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Of Myth, Muscles, and Photoshop

By Alyssa Coppelman

With his series Not for Another Hour, But This Hour, artist Ted Kincaid has crafted a body of work that presents a rich treasure trove of references from literature and myth. Ships sail and burn against stormy skies, while shipwrecked sailors with classically beautiful musculature rescue one another from the fate of slipping forever into the sea.

It’s clear that Kincaid isn’t in the business of straightforward photography. But the degree of work he puts into constructing these images, and the degree to which some of them are constructed, is impressive. “Over the course of the past 25 years, the trajectory of my work has involved questioning the veracity of the photographic image,” says Kincaid. “To that end, although the aesthetic of my work has changed wildly, the concept has remained consistent.”

digitally created image of a ship, by Ted Kincaid
digitally created image of a nude seated male figure, by Ted Kincaid

“These images, while presented as photographs, are, in fact, digital paintings,” he says. “Other than the human figures, the images are produced with a mouse, pad, and stylus. I am Machiavellian in my process, and were these images presented as paintings, no one would even question the process. But by conceptually stating that these are photographs, I call into question the process. I look at my own photographic images, as well as other source material, exactly the same as any painter, and how I absorb that into my work varies widely—again, exactly as any painter would. These images evolved slowly, and were shelved more than once when the limitations became a constraint. The figures became the most perplexing problem, until I decided to actually insert them directly, rather than digitally render them, into the composition.”

Put briefly, the only photographs in the images are of the people. The visual trickery—and amount of work—involved in this degree of fabrication is worth considering.

digitally created image of shipwrecked sailors, by Ted Kincaid
digitally created image of a shipwrecked sailor by Ted Kincaid

HISTORY AND MYTH

Kincaid’s background firmly planted him in the realms of the mythical when it came to image-making. He says, “I drew obsessively as a child, and was the stoner in high school with technical pens and frayed copies of Lord of The Rings, drawing impossibly intricate dragons, infatuated by the illustrative works of Howard Pyle, Arthur Rackham, and Roger Dean. Even as I pursued my undergraduate and graduate studies in photography, I continued to want to ‘create’ rather than ‘document.’”

You can see threads from his early interests in Not for Another Hour. Eugène and Henry Fox Talbot are also on the list, but it certainly doesn’t stop there. “The early years of the chemical photographic image still remain an overt aesthetic and conceptual influence to me,” says Kincaid. “The limitations of the processes and the peculiarities of the emulsions, lenses, and surfaces—all this became as fascinating to me as they are to the new generation of image-makers, as so many new apps attempt to mimic the limits of those processes. Many of the photographers who have influenced me never considered themselves artists, but rather documentarians. Fox Talbot may have been closest to considering himself an artist, but Atget, Carleton Watkins, Timothy O’Sullivan, Karl Blossfeldt—the list goes on—all were obsessive in their drive to each record an idiosyncratic body of images. While their work was not initially received as fine art, their influence reaches to literally every facet of contemporary photographic image-making.”

Certain scenes in Not for Another Hour seem to come from a sea shanty, or an epic poem, or centuries-old paintings of seafaring folk. Being that ships have been around for eons, the degree of connections the viewer can make is large and inherently personal. This body of work is the first time in his career that literature and historical imagery have played such a strong role. Some of Kincaid’s influences are more obvious (Moby Dick) and others less so (Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass).

digital image of shipwrecked sailors, by Ted Kincaid
Digital image of a ship, by Ted Kincaid

PAINTING WITH PIXELS

While Kincaid doesn’t like knowledge of the process to get in the way of the images speaking for themselves, he will share that he’s used anywhere from two to 100 photographs to construct the images in this series. “Photoshop is my absolute essential tool,” he says.

Pixels are his paint. “To say that there are many layers in each of these images would be a severe understatement,” he continues. “The Layers tool in Photoshop has literally given me the ability to approach these works as paintings. Being able to add the subtlest of details in each layer, combine, blend, duplicate, adjust, and multiply, is so eerily similar to methods the painters of the Northern Renaissance employed in the genesis of oil painting. So many of the Photoshop tools echo not only techniques I employed for decades in the darkroom, but also painting techniques. I make my own brushes in Photoshop for each individual piece, and rely on many of the preset brushes and tools as well. My favorite in this particular body of work has to have been the Blur tool. Getting my photographic material to merge with my digitally painted material was made so much easier by being able to soften selective edges to mimic the limitations of a photographic lens, and to make elements, for lack of a better term, ‘less perfect’…more handmade, ironically. There is a problem in the ability to see too much detail, too much perfection in contemporary photography. The suggestion of something in a work of art, rather than the overt statement, allows the viewer to participate in the image. It is a lesson I learned from the paintings of Turner. Suggest…don’t state.”

Ted Kincaid has solo exhibitions in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in June, and at Houston’s Devin Borden Gallery in September. He will premier new large-scale canvases at Talley Dunn Gallery in Dallas this fall.