Creating Contemporary Portraiture Through Analog and Digital With Jonnie Turpie
Jonnie Turpie makes a range of art from a shared studio in Birmingham, UK. His current calling? A deep dive into contemporary portraiture by mixing digital and traditional media to dramatic effect.
As a teenager, Turpie drew, painted and experimented with photography. Contemporary art was new to him as he entered Art College, but he learned with “great students and teachers that encouraged innovation.”
Following a career in film and television, these days he’s going back to his conceptual roots and working on multiple projects that explore the relationship between digital and analog in a modern world.
Explore Jonnie Turpie’s Art Galleries.
If you want to get a sense of how Turpie challenges the norm by curating his galleries, experience them virtually on D Emptyspace:
What’s your story and how did you get to where you are today?
I was enthused by the introduction of portable video and video art. So I started a career in the media where I directed, produced and collaborated on film and TV for 35 years.
It was a rewarding time to embrace digital media — it was during the rise of the internet and social media — and apply the principles to mainstream television.
But recently I realized that if I did not return to the challenges of individual artwork and how drawing, printmaking and smartphone photography mix together as mediums, I would miss the opportunity to investigate, experiment and learn.
From your galleries on D Emptyspace and your website, it looks like you experiment… A LOT. What drives you to keep trying new things?
I enjoy the feedback that comes from trying new approaches to image making in analog and digital environments. Feedback comes from the making and materials themselves: material encounters.
More feedback comes from in the sharing of completed works with subjects and audiences.
I keep reminding and challenging myself to think out of my conceptual artistic box. What I think, or thought was art may not be the case. Through my practice-led research, I am digging deeper to understand what is both artistically possible and rewarding.
I’ve added a ‘New Powder Drop’ Gallery on D Emptyspace that is based on another experimentation with print and powder on paper. When I uploaded them to D Emptyspace, I was inspired to see my A4-sized artwork scaled up to wall size. The effect was astounding. By using a digital space, print media can be transformed beyond logical belief.
A virtual gallery space is a way to extend the work from paper to a virtual space, analog to digital.
I see from your website that you’ve suffered with numb hands? What’s the story behind that and how has it impacted your art?
A couple of years ago both of my hands became numb with pins and needles. This did not stop my drawing, but it made it more difficult to focus for any length of time. Not good!
Following a number of hand nerve tests and finally an MRI Scan at QUEB the problem was pinpointed in my neck. Two vertebrae were compressed and impinging on my spinal cord. With the expert surgery team, I am now much less numb and enjoying my drawing and printmaking.
To engage with the procedure I made three large scale silkscreen prints from my MRI digital scans: ‘interior self-portraits’. I’m thinking of interpreting them in the virtual wave gallery.
You’re doing a PhD titled “A journey between analog and digital”. Can you unpack that for us?
The PhD is a large tripartite theoretical and practical research project into smartphone photography, drawing, and printmaking within the context of the making of contemporary portraiture. It’s about investigating the balance between the immediacy of smartphone digital portraiture. And it considers drawn and printed processes of final large scale portraits on paper for sharing with the subjects and wider audiences.
I haven’t exhibited this work on D Emptyspace yet as the research is still fluid. If you’d like to find out more, you can on my research website.
I have created a darkened gallery of ‘Art Viewers’ which is not a part of the research but is a gallery of digital drawings made with iPad, apple pencil and procrea from a wide range of real world gallery visitors reading information placed next to visual artworks. They are not portraits, but they do capture and reflect viewers in the act of looking and learning about artworks.
Why do you think it’s important to discuss how art is moving between digital and traditional today, and in the future?
Living in the 21st Century makes us ‘analog hands-on’ and ‘digital native’ human beings. Like with all new technologies, artists will seek ways to express themselves and engage audiences.
Digital media is now ubiquitous and all-encompassing and will continue to be so. It is important for us to embrace known and unknown capabilities.
Digital media also supports analog projects and ambitions. I am working with spray painting artist Mohammed Ali to make single collaborative images through simultaneous drawings on twin iPads using an app called Procreate to create a composite image, which is then drawn, painted and printed. We are on a digital and analog journey together.
How does technology alter the meaning of an image for you?
By how images are created, delivered, received and shared. There are many examples of how technology can alter the meaning of an image and the manner in which it is distributed from the printing press to TV to smartphone.
For example, within D Emptyspace, the Powder Drop galleries (click here to view) are completely transforming the experience and perception of very delicate material substances on paper, into large scale digital images on virtual walls. This is an exciting example of how technology can offer meaning, material and perceptual changes to images.
Over the past 30 years, technology has changed a lot. Some people are scared, others are excited. Do you personally think technology is adding to our lives and creative capacity as humans?
I do! And it certainly hasn’t reached its peak. AI and VR are in their infancy and will be added as artistic arrows in an artist’s quivers. Like how photography that brought new ways of seeing, recording and painting, new technologies will be embraced, adopted and applied — or not applied — as we reflect our worlds.
As with most art forms, there are digital perils and possibilities to embrace and be challenged by.
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