“It’s this, it’s that, it’s both things at the same time… and then it’s not.”
When I first encountered George Blaha’s work online, I was fooled. Images of sculptures, paintings and reliefs appeared as if photographed in a gallery-like environment with clean, white walls. I was impressed with their scale, ambition and degree of sheer visual invention. The dimensions and materials used were listed in detail. But wait, how could he afford to make sculptures from precious metals, and how many assistants does he have in order to be able to fabricate some of the more complex works? It was a trick. The work exists only in the cyber-world, created on Carrara, a 3D imaging program used primarily by animators.
These virtual objects exist as enormous files on the hard drive of the artist’s computer and smaller versions are freely shared on Facebook. The pieces can also be exhibited as large, high-definition prints, which reveal an opulence of detail not visible in their Internet versions.
Both form and content in Blaha’s work reflect his broad range of interests and research. These include: world religions (Tibetan Buddhism in particular), mathematics, graphs, maps, diagrams, typography, architecture and high and low manifestations of visual culture in general.
Re-cycled Cymbals Arranged in the Form of the Sound Wave for Phat, inkjet on d board, size variable, 2010
Dave Richards: Why did you choose to make virtual works rather than physical paintings or sculptures?
George Blaha: Well, that happened early on. I first started doing things in Photoshop. That was the first program I learned. I was making 2D images that were somewhat collage-like, but I would create these color fields with objects in them. I was looking for something with an emotional connection, something that would give a feeling of something: melancholy, strangeness – mysterious kinds of things.
When I started getting into the 3D program I could do things like, for example, take someone’s signature and rotate it three-hundred and sixty degrees and make an object out of it. I was using artist’s signatures. The first one I used was Duchamp’s. I thought that it was interesting that I was making a computer-generated object in virtual space and Duchamp had his hand in it in some way. It also looks like some kind of craft object, like a ceramic piece, so it’s a play on the “hand-made” and a kind of channeling of Duchamp who’s dead. He’s come out of his grave and through me; he’s created this piece.
Signature Fount, inkjet on d board, size variable, 2000
DR: Do you miss working with actual materials?
GB: Yes sometimes, because there’s that nice tactile quality to making things and when I start working with materials, I reconnect with that tactile aspect. In the process of playing around with stuff you make discoveries, but that happens in the computer too.
DR: There are also discoveries made in playing around with the programs?
GB: Yes, I stumble onto things. That’s kind of my working process. I find that it’s most effective when I don’t know what the f–k I’m doing. Sometimes when I have too many clear ideas, it doesn’t work out as well. I’m always open to possibilities, anything that can come up.
Net Prophet, inkjet on d board, size variable, 2009
DR: What is real? How do you feel about virtual versus physical reality?
GB: Well, physical reality engages the tactile part of our perception. You can actually touch the thing — feel the thing. It’s richer in a certain sense because it’s more immediate and it’s present. The virtual realm is more like reading a book where you visualize it in your mind. But, when we’re dreaming, we certainly touch and smell things and that’s mental, so what’s real? And then you wake up and say, wait — now this is real.
DR: In some ways the virtual is just as real as reality, but on the other hand, it’s just as unreal… dreamlike.
DR: You like to mess around with the viewer’s sense of scale.
GB: Yes, definitely. One example is a piece I did called “And They Call That a Tree.” The idea was from Minecraft and how they make trees out of pixels. I made mine out of cubes that sort of look like stacked Christmas presents. It looks like a tree, or one could say it looks like a tree. I made it look as though it was photographed in a gallery, a rendered document of a piece that exists somewhere. In this case, from the scale and the perspective of the viewer, it looks as if it’s rather large… say nine or ten feet tall.
And They Call That A Tree, inkjet on d board, size variable, 2013
DR: We pick up clues from the size of the floorboards?
GB: You get minimal clues, from the floorboards and from the viewer’s perspective… where the viewer’s sightline is. As it turned out, the curator of a show I was in wanted it small, so I made a print about nine by twelve inches. So now it’s a small tree, right? Now it’s a bonsai!
DR: It’s a small big tree… funny. I did want to ask you about the use of humor in your work. It’s sometimes present in the titles of your work and sometimes in the work itself.
GB: Humor is a great way of opening people up. In contemporary art there’s such an emphasis on seriousness, and I don’t know where that comes from. The original Dadaists weren’t like that. The humor in my work is serious humor in the sense that it has a reason to be there. It’s not just a silly joke. The humor is there to open a door, and even if the viewers don’t like the piece, they can laugh a little bit about the title and maybe see the connections there. The job of an artist is to waken that sense of the marvelous – to make looking at things completely fresh again.
The Day I Forgot Myself, inkjet on d board, size variable, 2011
Re-constructed Early 20th Century Russian Folk Wickerwork, inkjet on d board, size variable, 2010 – 2017
A2Z, inkjet on d board, size variable, 2010
A2Z (detail), inkjet on d board, size variable, 2010
Top Image: Password, inkjet on d board, size variable, 2013.
George Blaha was born in Chicago. He received his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1980, studied Art History and Philosophy at the University of Michigan and Digital Arts at Oakton Community College. He has exhibited his work at The Illinois State Museum, Illinois State University, University of Richmond Museums, The Evanston Art Center and many other venues. In 2011 he received an Illinois Arts Council Individual Artist Support and Development Grant. He currently lives and works in Chicago.
David Richards is an artist and writer currently living and working in Chicago.