Improv at the Photoshop

By: James Engelmann

When reproduced as shiny photographic images, Shirley Kaneda’s recent paintings look flat, meticulous and well mannered. They are dynamic yet tasteful composed, using colors that are bright, not so bright as to clash with your standard household appliances. How perfectly they would compliment a well-maintained kitchen!

Looking at these paintings in person, should you see nothing more than polite decorative accessories, just give yourself a moment to look closer. Kaneda uses clever techniques including a collection of faux finish tricks used to mimic free hand painting and taped edges. Of course, there are also real taped edges, some left raw, some blended and others that gradually change from cliffs of paint to beaches, washed down to meet the white ground below. There’s thick paint, thin paint, flat paint, shiny paint and lots of white. Looking at them longer, they appear a bit different now; they compositions are not so flat after all.

The fact that these paintings are composed using a computer apparent to anyone who has used the filters, distortion, or sharpening tools of Photoshop to alter, layer, slide, or reshape an image. You can also detect shadows of outmoded computer images, in Kaneda’s use of twisting color bands and the way she transitions from infinite detail to broad open spaces. A viewer can perceive the mechanical construction of Kaneda’s paintings: parts are reproduced from one painting to the next; other paintings are near copies of each other; inside the paintings themselves, forms are repeated and distorted.

It would have been easier for Kaneda to take the computer files to a print shop and show us a few giclee prints, but it would have been far less satisfying. It is clear that she loves to paint and her sense of fun is infectious. The translation to paint however is more than just an exercise in rendering. There seem to be real compositional decisions made during this phase, nervous and improvised decisions that may be harking back to old ideas about abstraction and expression. I would like view Shirley Kaneda’s hand as the ghost in the machine, albeit a very polite ghost that would never dream of waking you up in the middle of the night or infecting your computer with a virus.

There are aspects of this work that can reference just about any modern painting–really just about anybody you want. The paintings borrow from many voices, but they never sound like anyone other than Kaneda. It’s difficult to make the translation from the computer screen to a painted canvas without feeling sad about losing the glint and glamour of the glass screen. The sly trick is that at times you can almost believe you are looking at a screen, but not for long.