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Artist of the Month - September 2007

Blurring the Lines with Craig Hibberd
by Annabelle Numaguchi

 

Still Life

Where most artists might feel put off by the question “What is it?” in response to their work, Craig Hibberd takes it as a solid compliment. Well, he should. His images catch the eye, but play with the mind.

My first real introduction to his work had me lean in forward only to take a quick step back and ask what so many viewers do, “Are they paintings or photographs?”. Hibberd has developed an original style of digitally altering photographs that blurs the lines between the media.

Digital manipulation of photos is nothing new nowadays, and in fact, that very aspect leads Hibberd to believe that it is getting harder and harder to pursue photography as a career or art form since the technology is so accessible, just about anyone can produce a likable photograph.

This is not to say that Hibberd is disparaging of his peer’s works. On the contrary, the affable photographer stays considerably involved in the emerging Moab art scene, starting with coordinating the monthly Art Walks, where galleries provide chef d’oeuvres along with hor d’oeuvres.

What makes Hibberd’s images stand out is that he forgoes photorealism and concentrates on color, contour and composition. The most accurate name he has come up with to describe his technique is “digital painting.”

He has brought together the skills honed through his background in photography, graphic design and architecture to create this new style of illustration. Although he has studied and taught photography, he often felt that the originals showed flat colors and depended too heavily on creating or waiting on the right conditions, particularly lighting. Instead, he has found a method of improving on reality through a unique form of digital manipulation.

The effect his images give off most closely resembles silk screen printing, a comparison made obvious when I had the opportunity to visit Hibberd’s home. He has a collection of pieces adorning his walls, one of which is a silk screen print done decades earlier that exhibits the layered quality and intense color now present in his current work.

Although he is wisely reluctant to give away too many details about his method, he explains the essentials. He begins with a digital photograph, then asks himself, “What do I like about it, what do I want to emphasize and what is interesting?”. According to his answers, he might lose the background, disembody part of the subject or alter the colors.

For example, he recently photographed the annual Mardi Gras parade put on by Wabi Sabi, a local non-profit thriftstore, whose board he headed for several years. The models wore elaborate fanciful costumes, and while documenting the show, Hibberd availed himself of the opportunity of photographing intriguing subjects. He explains that “the subject matter was spectacular, but the lighting, backgrounds and technical quality was lacking.”

Using his computer and a digital pen known as a stylus, he altered these already whimsical photos to create images full of color and movement, reminiscent of the lively café posters of the 19th century French painter, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.

In “Alien’s Mandy”, he retained the image of the head and headdress and placed it on an extended black background, which accentuates the subject. He whitened the face and used warm, lively colors for the pompoms and tassels of the headdress, all of which appear to pop off the page. Shadows and texture are created through a mix of tinting and pointillism, which attributes to the illusion that this picture is not a photograph.

What makes this image so particularly intriguing, however, is that all reference points have been eliminated, leaving the viewer to ponder the image, a mischievously merry head floating tethered only to an enormous headpiece that could be culturally historical or simply fanciful.

Although Hibberd’s work is not entirely abstract, that element surfaces in most of his images, particularly the more recent ones. He uses various digital filters to create his art, which aid him in depicting realism through the filter of his perspective.

In “Hidden Mickey, hidden Peace Sign”, a woman wearing a broad smile and a red eye mask looks like she is being seen through wavy glass. The subject is recognizable, but the distortion emphasizes the geometric patterns made up of the bold colors, red, green and purple. The combination of the mask and filter imply satiric commentary on the engaging smile at the focus of the image.


Typewriter

Hibberd enjoys a wide range of subjects for his images, including still lifes, people and machinery. His understanding of how different materials reflect light honed during his study of black-and-white photography emerges in images he has created by abstracting parts of a car engine and a typewriter. A particular favorite of mine is one in which the image is distorted enough that recognizing the return carriage of a typewriter is difficult. Not only does the image create interesting patterns using rich browns and grays, but it also makes a statement about the mechanical nature of writing.

On his website, Hibberd explains, “My purpose is to have these images be a catalyst for ideas and discussion and to present beauty in a unique way.” This explains why the question “what is it?” rings as a compliment in reaction to his digital painting. Hibberd may be blurring the lines between media but his purpose is clear. The results are rich in color, texture and meaning, and ultimately, this is what makes art.

Craig Hibberd’s work can be viewed in various galleries and on-line at www.craighibberd.com. He can also be reached at (435) 259-1610.

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