An artistic duality: the digital paintings of Dan Cross
Red Rising by Dan Cross.
At Sotheby’s in Hong Kong recently, a deeply textured and haphazardly colored abstract painting by Gerhard Richter sold for around $28 million. It reminded me of pictures I had just seen at Idea Gallery in West Jacksonport. They sold for around $27,999,000 less, depending on size and framing, but they were also rich in color, intricacy, texture, and beauty.
Idea Gallery owner/director/artist Dan Cross created these images with a computer and an Epson pigment printer, sometimes adding hand stamping which he photographed and incorporated into the digital file. Its images can have 50 or more layers generated using Adobe Photoshop software.
These layers allow Cross to build images from background to foreground, design masks that can create lines such as cracked clay pots, or build areas that look like soft black velvet, the all in the same job. Sometimes he adds texture with hot wax, encaustic, sometimes with color incorporated, to create distinctive works that outsell limited edition pieces.
Twenty years ago, some collectors dismissed photographic or computer art as unworthy of collection, but that has changed, in part because of people like Cross training collectors.
“I explain the processes,” he said. “The computer is a tool – a very advanced tool – and if you don’t know how to use it, you won’t succeed.”
Cross’s work may incorporate what looks like a drop of paint on a flat surface, but it’s so compelling to the eye that people often want to touch it – to see if they can. to feel the drop of paint they see clearly, but which only exists as an image.
“They can’t figure this out,” Cross said. “I don’t try to deceive people. I am doing digital work and want to make it look like a painting. That’s why I called it digital painting.
Cross holds an arts education degree from UW-Green Bay and had planned to teach, but graduated just as school funding was cut. Instead, he turned to graphic design, working for agencies and then running his own graphic design business for 30 years. He still does graphic design for long-time clients, including some of the county’s leading art galleries.
Over the years, Cross has also carried out educational projects: workshops, offerings of exposure to creativity for high school students, and courses in graphic design and photography. With the opening of Idea Gallery, now in its fourth year, he continues to educate visitors, explaining the work on display based on the in-depth discussions he has had with the artists his gallery represents.
“Part of my mission statement here is contemporary art education,” Cross said.
This upbringing also caused him to examine his own attitudes towards his art.
“Graphic design has always been part of my job,” Cross said. “At one point I was conscious of trying not to be too graphic, so the techniques I developed for working with a computer would simulate what I could do by hand.”
His response to this challenge was to go back and forth between hand markings and computer imagery, sometimes with one or more layers of physical wax on the final image.
“If I made marks on paper like you see here,” Cross said, “then I photographed my marks and took them to the computer.” And he embeds those marks in his Photoshop file.
“I save all my specs when I print, when I can make some adjustments in the printer outside of my file,” Cross said. “And then I can go back and get an exact repeat. But if I start working a piece by hand, I can’t reproduce that. So it will be one of a kind, and then the price reflects that.
After a slow start following the coronavirus lockdown, business picked up and even outpaced last year’s revenue in August and September. But Cross is looking forward to a break from being open seven days a week.
“I look forward to winter,” he said, “when I can really concentrate, locked in the studio without interruption. Then I have time to get dirty and combine physical manual labor with what I do on the computer.