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‘Stack Overflow’
Stack Overflow, Bartley & Company Art, Wellington, New Zealand

‘New Paintings’
Sydney Contemporary Art Fair, Australia (w/Bartley & Company Art)

‘New Smart Objects’
Chalkhorse Gallery, Sydney, Australia

André Hemer preface New Smart Objects

A painting conveys a history. It embeds within the layers of its making a trace of its own lineage. A pointer to things past and present. A painting is always slipping between modes and media, romanticism and spectacle. To paint is to actively negotiate and comment on the condition of the moment. Paintings, like smart objects, are inextricably linked to one another, they act as transitional modules within a larger network.

In ‘New Smart Objects’ painting embraces the digital as the underlying condition of our time- and yet it is not explicitly about the digital. Rather the digital functions as a contemporary status quo, and integral part of process and subject by default- through what writer Andre Rottman aptly describes as a ‘the surrounding ecology of media images’ . Thus, we are caught between versions of things. An object and its networked-self have no strict distinction in a world where the act of a one to one viewing is diminished. The characteristics of an image are no longer principally visual- they are embedded within the metadata of source, description, and properties.

The potency of painting is its potential to establish and record new ways of seeing. Thus the paintings in ‘New Smart Objects’ offer a new kind of representation- one that explores painting moving freely between states of digital representation and painted object. One that nakedly exhibits a set of layers, images, and objects and the transactions between them.

Oliver Watts on New Smart Objects

When I recently saw Andre Hemer’s new exhibition, New Smart Objects, I had an impulse to touch the work. Perhaps the studio, rather than a gallery, is the natural setting for this body of work; the show cryptically weaves different approaches to painting into a seamless unity: digital printing and analogue painting; real airbrush with Photoshop tools; digital masking and real masking; printed canvas with real canvas.

The slipping between registers is so subtle and well integrated that it is hard to tell where one begins and the other starts. Often the shifts can be discerned a little on the wall by following a series of works through their different incarnations. When I reached out to touch the work it was to test whether there was an infra-small lip on the paint edge that would designate a real mask rather than a digitally mediated hard edge. Hemer’s work turned the art theorist into the dreaded term for art theory, a connoisseur. As an enthusiast of paint, the viewer is asked to carefully look and analyse, and to question authorship, to validate authenticity, like the specialist amateurs on Antiques Roadshow. We are all specialists of Photoshop.

The major point though is that in the end the authentic and the fake are not categories to rely on. Lev Manovich has a very strict definition of new media which entails not only a digital process but also a digital output usually through a computer and software; under this definition for Manovich digital photography and digital film are still analogue because they are finally outputted on paper or as light on a screen. Hemer’s paintings are ipad size and proportion, they use highly saturated “digital” colours, but at the heart of things they are all about material (canvas, printing ink, paint, brushstrokes, airbrush and masking). If I could describe the floor of Hemer’s studio it would explain how many and various techniques are being used.

One interesting tool Hemer uses which is a good exemplar for his broader approach is the use of a vinyl cutter. It is an expensive and strange tool to see in an artist’s studio. In work such as ‘New Smart Object #60’ a gestural scribble is done on the computer and then turned into a mask through the use of the digital vinyl cutter (cut in a detailed and controlled way which would be difficult by hand). The gestural is digitized, then brought back to analogue paint as a digitally cut mask to make the paint look like a digitally produced (hard edge) mark on canvas. This is one approach among many that gives a sense of the play at the heart of Hemer’s work.

The work Hemer has produced is beautiful. Like little Romantic sketches, they are all gesture, liveliness and light. To know that these effects are only sometimes immediate but also on other occasions mediated through time and technical process, subtly critiques what we know about beauty and the Romantic. The works are extended and subtle collages. They are a little Dada: from Francis Picabia’s experiments with technical drawing or Picasso’s collaging of printed wood grain and chair caning. They move into a contemporary redrawing of minimalism and abstraction. Digital “painting” on screen invented new marks and a painting of 100% opacity and contrast. Hemer has used this digital ability but also set himself the task of painstakingly mimicking these new effects in paint. The use of “layers’ and matts are also aped and utilized.

Hemer is producing a new kind of painting in a post-digital age where the distinctions of digital/analogue do not stress us out any longer. The title New Smart Objects, raises to mind terms such as smart phone or smart bomb. Usually what is suggested is some analogue thing in the world plus its digital supplement, which makes the old device better and smarter. Hemer’s paintings regardless of their digital manipulations maintain their integrity as painting only better.