Manipulation and Formulation in the Digital Age

The curation of contemporary art brings with it the discussion of medium and mediation. Art is becoming increasingly encompassed in technology and the environment around us, forcing us to look at the structures and process that generated the pieces, and what better artist to demonstrate this than the artist Jeff Elrod.

Jeff Elrod is an acclaimed artist represented by internationally reputable galleries such as the Simon Lee Gallery in London and the Luhring Augustine Gallery in New York and has been featured in solo shows at The Museum of Modern Art with his series ‘Nobody Sees Like Us’ in 2013. Other memorable works include his group show at the ICA London ‘Beware Wet Paint’ as part of a collective of artists who form a single strand in a multidisciplinary practice.

Born in 1966, Elrod’s education brought him to the Rijksakademie Van Beeldende Kunsten, a classical academy offering residency to visual artists, as well as a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts at the University of Texas. Since then, he resides and works between Dallas, Texas and Brooklyn, New York.

Untitled, Jeff Elrod

His most recent show was organized by Galerie Max Hetzler as part of the 2020 Summer show and is a highly anticipated artist with his latest auctioned piece ‘Untitled’ made up of acrylic and UV ink on canvas, amassing a realized price of 25,000 USD on Christie’s. Promoted in the Wall Street Journal in 2013, the artist made his reintroduction back into the public eye. Elrod also featured in Harper’s Bazaar ART HK in the 2015 issue of digital abstract and concrete painting where his piece ‘Leap into the Voidoid’ 2015 was the main cover thus establishing himself as a prominent figure of the digital manipulation scene with his decisive style and flair. The relationship between Jeff Elrod and his paintings relies on the proposed intentions man has towards the machine. As a contemporary artist, Elrod does not merely employ technology as a supplementary aspect to the piece but rather highlights the potentiality of the technology itself and its ability to transform a given piece. He explores the critical impact of modern software such as Photoshop and Illustrator as a means of abstraction and diversification onto the more conventional techniques of painting and in doing so reinvents our idea of the medium.

‘Nobody Sees Like Us’ is a 2013 series that Elrod created in acknowledgement of the collaboration between experimental artist Brion Gysin and writer William S. Burroughs who were included in the 1950s Beat Generation, a literary movement turned social, criticizing the consumption of a commercialized America. In Elrod’s series, he is inspired by Gysin’s ‘Dreammachine’, a stroboscopic flicker device that produces visual stimuli upon closed eyes that simulate the neural oscillations of a conscious but relaxed brain.

In his Echo paintings, Elrod utilizes his technique of ‘frictionless drawings’ to blur the shapes and lines in his paintings creating an amorphous visual that demonstrates this concept of technological abstraction. Elrod’s work shows some resemblance of Gysin’s social motive in rejecting economic materialism by using technologically mediated forms as a commentary on the need to reclaim physical autonomy in a world where the machine is slowly assuming control. The physical movement of the mouse simulating traditional painting, whilst also employing computer software enables the artist to create a seamless combination that, not only fits appropriately to what we perceive digital culture would include but also reflects the developing understanding between emerging mediums a more cohesive relationship between art and technology.

‘Jeff Elrod. Nobody Sees Like Us, 2013.’ (Left)‘Jeff Elrod. Nobody Sees Like Us, 2013.’

(Center) ‘Jeff Elrod. Echo Painting, 2012. (Right)

With that in mind, Jeff Elrod’s pieces became part of the discussion of emerging contemporary art and its relation to formalism as mentioned in Frieze ‘Formal Affairs’ 2015. Elrod, along with artists Julie Mehretu and Florian Meisenberg are depicted as artists celebrating the process of creation by deregulating preconceptions of mark-making in painting. Together they take joy in the consideration of the medium and all its capabilities, complimented with what our current technology can do to emphasize the translation of simple gestural abstraction into a narrative.

Open Source: Art at the Eclipse of Capitalism is another exhibition that features artists like Jeff Elrod as a response to the economic theorist Rifkin’s book The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism. Although Elrod is not one of the main featured artists, the similarities between his work and that of Albert Oehlen justifies his relevance. Much like Oehlen, Elrod’s Untitled (Green Screen) 2014 bears the same stark, computer-generated lines as seen in the former’s monochrome painting Untitled and both serve as a visual reminder of the inescapable contextualization of art.

Jeff Elrod. Untitled, 2014.’ (Left). ‘Albert Oehlen. Untitled, 1992/2008.’ (Right).

These two pieces fit perfectly with the exhibition’s theme of economic transition as the integration of technology in the work represents the concept of Collaborative Commons. In brief, this new economic model proposes that we are on the brink of a third industrial revolution. Propelled by new technologies and the internet as a mode of connecting everyone to an economic value chain, there is an exponential increase in productivity that is beginning to render the marginal cost of production and distribution to almost zero. The Open Source exhibition then epitomizes the relationship between capital, technology and culture by collating works like that of Oehlen and Elrod which are a direct manifestation of art reflecting (economic) existence.

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