Interview with Nick Fudge: Reframing Modernism in the Digital Age with 'Picasso Pizazz'

Interview with Nick Fudge: Reframing Modernism in the Digital Age with 'Picasso Pizazz'

At a time when digital technology is reshaping our perceptions on a daily basis, Nick Fudge's latest collection, Picasso Pizazz, emerges as a vibrant intersection of past artistic revolutions and contemporary digital dialogues. This exclusive interview explores Fudge's unique perspective on how modernism, technology, and social values converge in his work, creating a digital narrative that not only honors the legacies of Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso but also challenges the current art scene. Here, Fudge shares insights into his creative process, the influence of legendary artists on today's digital practices, and his thoughts on the future of art in a digitally dominated world.

Q: Nick, your collection Picasso Pizazz intricately explores transitions from modernism, postmodernism, and metamodernism to technology and art commodification. How did you approach blending these themes in your digital works?

This is a great question.

There are several reasons why I bring back modernism and postmodernism to present metamodern discourses on new technologies, AI, and machine learning.

The first reason relates to a strategy of going underground and delaying the exposure of my work that I developed after graduating from Goldsmiths in 1988 in order to counter the increasing commodification of art in the 1980s. By 1994 I had moved from a painter's studio in London to a digital studio in New York, having discovered that the digital object was the perfect solution for both circumventing the art market and for delaying the exposure of my work - at that time there was no digital art market and there were no galleries showing digital work that I was aware of (although I was living in New York I was unaware of Bitforms). There was a more fundamental reason for my refusal to exhibit my digital art, and that was the (formalist) concept of medium specificity, which had a major influence on late modern art. As a postmodern artist, medium specificity was standard knowledge that informed my painting practice, so it was not much of a leap to acknowledge the medium specificity of digital material and to argue that digital art should remain strictly digital.

Nick Fudge in his Goldsmiths studio, sitting in front of his painting Eternity. Photo: Nick de Ville, 1988

The second reason follows the conditions of delay in terms of art production over a period of three decades in relation to technological acceleration. Today we are faced with two important questions: what can art do in the face of this acceleration, and will the increasing power of machines ultimately render art obsolete? In this context, I find it interesting to show earlier works that, at the time, made sense contextually (as subject matter) in relation to modernism and postmodernism, and the media used to make the work was new in relation to the subject (i.e. a digital portrait), and today both the content, the style, and the software are equally anachronistic and in critical relation to technological progress.

Fudge in uniform, London 1988, Photo: Nick Fudge

As a result of the long delay I've established, I'm in the somewhat unique position of being able to show my work retrospectively, curating from a body of work made over a period of thirty years, and for me, it's fitting that the first platform on which to show my work is Sedition, with its emphasis on the medium specificity of digital material and its framing of digital art in a fine art context.

Q: How do the modernist themes related to Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso connect with your digital works from the 1990s, and what implications do you see this having for current discussions on artificial intelligence and its role in reshaping the visual arts?

The modernist theme in the work, which focuses on Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso, relates to the digital work I did in the 1990s, which was linked to certain postmodern art discourses about modernist legacies. As I said, showing my early digital work now has the potential to create a different conversation about my work in relation to contemporary discussions about new technologies, especially artificial intelligence and its impact on the visual arts. 

I think it is difficult to measure the influence of Picasso and Duchamp on digital art today, although I suspect that modernism is less of a preoccupation for artists now - which is one of the reasons why I find it interesting to show these postmodern-metamodern digital works now at Sedition.

I think a lot about the continued relevance of both artists in relation to AI image generation, as there are discussions about the increasing power of machines to render art obsolete - (e.g., Imagination and the Infinite - A Critique of Artificial Imagination, Yuk Hui). Duchamp, with the skeptical gesture of his Readymade, radically questioned our ability to define the word 'art' and, reflecting on its broader context, declared that 'art was a dream that became unnecessary'. Late in life, when asked about Duchamp's increasing influence on the artists of the 1960s, Picasso famously replied, "Duchamp was wrong". 

Q: Given the evolving definitions of art in the context of artificial intelligence, how do you assess the continued relevance and potential challenges posed by the artistic philosophies of Duchamp and Picasso to modern digital art practices, particularly with respect to AI's capacity to render traditional art concepts obsolete?

I think the provocations of the two most influential modernist artists are significant because we seem to be at a turning point in terms of our continuing inability to define the word art amidst significant contextual shifts within the arts.

Duchamp's work remains crucial because it has eluded the ability of AI to replicate anything like it - and I am skeptical that it will ever be able to do so, because it is hard to imagine an intelligent machine being able to replicate human sensory and mental perceptions poeticised in an ironically skeptical metaphysics of Eros.

