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For the week of April 4 through April 10, 2001

Fusing the real and the virtual in art

In a continuing series the Mountain Express looks at resident artists and their work

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 Park.

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 sleep."

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 Bakery

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 it."

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?"


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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.