Though not a new art form, digital painting seems especially fitting to feature now, when we are experiencing life online and digitally more than ever. The first use of the term digital art can be traced to the 1980s when engineers produced a programme for a computer to draw on large sheets of paper. This machine was used by the artist Harold Cohen. Since then, we have seen an exponential increase in the capabilities and use of digital media across all industries, with the arts as no exception. Digital media has become more accessible to many, with, for example, various iterations of digital painting softwares being produced and the technology slowly becoming more affordable.
The accessibility of the medium certainly changed the game for Namibian artist Arno Hoth. Born in 1950 in Windhoek, Hoth has worked in the arts and creative industries both in Namibia and Germany for around 50 years. With his formal training in oil painting, Hoth came to the world of digital painting with a solid grounding in the technical and conceptual aspects of art making.
Hoth explains, “Being strongly influenced by surrealism, I started out painting in the classical Surrealistic manner, strongly influenced by Max Ernst and Rene Magritte.” The Juxtaposition of imagery and symbols, along with a mixture of figurative and abstract shapes create captivating artworks like Before Dawn and Untitled 4.
“I firmly believe that besides the visual world there is another pool of forms, shapes, figures that an artist can draw from. I call it the “clip art” collection deep inside of us” (Hoth).
The artist describes his process of painting as a game of “ping pong” and explains that he is in “dialogue” with the artwork. “In the end, it is an endless circle of repetition and invention”. Working with ideas rooted in the surrealistic appreciation for the subconscious, Hoth notes “the more I trust my [subconscious] the wider the door to my inner “clip art” opens up, and the better the results”.
‘Clip Art’ refers to simple pictures made available on word processing software to add to documents, and shows Hoth’s deep connection to the digital era. While much Clip Art is made up of emoji-style innocuous imagery, Hoth’s works draw from a collection of symbols and images that are personally and socially relevant. Intermingling images from the “visual world” that we know, such as a watermelon and skull in Lost Paradise 3, Hoth also creates more abstract images. The humanoid silhouetted figure in the same artwork is an example of this.
Other works like Ikarus and Songlines Rolling Stones 1 reference well-known fictional and real figures. Engaging with Hoth’s work and ideas in the current era of social isolation one is left with the distinct impression of a virtual world - rife with interrelated references and links.
Tapping into the digital and virtual has the potential to both condense and open up our experiences. Hoth’s works reach across time and space, influenced just as much by mythology, music and other artists as by the inner workings of his mind.