The fate of Picasso, on the other hand, is more uncertain, partly because Picasso's methodology often involved the assimilation of canonical styles; according to Christine Poggi (Cubist Faktura), "Picasso treated style as a pre-existing cultural code, open to appropriation and recirculation in new contexts''. Poggi's astute observation could also serve as a (generalized) description of contemporary AI image generators. Picasso is also the most prolific artist in history, constantly generating new styles and inventing new forms. in a sense, I think his entropic drive embodies the modernist ethos of the transcendent machine, and in a very real sense, there is a deep irony in Picasso's ontological drive being subsumed into machine learning. (Duchamp loved irony and may have the last laugh).

Q: Your work extensively uses AI and digital tools. Can you discuss the relationship between traditional art methods and digital techniques in your creative process?

I have not used AI technologies in any of the work that I have presented on Sedition, but as you have observed, I often foreground digital tools and workspaces, reveal computational functions and processes, and so on. For example, when creating either a vector or raster image, I am interested in discovering different ways to reveal the program-specific image construction processes and tool functions that contribute to and define aesthetic and stylistic parameters.

To give a concrete example of how I move between traditional art methods and digital techniques, I will briefly describe the working process I used to realize YP1901_01_3_2, one of the works in my Picasso Pizazz collection. On the 6th of November 2008 at 11:21, I started a vector portrait in Adobe Illustrator v.8.0.1, of a copy of Yo, Picasso (painted when Picasso was 20 years old). I recreated Picasso's self-portrait in vectors, and since Picasso had created his own image with thick, impasto brushstrokes, I decided to digitally recreate his painting method of creating distinct brushstrokes that coalesce into a portrait.

YP1901_01_3_2 is a simulacra portrait because it is an illusion that simulates digital brushstrokes copied from actual oil paint brushstrokes on canvas; the simulacrum extends to the medium itself because my digital copy simulates Picasso's process of embedding his portrait in the medium itself - Picasso makes the viewer aware of the materiality of the oil paint, creating a tension between image and medium; my digital copy simulates this medium-specific tension to create a new hyper-real tension of the image.

YP1901_01_3_2 (detail). Nick Fudge

In a reversal of media relations, I have incorporated aspects of computer user experience into paintings that demonstrably engage in a self-reflexive construction of analysis, i.e. paint application methods correlated with thought processes are made explicit. For example, in one series, I intermittently used letter stencils to apply the words undo-redo, esc, copy, etc. to the canvas during the painting process. In another series, I simulated the aesthetic appearance of a vector graphic image, the medium of which is difficult to determine when viewed on a screen.

About 2,730,000 results, oil paint on canvas, 270 x 101 cm. 2017-19. Nick Fudge

Since 2021, in response to new developments in AI, I have updated a series of earlier digital works that already explored concepts of technological acceleration by integrating conceptual aspects of AI image generation software. Similarly, my moving image work in this collection Pharmacie allegorizes the technological acceleration that began in modernism, quickly diverged into myriad abstractions (including postmodernism and metamodernism), culminated in personal computing in the 1980s, and reached its apogee in the 2020s with the advent of artificial intelligence. 

Showing a small number of early digital works now has the potential to create a new, disconcertingly anachronistic context for my work in relation to contemporary work made using the latest software, and which seems to deal to varying degrees with post-human aesthetics and AI-generated imagery. One of the reasons that I find it interesting to show stylistically anachronistic work now is because I believe that software is a major determinant of form and aesthetics, and this situates the work in a specific time relative to the software, which is why my early work appears as an anomaly in today's context, and this is of particular interest to me.

Q: Your work also touches on the role of art in reflecting and shaping societal values. How do you address this in Picasso Pizazz?

I believe that art has an essential contribution to make and I hope that my work, however modestly, challenges cultural narratives around technological progress. I feel an affinity with risk-taking artists who challenge hegemonic cultural, social, and institutional norms, and I believe that it is important in my art practice to simultaneously uphold traditional standards and avant-garde breakthroughs, as well as to develop contemporary critiques of outdated values and beliefs.

One of the most interesting challenges we face today is to assess the validity of past cultural ethics and values, as our perspectives are rapidly changing in direct correlation with major technological changes, as an artist, I try to critically explore issues such as modern and postmodern aesthetics, digital aesthetics, technological advances, artificial intelligence, etc. within art culture, and my paintings and delayed digital works are a testament to this. 

In Picasso Pizazz, the contexts of modernism and postmodernism are introduced through the genre of portraiture into our current metamodern discourse on art of the past in relation to a seemingly technologically determined future, in order to recontextualise the impact of machines on modernist art and values. The collection focuses on two of the most influential artists of the twentieth century, Picasso and Duchamp, who had markedly different responses to the machine.

Duchamp criticized art as being inferior to the new machines, declaring that technology and modern American cities represented the art of the future, and his most famous work, The Large Glass allegorizes a machinic Eros; his most famous gesture, the Readymade, exchanges the authorship of a work of art from the artist to the mass-produced machine (Duchamp is the ironic author of this modern enigma).

