Augmented Reality is changing how artists make their work – and how we experience it.
While the digital revolution is changing the world around us, the practice of painting has been at a standstill for quite some time. While other art forms embrace innovation – music is sampled, remixed, delivered and enjoyed digitally, movie-making has been transformed through CGI, animation has been revolutionised by studios like DreamWorks and Disney/Pixar, photographers have all but abandoned film in favour of digital cameras – painting as an artistic medium has changed very little since acrylic paint became widely used in the mid-20th century or, even further back, John Goffe Rand invented tube paint in 1841.
Although technology has produced a plethora of drawing and painting apps (David Hockney made excellent use of the iPad app Brushes to create work for a Royal Academy exhibition), digital art is still regarded with scepticism and viewed as gimmicky, and uptake by artists and galleries has been slow.
For the last four years Edinburgh-based artist Trevor Jones, a pioneer in ‘augmented reality’ (AR) art, has been developing his own work to explore how new technology can be used to alter and enhance how viewers engage with it.
Frustrated that the only outside interest had come from IT companies and techies, rather than from other painters or the art world at large, he decided, as he puts it, “to stage a digital coup d’état” of the Royal Scottish Academy Open Exhibition. If the art establishment was not interested in finding out what this new world of technological possibilities had to offer, he would bring it to them by hijacking the show and, in effect, digitally transform it into a Trevor Jones exhibition.
Last November he visited the RSA Open a couple of days before the opening and photographed all the gallery rooms and works on his smartphone. Then, implementing AR technology, he digitally transformed about 60 of the works into his own paintings.
Next, Jones asked a group of friends to download the free AR app Junaio to their smartphones and tablets and invited them to the opening night. Exploring the exhibition, the group scanned the RSA walls and on the screens of their mobile devices saw Jones’s paintings digitally superimposed in the other artists’ frames.
Jones explains: “I didn’t augment the RSA Open with the intent to upset the other artists, but rather to challenge the concept of open exhibitions. With this new technology, an artist can digitally embed their artwork anywhere they want. So they can have a solo exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art or the Tate Modern! And if the gallery finds out, the artist can simply remove the artwork with a click of a button.”
“I could have found an old derelict building and hosted a virtual exhibition of my work, but that would have said very little except that I’m using some curious new technology. By launching this art project at the RSA Open, I immediately challenge the traditional understanding of an art exhibition.”
So what does the future have in store for painting now that AR is here? Will a new generation of painters embrace new technology and explore its creative possibilities? Will future art-buyers expect a painting to offer augmented reality options, such as digitally embedded videos demonstrating how the artist created a piece or a discussion about their inspirations?
In 1853 the French painter Eugene Delacroix expressed his distaste for photography when he addressed the difference between it and painting. After viewing a photograph of a naked man and woman, he wrote in his journal, ‘We experienced a feeling of revulsion, almost disgust, for the incorrectness, the mannerism, the lack of naturalness…’
Today, 160 years on, we know that the invention of photography did not eradicate or invalidate painting, but many painters adapted to the new medium and recognised the potential benefits of the camera, such as providing quick, accurate visual references or inspiring new work. The advent of photography also liberated painters from the need and expectation for realism.
Delacroix’s observations may have been partially born of fear for the future of his career and for the potential loss of his identity as an artist. With the emergence of photography, he may have found himself on the defensive and so he attacked that which he feared could undermine him.
Trevor Jones says: “I believe something similar is happening now, as we flounder about in the beginning of a digital revolution. The technology we have access to is so new and unfamiliar and, when used in the way as I did at the RSA Open, it challenges and provokes – just as the invention of photography challenged Delacroix and the 19th century art establishment.”
“Digital technology will not supersede painting or make it obsolete. But it will change painting as we know it, the way painters think about the message they’re trying to convey and, more importantly, how they convey it. In particular, it will change how the viewer engages with it.”
Trevor Jones created the Augmented Reality cover of this issue of Artmag. To view his AR artwork and crowd reaction at his RSA Open “digital annexing” visit www.trevorjonesart.com.
To download the Junaio AR app visit www.junaio.com.
How it works
Augmented Reality (AR) is a technology which can add virtual content such as images, video and even 3D objects or animation to the real world around you and that can be viewed through various devices such as smartphones, tablets or Google glasses. The added content is digitally linked to a ‘real world’ object, known as the “trackable”, which engages the virtual component when the smartphone or other device recognises it. AR is designed to enhance the viewer’s sensory perception of the virtual world they are seeing or interacting with.