Whether because of Los Angeles' spread-out geography or its young creative class that includes both fine artists and Hollywood techies, the L.A. area has quite a few Internet artists.
But what exactly constitutes an "Internet artist" is a question still up for debate. The simplest definition is an artist who uses the Internet's connected mass of people, images and contemporary culture to create his or her work. But the relationship between an artist and the Internet comes in many forms: Some artists remix the imagery of Internet culture, transforming familiar, online graphics into their own hybrid aesthetics. Others employ it as a distribution system to make their ideas go viral.
These five L.A.-area artists give a glimpse of just how diverse Internet art can be.
5 PRETENDING TO BE SOMEONE ELSE: PARKER ITO
The Orange County–born, L.A.-raised Parker Ito is one of the most frequently encountered and consistently referenced Internet artists — but you might not catch him by name. Ito's breakthrough project, "Parked Domain Girl," saw the artist appropriating a bit of online stock photography and slapping his name all over it (see image 5a, above). But the artist has more than a few guises for his online work, ranging from Paintfx.biz, a website that mocks the likes of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, to his most recent project, Olivia Calix, a female artist persona created with Sarah Hartnett, which comes complete with a fictional artist website and logo, as well as installation shots of works (see image 5b for Olivia's work Sextacy).
A child actor who starred in a Burger King commercial and appeared on General Hospital (before James Franco, he points out), Ito "is always trying to create brands," he says via Gchat.
The brands Ito creates — a form we're all familiar with from managing our own Facebook profiles and social media outputs — actually are his final artworks. For Ito, this frenetic online existence is his entire artistic practice. "If the Internet died tomorrow, or we had no power, I would quit being an artist," he says.
4 PSYCHEDELIA ON YOUTUBE: PETRA CORTRIGHT
Santa Barbara–based video artist Petra Cortright uses YouTube as a public platform to show her work. Her surreal, strange and often psychedelic videos, which she stars in with the help of a collection of webcams, have drawn tens of thousands of views. The attention is certainly good news for Cortright — she bases her sale prices for exhibition-ready hard copies of the videos on the number of hits each one gets.
Cortright works as a more traditional artist might, creating individual works in her studio that explore whatever inspires her at the time rather than working in structured, conceptual series. "It's best for me to sit down every day and just follow my intuition," she says.
As a member of the highly regarded online art collective Computers Club, Cortright has recently been publishing digital paintings on the site's Computers Club Drawing Society, a public forum where viewers can comment. (See image 4, her digital painting Void Mastery/Blank Control #4.)
3 1980s APPLE NOSTALGIA: SAGE KEELER
The soft textures and primitive, digitally created shades of gray in Santa Barbara–based artist Sage Keeler's digital drawings should be instantly recognizable to anyone who ever played around on an early Macintosh computer. In fact, that's exactly what Keeler uses: an old Mac desktop, left over from its childhood use and rediscovered as a studio tool. Keeler prefers the basic monochrome aesthetic of the Mac to more powerful technology. "It's probably just nostalgic," the artist says. "It makes me feel good, like when you hear 8-bit music and you get really excited because you used to play Zelda all day."
Keeler, another member of Computers Club, creates still images and animations that often depict strange, geometric spaces, crosses between a glitched-out video game and an M.C. Escher optical illusion. The artist's meandering Computers Club Castle, a minimalist digital landscape, references Dungeons & Dragons and maps found in the prefaces of fantasy epic novels — artifacts of the nerd culture that the artist freely identifies with (see image 3). Keeler makes her art to "discover new worlds," she says. "I'm an explorer."
2 FLICKR IS MY PAINT, SOFTWARE IS MY BRUSH: JEREMY ROTSZTAIN
Koreatown-based artist Jeremy Rotsztain works more with code than with his mouse, creating custom-made programs that deconstruct images that he finds, turning a recognizable photograph or movie scene into visually arresting compositions. "The software is the lens that interprets the image," Rotsztain says.
In his "Obsessions" series, he took cutesy Flickr photos of people's pets and ran them through software that transformed them into Gustav Klimt–style mosaics of intensified color and lines (see image 2). For Revving Motors, Spinning Wheels (Action Painting), Rotsztain combed through action movies for footage that fit the title's description and wrote software that animated the sequences into videos reminiscent of Jackson Pollock's splatter paintings.
Like many online artists, Rotsztain uses the Internet as a repository of material to be sifted through. "Data is becoming free," he says. "It's ours, to do whatever we want with."
The artist enables others to remake images just as he does via his PhotoRibbons iPhone app.
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1 DISILLUSIONED FORMER SURF PUNK: CHRIS COY
A member (along with Parker Ito) of the influential, lately inactive Nasty Nets surfing club — a group of artists who traversed the Internet looking for strange, provocative, funky or obscure images and posted them to a collective website — Chris Coy speaks about surfing the Web the way a monk might speak of meditation or a regular surfer might speak of, well, surfing. For Coy, it's an active sport that involves moving through and along the online medium as a surfer might move with a wave. (See image 1, which he calls posted two months ago.)
Though he continues an Internet-based practice, Coy's current sojourn as a student at USC's Roski School of Fine Arts has inspired a certain amount of doubt about the term Internet art. There was a "real camaraderie" in finding other artists online, and the surf clubs were "really exploratory, and not too serious," he says. "A lot of us were punks, in a way — just do it, who cares."
But those feelings have changed with the growth of Internet art. Coy's lament is that the informality of freewheeling discovery has been stymied by formal, structured social networks like Facebook and Tumblr. Whether to work with these large, commercial structures or fight against them is an increasingly serious conflict for those creating art online.