Picasso's sensibility, so different from Duchamp's, gives us a glimpse of a modern dialectic of the machine; Picasso did not extol the modern machine in aesthetic terms (except in Cubism), but he embodied one of the social consequences of machines: mass production. It is somewhat ironic that his son Claude sold the rights to the Picasso name to Citroën in 1999.

Q: Could you tell us about any ongoing exhibitions where your work is being showcased, and any significant upcoming shows?

A: I am currently exhibiting in a three-person show I curated—Future Paint—with Charley Peters and Komply at the Kelly-McKenna Gallery in Spring Lake, New Jersey. The show features recent paintings, drawings, and digital inkjet prints. Future Paint explores the confluence of traditional painting methods and new developments in machine learning and AI-generated imagery. I am delighted to have collaborated on this project with the gallery's director, Caitlin McKenna, an exceptional young American gallerist. Review of Future Paint in Whitehot magazine.

Future Paint. Installation view

I am also working on an exciting group exhibition of digital art at the Gravity Art Museum in Beijing, which runs from 06/29 to 09/23/2024. The exhibition's title (curated in 5 sections) is Semi-automatic. The different curators (per section) are Duan Shaofeng, Feng Xi, Li Jia, Zhou Yi + Dong Jing, and Miao Zijin. The participating artists are Chen Ke, Nick Fudge, Gao Ludi, Lao Jiahui, Shang Liang, Song Yonghong, Unmask (Liu Zhan), Wang Yiwei, Yancong, and Zhang Yudong.

I am thrilled to be working with curator 周翊 Zhou Yi on this enthralling project. I am participating in the section titled Plugged In, which aims to answer what kind of desires the aesthetic of digital technology awakens in artists that were dormant in the past. There are artists who, after being introduced to the new medium, still return to the hand, but they invent a personal method that looks in every way like the traditional medium, but with a new intensity, a completely different temperament.

Gravity Art Museum, Beijing

Q: How do you see the evolution of digital art as it becomes more integrated with immersive and interactive technologies?

This is also a great question. As a practicing digital artist since 1994, I often speculate about the teleology of computing and the exponential advances in hardware and software and image-making tools, what their purpose was and is, and what the destination is. The same question applies to the Internet. In the 1990s the context was personalized desktop computing, which I described as a post-studio practice - the term post-studio was popular in the 1990s - and thirty years later, the context is one of extended non-localized practice; immersive and interactive technologies might be better described as metacontexts, because when we experience them we also become aware of the technological context itself and understand how we are collectively contextualized as participants. I think Web 3 and machine learning are also metacontexts for similar reasons. The question now, of course, given the recent advances in AI, is whether we can even address the limitations of machines at all, and what that will mean for human imagination in the future.

As mentioned earlier, I am interested in art that explores how we perceive the world we inhabit what constitutes our sense of reality, and how artists find solutions to communicate inner perceptions at the limits of the inexpressible. What first attracted me to working with computers was the range of new languages that could be used to describe alternative models of reality, such as the simulacra and the virtual, and with a number of projects in the pipeline, I am looking forward to developing these ideas for immersive and interactive contexts.

Q: In addition to Duchamp and Picasso, are there any other artistic movements or artists from the past who inspire your current work?

I think it might be useful to start with the idea of current work, which I think, at least for me, has a different meaning in my digital practice than in my painting practice. This question is much easier to answer when discussing the latter, and much more complex and interesting when discussing the former. For example, I realized early on that the concept of time in relation to a digital work of art is experienced differently from that of an artist working with paint or marble; a digital artist does not embed experiential time in the digital medium in the way that a painter or sculptor does, and the viewer of a digital work cannot perceive the passage of time in the image-making process (which is one of the key determinants of meaning in the plastic arts). For these reasons, I conceive of my digital artworks as ongoing, atemporal, editable works without end - or to quote Baudrillard, Desert Forever - which is why I date my digital works 1994- (adding a completion date at the time of exposure). 

I have long been interested in critical, meta-critical, philosophical, metaphysical, and metaphysical artists, writers, and filmmakers. I appreciate attempts to use irony and poetry to critique and subvert, for example, and in no particular order, Picasso, Duchamp, de Chirico, Dada, Ernst, Xiamen Dada, Maya Deren, Georgia O'Keeffe, Huáng Yǒng Pīng (黄永砯), Situationist International, Institutional Critique, Hans Haake, James Lee Byars, Nouvelle Vague (French New Wave), 1970s feminists in New York, Marguerite Duras, Godard, Alain Resnais, Rohmer, Agnès Varda, Jasper Johns, Linda Benglis, Mary Daly, Andrea Dworkin, and so on.


This conversation with Nick Fudge not only sheds light on his current collection but also opens a broader discourse on the role of digital technologies in redefining art and cultural heritage, a subject that continues to gain relevance in the art world today.

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