Sometimes a padlock and a candle are just a padlock and a candle. Sometimes they are more, as in the technically flawless, metaphorically rich digital constructions of Edward Bateman.
"Every object exists in two worlds," said Bateman. "One is the tangible that we know through our senses, and another exists only in our minds."
According to the artist, it is in this mental realm that objects take on the properties of metaphor and meaning. And while some elements in his work depict real things, many objects have never had a tangible, physical existence.
"Essentially, a lot of my stuff is made the way they do special effects for movies," he said. "It involves 3-D modeling."
Basically, he creates an object inside the computer that ends up looking very much like a 3-D chicken-wire element. Then he assigns it a texture and groups it with other objects he's made inside the computer environment.
"I then pose everything like you would when setting up a still life on a table, as if you were getting ready to take a photograph."
Once everything is visually arranged to his liking, he tests the objects under different lighting conditions. When satisfied, Bateman strikes the "enter" key and walks away, allowing the program to calculate where shadows and highlights will go. If the object is glass, the rendering program figures out the reflections.
"It's like doing the photographic process," Bateman said, "except that it all takes place inside the computer."
Once he remembers trying to explain his process to a graduate student who, after admiring a series of illuminated water drops he'd created, asked, "What exposure did you use on this?"
"I explained to him there wasn't really an exposure because it was all created in the computer," said Bateman. "Nothing has any real existence. The student thought about it for a minute and then looked at me and said, 'But what exposure did you use?"'
When the digital construction is completed, "I usually do a little polishing on the image in Photoshop, some lightening and darkening, dodging and burning, making the highlights a little bit brighter and increasing the contrast."
Oddly enough, some of Bateman's computer creations begin life as a pencil sketch.
"I'll have an idea and I'll make a little doodle," he said. "They can be fairly rough doodles, but it gets the idea down."
That's how one of the images he's currently working on got started. He gets a few basic ideas and poses them out in the computer. "And it's kind of funny when you see that it ends up looking something like the sketch."
Bateman has always been artistic, but he also has a mind for science. "As a kid I didn't know whether I wanted to be a scientist or an artist. I played with Legos, which in some ways makes a lot of sense since you're assembling these things out of these basic elements. At one time I wanted to be a doctor, then a geologist, then a doctor again."
But art remained a huge influence on Bateman, and he produced quite a bit of it when he was young.
"If I asked for a toy, my parents told me to wait for my birthday or to earn extra money for it. But if I wanted art supplies, that was one thing they'd always give me."
His father was artistic; his mother, musical with literary interests. "I was always being dragged to art museums or galleries, both in town and when we would go on trips."
One special time remains etched in Bateman's memory: "I remember being taken to Phillips Gallery," he said. "I must have been about 5 or 6 because I was in kindergarten. We went into the back of the gallery because my dad knew Denis Phillips. I remember seeing what Denis was working on and then going home and trying to duplicate it. And it's sort of a fun little circle of life thing being taken there as a child and now actually showing my own work there. If my dad were still around, he would be so proud of that."
Bateman has an extensive exhibition catalogue, having shown his unique pieces in many parts of the United States and in London, England. He has won myriad awards for his work and lectured, served on panels and conducted workshops. Today, he teaches art at the University of Utah.
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