Fusing the real and the virtual in art
In a continuing series the Mountain Express looks at
resident artists and their work
By ADAM TANOUS
Express Arts Editor
The ramifications of innovation are often long in coming
and hard to predict. Digital technology is no exception. Who would have
thought that when Bardeen, Shockley and Brattain invented the transistor
the world of art would enjoy a new wealth of possibility 53 years later?
Look What the Snake Brought In by
Richard Sher at Bigwood Bakery.
One man who is exploring the vast potential of digital
technology in art is resident artist Richard Sher. His work is currently
exhibited at Bigwood Bread on Northwood Way in the Ketchum Industrial
Sher’s pieces, created entirely on a computer, are
colorful, sometimes representational, sometimes not, and have an
otherworldly quality to them. Many of the ideas he has for his artwork do,
in fact, come from dreams or near dreams. Sher said in a recent interview
that the terrain he tends to explore is "between waking and
Armed with three-dimensional AutoCAD software and an
animation-coloration program called 3D Studio, Sher can create virtually
anything on his computer. He explained how for one of his pieces he wanted
the gates of Heaven in it. He then went about modeling the gates on his
computer. To capture just about any color or sense of texture from the
real world—say shells or lichen covered granite—Sher simply takes a
photograph of it with a digital camera or scans the object with a digital
scanner. In this way he can "transfer things from the real world into
the computer world." He then goes through a process called
"rendering." The computer basically applies the colors and
materials to his image. As Sher put it, "The computer figures out
where the shadows should be and such… it is like developing a
photograph. Rendering makes the image look real."
When his image is how he wants it, Sher saves it to a disk
(40 megabytes worth). With the help of a business like Mountain Dreamworks
that has large-format printing capabilities, Sher can make what are known
as Iris prints of his piece. The printers themselves are large, expensive
and use ink-jet technology. What is remarkable about them is the color is
extremely good and the printing very precise. Since the printers use true
pigment for color, the prints do not fade as a standard photograph will.
Psi by Richard Sher at Bigwood
Sher, who is 48 now, went to the California Institute of
Art in Valencia, Calif. He studied production. From there he got into the
sale of video and production equipment, largely because, "I was just
another geek. I got into selling the equipment so I could get my hands on
With the knowledge he picked up on the sales job, Sher
started a production company in 1990. He did animation work, made video
games and educational CD-ROMs. In 1996 he sold the business, because it
had become more "administrative than creative."
Sher’s original plan in moving up here was to start a
computer animation service for local architecture firms, something he had
done in Los Angeles. He could take a three dimensional AutoCAD drawing of
a house and apply the 3D Studio software to it. He could then show a
client, for instance, where and how the sun would shine at 7 a.m. in June
or what the view would actually be sitting on a couch in the living room,
or what the landscaping would look like in full bloom. Sher is not
entirely sure why but the idea never took off.
It was then that he decided to use all of his expertise
and equipment to make art. "I’m basically a cynic," he said.
"There is a God, follow your heart, right. But I actually believe in
both those now." So Sher took over the house duties—cleaning,
grocery shopping and getting his two kids to and from school—so he could
pursue his art during the day. Sher said his wife, Irina, who has a busy
skin care business in Ketchum, "is my biggest patron."
Sher admits that launching into the art world with a wife,
two young children, and a house payment is a little daunting. Still, Sher
commented that "if you do something you love, like art, you have such
a better chance than if you are dragging yourself into an office."
For a little perspective, Sher recounted how when he first
started out in sales his boss dumped a huge pile of files on his desk and
said, "Half of these people hate us. Start calling." As the boss
was leaving, he added, "You know, Rich, the guy you are replacing
used to drink a lot. But you wanted the job, right?"