s Best Sellers, complete with audio layers that attempt to add a sense of space to what you are reading on the page.
If you ever needed proof of how an ecosystem can help seamlessly hand over tasks to different devices, Ogale’s workflow gives us a better idea than most. The frame-by-frame drawings were down using the Procreate app, while the editing of the video file was done using the Adobe Premiere software on the MacBook Pro, with the layering in audio recordings taken on the iPhone 14.
The adoption of technology didn’t come easily, however. “I usually take a lot of time to get used to technology, but with iPad Pro, somehow, it’s been quick. And it has become an alternate to my journal now,” says Ogale.
Melding of art and digital tools
The apps these digital artists use, are tools that are easily available on the Apple App Store, for anyone who wishes to dabble with the idea of serious artwork with a digital inspiration.
The common app for Desai, Malhotra and Ogale’s artistic journey is Procreate. This app has a legacy and isn’t exactly a newcomer or temporary fascination. Procreate won the Apple Design Award for outstanding design and innovation in 2013, and then again in 2022. The sketching, illustration and annotation prowess comes from functionality that includes more than 200 carefully curated brush types, control over colour dynamics, convenience of multi-touch gestures as well as 3D model painting, to name a few.
This app costs around $12.99 to download and use.
The other apps which artists are using extensively include Adobe Premiere and Adobe Photoshop, both part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription. The former app is a multi-platform (available for iPhone, iPad and Mac too) for editing video files while Photoshop (as popular as it is) is also available across device platforms is a photo editing app with extensive feature set including retouch, colour correction and AI-powered filters.
The subscription prices start around ₹639 per month, depending on which apps you wish to use.
Nomad Sculpt is an app which Desai pointed us to. For Dimorphism, he utilises the LiDAR Scanner on the iPad Pro for 3D capture of objects, architecture, and human subjects. These are then shaped into 3D models in Nomad Sculpt, an app that is used to create, sculpt, and paint in 3D. He exports these 3D models to the Procreate app for colouring, texturing, and air brushing. The Nomad Sculpt costs around $14.99 to download.
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