The work of American abstract painter Jeff Elrod is based on the combination and interweaving of digital and analogue practices. He first creates doodle-like compositions on computer editing programs, such as Photoshop or Illustrator, and then projects the images onto canvas, and tracing the computer-generated images by hand with paintbrushes or spray paint. In their clash of digital and analogue, his paintings connect the history of painting and abstraction with recent advances in digital technology:
“Elrod’s technique has modified in the past decade as the tricks of Photoshop have evolved – color gradients, spray effects, and even the option of scanning a potential background scrap that he has found in his studio all now crop up in his large-scale works, compounding the complexity of transferring the image onto the canvas in his Sunset Park studio. Nevertheless, Elrod’s mediation still happens with the use of the mouse between him and the machine.” (Christopher Bollen, ‘The New Abstract: Jeff Elrod,’ Interview Magazine, 2014)
Elrod therefore reverses the more typical relationship of authority between new technologies and old: rather than digital prints trying to pass themselves off as painting, his works are conscious painterly misprisions. Early photography emulated painting in order to be recognised as high art, and assuage its own mechanical fears with a highly artificial and derivative aesthetic. Here, however, Elrod uses ‘traditional’ processes to emulate the new – perhaps exploring how the digital is taking over all facets of our lives. Photoshop has colonised art. Keep up or be left behind, he seems to say, in turn fetishising the authorial creative trace in the face of digital encroachment.
The artist calls his computer compositions “frictionless drawings” – through this term he positions his use of digital technology as a way of distancing the direct intervention of the artist’s hand in the production of art works: a “digital breed of automatic writing.” For Elrod, this guarantees a certain freedom, experimentation, and the possibility of expressing the subconscious. This nod to the legacy of Surrealism acts to legitimate the production of digitally manipulated art, and, in a sense, highlights the redundancy of Elrod’s artistic effort and obviously painstaking labour process. He translates the digital through a highly self-conscious process of painting – a gesture of aesthetic transference that is at once Sisyphean and elegiac.