The Norman Transcript

June 13, 2014

Q&A: Stuart Whitis finds balance between classical and digital art

by Hannah Cruz
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Stuart Whitis finds beauty in the age-old art of painting, but he also holds a fascination for digital creations.

The Norman resident and East Central University art instructor is combining the two aesthetics for work featured during an upcoming exhibition titled “GLITCH/ANALOG” at MAINSITE Contemporary Art. The exhibit explores the intersection of traditional art with digital formats.

Other featured artists include Jessica Ann, Brian Dunn, Pete Froslie, Dexter Ford, Joe Grennier, Grace Grothaus, M Paul Kirby, Allin KHG, Clinton McKay, Aaron Robinson, Kyle Van Osdol, Dillow Votaw and Raymon Weilacher.

The exhibit opens with a reception 6-10 p.m. June 13 at MAINSITE, 120 E. Main St. A closing reception is scheduled for 6-10 p.m. July 11. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information visit mainsite-art.com.

For more on Whitis visit stuartwhitis.com.

Q: How did you get into art to begin with?

A: I guess it’s kind of a stereotypical story — drawing as a kid. You go through stages. ...

There’s a stage where if you do paint or draw a lot people are like, “That’s what you should do,” and then because you’re a tween you have that rebellious instinct where you’re like, “No, it’s just for fun. I’m never going to paint again.”

So I decided I was going to be a social worker so sociology was actually my major for two and a half years of my undergrad at University of Mary Hardin Baylor. Then something flipped where you have that moment where you realize you need to be happy. I thought I was cut out to do it. I wasn’t happy. I think as artists we’re maybe a little too self-centered to even give that much. So I had to switch.

I hadn’t fully committed to the idea of creating art as a commodity but I knew I wanted to have it incorporated into my career, and I thought I wanted to work in the video game industry. So I filled out like 100 resumes and did a bunch of concept art tests. Super motivated to get to Austin, Texas. Got that job (with Super Happy Inc.) and did that for two years.

I loved the work and I loved the company, it was great business, but after a while I realized — the thing about that type of business is it’s a lot of people working together. Like some people focus on sound, and code and art and all that kind of stuff, with the common goal of making media, entertainment — effectively, a product. I enjoy that to some extent, but you’re kind of designing art by committee. It got a little bit watered down and you wish you could have more input. This is the selfish part, but I wish this was more me.

Q: More creative license?

A: Yeah, exactly. I just wish I had more say in this. I realized you can’t really get that out of a job. When I was teaching graphic design at ECU, I told my students you’re picking the book cover you want to imagine, but you’ll never get to do that ever again. It’s always for the client.

I realized the only way I could ever have full creative license was if I was doing art as my own person, having total vision. To have that I would have to pursue that on my own...

There’s literally nothing else I would do or am cut out for but it’s not like a negative statement. I just wouldn’t be happy in anything else so I’m doing this.

Q: What inspires you?

A: Lately, at least for this body of work, what has inspired me is the possibilities of digital aesthetics as they translate to a still, non-animated 2-dimensional surface. I’ve been big into glitch art for the last year. Glitch art is basically like digital accidents. I’ve been exploring that lately and trying to integrate that into my work.

It’s a non-human thing, obviously. It’s just lines of code, but when they mess up and make an error — which human beings do all the time — there’s a strange, beautiful aesthetic to it. That’s what I’ve been obsessing about lately and trying to integrate into my work.

The human figure has been a big part of my work as long as I’ve been drawing. I try to get away from it now and then, but I feel like I always come back to the figure because it’s a good baseline for any draftsman or painter.

When I first came into grad school my concept, if I had one, was stream of consciousness paintings. That’s where whatever I was obsessing about that day or that week, I’d try to incorporate it into the piece, just paint layer over layer and it just becomes information overload and the messages gets confused and distorted.

Those are the three things rolling around in my hollow skull, and will hopefully be integrated into one larger body of work soon. And I’m going to try to do a couple pieces based on that idea for MAINSITE.

Q: So what is the literal process like for the current work that you’re doing?

A: A lot of my work, especially from my thesis show (for my master’s from the University of Oklahoma), was based on art history. My show specifically was based off of work by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. ...

I’ll take original images, wherever I can find them online, since it’s such old paintings the images themselves are in the public domain, for the most part. I’ll usually fuse one or two in Photoshop. I’ll do a little bit of repainting, integrate multiple pieces. It’s a lot of repainting and re-coloring to try and make it look like a digital nightmare basically — push all the colors as much as I can.

Then what I’ll do is I’ll take a lot of the meta data from each piece and open up the file. Any Photoshop file, you can open up the file in a text editor and then take that meta data, push some code around, do some original coding. What that does — there’s no better way to describe it besides it totally f***s up the file.

Usually if you do it wrong it’ll just be a blank pink screen, so I try to get just the right amount of code shifted so it’s still aesthetically pleasing. I’ll do that a couple times, get a bunch of revisions of those and I’ll then combine those. I basically do that over and over until I reach something that is fully pleasing to me...

I’ll take that file that’s finished and will set it up for painting. ... It looks like a weird grid work. With the painting, you never know what it’s going to look like until the very last layer, which can be frustrating. I want to know how it’s going to pan out. I’ve been doing it so long now, at this point I’m pretty sure I’ll know what I’m going to get. Then I take my sweet time going all over, layer by layer, until the painting is done.

There’s a lot of background stuff. Like building the frames, it takes a week to get that refined. Another two weeks of furious paintings, so maybe all in all, the bigger ones could take about a month.

Q: So what are your goals now?

A: Even if it gets tough, trying to sell paintings. ... I’d like to expand and ship paintings, I’m trying to figure out how to shrink them down and not make them so heavy so I can actually show some in Texas and regionally.

Then the day job just kind of becomes — it is what it is — everyone needs a day job. Then I try to destroy all my free time with painting.

There’s also a lifecycle to painting and drawing. If you’ve been doing the same thing for about six months then you really want to break out of that mold and do the new thing. So I’ve kind hit — not a rut, but I’ve kind of explored this to the extent that I feel is feasible for what I’m doing. ...

I’m trying to find a way to combine aesthetics. That one is super controlled and everything is planned out and I know exactly what I’m going to paint before I get out there. And something like this, I don’t know what I’m going to paint that day. I love both of those, but when I’m doing one of them I feel like I’m lacking in the other.

Basically where I’m at now, I need to find a way to integrate the chaos and the structure of those two into one new thing. The only way to get there is producing work, staring at it and figuring out what’s wrong. Or what it’s missing, basically.

Breaking news, severe weather alerts, AMBER alerts, sports scores from The Norman Transcript are available as text messages right to your phone or mobile device. You decide which type of alerts you want to receive. Find out more or to signup, click here.