LAN KWAI FONG, Hong Kong - Artist Lamma-Gung, who launched a solo exhibition in one of Hong Kong’s trendiest neighborhoods on August 15, has visualized the fascinating landscape of distant planets.
Looking nearer to home, he also depicts colors and shapes, the markers of dynamic personalities, as they swirl around humans in some highly unusual portraits.
Alien landscapes (sometimes aliens too), extra-sensory images of people and near-magical transformations of ordinary objects highlight the exhibition, titled Wonder, Whimsy, Weirdness -- 25 Years of Digital Figments of Imagination, scheduled for August 15-31.
The exhibition fills the Sarasen Gallery, 5A, 5/F, Winner Building, 27-37 D’Aguilar Street, Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong. Lamma-Gung invites everyone, including art collectors, the media, friends and the curious.
Together, more than 40 of the artist's best artworks create a festival of bright colors, unusual shapes and astonishing images. “They’re funny, cute, colorful, unusual and sometimes a bit weird,” he said. “It’s satisfying to create new whimsical images that surprise even me.”
Lamma-Gung qualifies as unusual in other ways too. Instead of working with paint, brushes and a canvas, he sits at a computer. “I’ve used computers to create art for more than 25 years, nearly as long as there have been personal computers,” he said.
Many of the artworks begin with photos by the artist, who is also a professional photographer, which he and his computer transform and adjust. Using many different progams, he metamorphoses them in unexpected and surprising ways.
Still other creations come directly from the computer or rely on mathematical formulas. The experimental process can take several days of wading through “the infinite sea of possibility”.
“Often I start with photos of something that by itself doesn’t look very interesting,” Lamma-Gung said. “Maybe it’s a pattern of light or a lamp. Then I digitally manipulate and explore, trying to create something interesting.
“I can be twisting or adding different things, and then suddenly, ‘Wow, a whimsical alien appears unexpectedly’. Or maybe a shot of some flowers turns into a three-dimensional planet complete with continents. Once, a simple harbor landscape with no waves turned into a massive wave that resembled an image on a stained-glass church window. The art is great fun. In a way, it’s creative self-indulgence.
“I use many different computer programs and systems – small ones, big ones. It’s always a playful exploration of the digital possibilities for creating artworks, changing and manipulating to add something that has emotions attached. You play around with the software for hours and have many versions. Sometimes you apply 20 filters one after another. Maybe you adjust parts of the image to different degrees and transparencies. Most of it doesn’t produce anything pleasing so you go back and try something else. You never know the end result in advance. If you try for a specific effect, probably you’ll fail.”
Some critics may scoff that computer art isn’t the real thing. “I don’t care if it falls into the definition of traditional art,” Lamma-Gung said. “People can’t do computer art without training, experience and inspiration. The computer's a tool exactly like a paint brush is. It's a new one allowing you to do new and different things, but it disallows some old things. For example, with a brush you can be much more inspirational and spontaneous. Every artist needs to use the right tool for the right process. Some things are easy with computers. Others are difficult.”
Originally from Europe, Lamma-Gung studied computer science in university. He came to Hong Kong in 1987. Now he lives on Lamma Island and publishes the daily Lamma-Zine and a community website (Lamma.com.hk).
Earlier, Lamma-Gung staged solo exhibitions in Europe and Hong Kong, won a few computer-art prizes and created computer-art calendars, magazine covers and customized birthday cards. In November 2007, he was Artist of the Month at The Cyan Studio in Hong Kong.
“My first artworks were done on huge IBM mainframe computers that cost millions of U.S. dollars,” Lamma-Gung recalls. “Then it was pioneering work.” He held the first computer-art exhibition at a traditional gallery in Zurich, Switzerland.
Now “a few” other people do computer art too. “But many things that I do, I’ve never seen from anyone else. People manipulate photos all the time, but not in the same way, nor to such an extreme degree. Usually, the idea's to enhance the photos, but I use special effects to display someone’s character or to create something entirely different. The original may not even be recognizable."
Do increasingly powerful and accessible computers facilitate better art? “What does better mean?” Lamma-Gung scoffed. “In art, that’s a dangerous term. Ultimately, the only criteria are ‘Do you like it? Does it speak to you emotionally or aesthetically?’ How it’s created may be interesting, but that’s not the primary thing.”