Boston-based painter Andrew Fish is working out solutions—proofs perhaps—to a complex problem we all deal with on some level, every day: what is the difference between an analog and a digital visual experience? Fish, interestingly, has chosen painting—arguably the most antiquated form of visual production—to seek answers to this query. His choice of medium confronts the proliferation of digital image making and publishing made possible by programs such as Instagram, Facebook, Vine, and Snapchat.
Intriguingly, Fish’s paintings share a number of visual similarities with platforms like Instagram. Both often use a kind of eye-grabbing and faux-nostalgic visual language—sepia tones or washed-out imagery—that one attributes to old photographs and hazy memories. Though Fish creates paintings that share this set of visual language markers, his work has a subversive edge. Fish is drawing out a distinction that most overlook, and his thesis is that a re-evaluation of time by both the artist and his audience is what his work brings to the problem of digital versus analog production. On the importance of time, the artist says, “My paintings take a lot longer to ‘develop’ than an Instagram photo or even a film photograph…. I employ the same photographic visual language as a digital image and participate in an act of sharing what I see in the world with others, similar to what Instagram users do, but I have to look at a picture longer to determine what is important and what can be manipulated in the paint medium to engage the viewer in a distinct experience with the imagery.”
I asked Fish about his rapport with digital image platforms, expecting a tepid response to the values of digital image making. I was surprised when he replied with an unexpected candor and enthusiasm for the applications that his work often pushes against: “As a platform, Instagram has brought us closer to democratizing art by making the act of image creation, editing, deletion, and sharing instantaneous and ubiquitous in our culture. It calls into question what artists outside the medium of digital photography have to contribute to what is now a collective, instant, virtual conversation of image making. I have been asking myself how I as a painter can contribute or respond to this larger conversation. I do so with the materiality of painting as a medium, while also raising questions about and exploring our era of digital image making.”
Fish’s paintings open themselves as richly layered depictions of a visual world most of us only pretend, through digital image making, to see and understand. Fish notes, “The filter or aesthetic I apply attempts to highlight what a painterly eye and hand can contribute to an image. I play with color and form, with the tension between abstraction and representation. A lot of digital photographs shared on social media tend to avoid abstraction and vagueness, but in my paintings I create abstractions, vagueness, and improbable pairings of colors, where there was once verisimilitude to reality. One never knows what is actually happening in an image filtered by its creator, but the process I use makes much more obvious that I have applied my own aesthetic filter—as well as the techniques and materials of a painter—to the image.”
Fish isn’t so much coming up with answers to the digital-versus-analog debate as he is opening spaces of contemplation that demand our time and consideration of not only his work but our own participation in an ever-expanding world of digital image making and sharing.
Andrew Fish is a painter living and working in the Boston. In the early 1990s he attended the School of Visual Arts in New York, and his work has been shown in Vermont, Boston, Los Angeles, New York, and Vietnam.