Chad Sorg brings graphic design to the gallery
There are those who say that technology curbs creativity. Digitization, they say, is artistic suicide. By such standards, techno fails as music, and graphic design fails as art.
The first time someone plugged in an electric guitar, I’m sure that a few old-fashioned minds short-circuited, fearing that music would be corrupted forever. Likewise, when viewing the first photographs, there were probably portraitists who packed up their easels and nervously fled to their hermetic huts.
Technology is an unstoppable force in art, as well as in industry—it is only accepted more readily in the workplace because it is so closely linked with profit. Artistic genres have a more tumultuous relationship with newness; there is always a very vocal Old Guard who believe that the standards set in their day are far superior to anything the kids dream up.
But some digital dreamers just can’t be ignored. Take Chad Sorg, for instance, whose current exhibition, LeeMarvin, is now on display at Gallery Cui-ui. A graphic designer by trade, Sorg dabbled in traditional painting before attending graphic design school. He found his artistic passion, however, when he discovered the computer.
"[Computers] changed my perception of making art,” Sorg says.
Sorg’s mixed media works are rendered in layers. Their most basic component is the photograph, which, after being digitally manipulated, is printed onto a transparency and coated with resin.
The distorted images that result—a blurred crowd of people, an ominous pile of junk, a washed-out building or a discolored sky—have a very far-away quality about them, a mysteriousness. Even ones that show, say, the Comstock Casino towering behind a row of run-down garages, feel very distant, as though they were taken in the crumbing city of some third-world country, not here in our own back yard. The glossy resin finish adds another barrier between us and the strange scenes—crystallizing them, making them appear as improbable, untouchable artifacts in a glass case.
It’s as though Sorg doesn’t want us to get too comfortable with his subjects—or to assume that his works have a meaning or message.
“There’s a tendency to think that artists have a statement,” Sorg says. “I want to keep it just the opposite.”
Beginning with his arbitrary assignment of names: The title of the exhibition is LeeMarvin, a name that has no meaningful link to the art whatsoever. The names of individual pieces are similarly random: there’s “Sally,” “Maurice,” “Lester,” “Manny,” and so on.
“People attach … opinions to everything,” Sorg says. “For me, the names were something that was just neutral.”
The names may be neutral; the works themselves are anything but. Take “Ben,” for instance, which shows a man with a bowed head “grooving to a boom box,” as Sorg puts it. But it looks like two men, since the image is duplicated. The duplicate image is more washed out—it appears as if the man is “grooving,” or praying, with a pallid ghost of himself. Along the side of the image, in cutout letters, are the words “cultur/bows/2 say/thank/you/drugs.”
Quite frankly, I could go on and on about Sorg’s works—about how they convey the decay of the city, but also the city’s strange beauty; about how they convey the impersonal nature of crowds; about how they reveal the loneliness of the highway. Although Sorg’s subjects are disguised behind layers of acrylic and resin and distorted through computer manipulation, his works seem to be inviting us to look more fully and more closely at the strange culture in which we live. Here, rather than diminishing meaning and beauty, computerization lends a fascinating new dimension to artistry.