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Trender: Digital Artist Anne Spalter

Monday, April 04, 2011


Who are the Rhode Islanders leading in arts, fashion, food, and style? They're Trenders, and GoLocalProv offers glimpses of the people you most want to know on the scene. Today, digital artist Anne Morgan Spalter. She's known internationally for her pioneering work in digital art, and her textbook, The Computer in the Visual Arts, has become standard reference in more than a hundred universities worldwide. She was recently featured on TV in Dubai on a show that is broadcast to 14 Middle Eastern countries.

Homegrown factor: Went to RISD’s summer school as a high school student, came to RISD as an undergrad to study painting, transferred to Brown and graduated with degrees in art and mathematics, and later got an MFA in Painting from RISD. Taught the first computer fine arts courses at both schools. Lives in Providence, works in Pawtucket, and her daughter attends The Gordon School in East Providence.

Age: 45

1. Where did you get your start in your field?

It may seem hard to believe now but I used to be a major computer-phobe! I didn’t want anything to do with computers in high school or for most of college and tried my best to avoid them. Two things happened that shifted my perspective: first, I wrote a 100+-page thesis at Brown and the thought of having to type it up was getting me down. I had a more technologically enlightened roommate who wrote on a computer and I saw him press something he called the ”print” button—and lo and behold his lengthy paper “printed out” looking like a published manuscript. As someone who bought white-out by the quart I was suitably impressed.

The second happened later on while I was living in NYC. I had a job in investment banking but still longed to make art. I discovered that I could use graphics programs like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator and make images—then when my boss came by I could instantly click back on Excel and look productive. I could also take my art with me in my purse on a floppy disk

When I came back to graduate school at RISD in painting I had been using the computer to make my art work for several years. I stretched up a big canvas and got ready to do “real art”. After a few hours I made giant red brush stroke--and instantly regretted it. In my mind I thought “undo,” but of course nothing happened. I loved traditional media but I didn’t want to give up the powerful visual thinking tools that the computer offered… this led to my long-standing interest in the field, and to my writing my book, ”The Computer in the Visual Arts.”

2. How has living in Rhode Island played a role in your work?

When I graduated from Brown I could not wait to leave Providence and move to New York where bars *opened* at 11pm. Now I just long to be asleep by 11pm… Rhode Island nurtured me and my work through my associations with RISD and the Computer Science Department at Brown. In the CS Dept I was Artist in Residence for the computer graphics research group. I had the extraordinary opportunity to learn about the technical side of graphics from a founder of the field—University Professor Andries van Dam. I also have the pleasure of being represented in RI by Candita Clayton and through her gallery I have been able to share my work with many people and find collectors interested in what I am doing.

I also like to use local landmarks and environments in my work—I have pieces based on views of Main Street in Pawtucket near my studio, the electrical plant at Brayton point (OK, not technically RI), the Narragansett electrical plant, and several highway exchanges. Rhode Island has incredible natural landscapes and a lot of cool weird industrial stuff, which I love, from the gas tanks along the bike path to old factories, scrap metal places, and mill buildings.

3. It seems like a lot of wonderful fine artists are working here, but we seem not to realize this. What's going on?

I asked someone this question recently who has been involved in RI arts for a long, long time and he said there’s a lot of great artists a working here—there just is a very small market for contemporary art. So, readers, it’s up to you!

4. What's next for you?

I have begun to use some time-based tools—making what I have termed “digital video drawings” based on traditionally made drawings and paintings. I feel that I can continue the thoughts that inspired the original pieces but were not possible to express in a stationary medium.

I am revamping my Web site and will have work at The Road to Contemporary Art fair in Rome in May and am working toward a solo show in NYC in October. So lots of projects and deadlines!

5. What's the biggest challenge about working in Rhode Island? The greatest reward?

I think the biggest challenge as an artist is getting noticed by the larger art world. The upsides are substantial, though, because there are many wonderful artists working here and the quality of life is really high. It’s a great place to have a studio and raise kids.

From Complexities, 2011, Digital Video Drawing, Anne Moran Spalter

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