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
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.
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.
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.