Jim Naughten’s surreal ‘digital paintings’ shine a light on the perilous state of the natural world
On view at Grove Square Galleries from October 7 through November 18, Eremozoic features surreal images of orangutans swinging through psychedelic forests, a bear standing in an unnaturally pink meadow, and deer exploring a dreamlike, pastel-hued canyon, between other visual delights. If it’s hard to tell whether these are photographs or digital paintings, it’s because Jim’s work falls between the two disciplines.
Trained in photography and painting, Jim combines the two skills in a creative approach he calls “digital painting”. By modifying his photographs with unique digital enhancements, he can create one-of-a-kind stunning images that look like recolored shots taken on another planet. However, the impact of these visual alterations is to underline the idea that the natural world is becoming a distant and fantastical place due to its rapid disappearance.
Yet, although he studied photography at the Arts Institute in Bournemouth, Jim did not initially turn to digital photography. “Losing the physical processes of film and darkroom and moving to the computer didn’t come naturally,” Jim told Creative Boom, “until I realized you could process a photograph a much like an oil painting, adding and removing elements, changing colors, working with digital brushes.” Leaving an image, much like a canvas, he found he could come back to a photo later and work on layers the same way.
“Even before the advent of digital photography, I always wanted to alter reality, either by cross-processing film or working with black and white. Digital techniques allow me to create works that look like paintings One photography artist in particular called Lorette Lux used digital photography to great effect at first, and when I saw her work (which I loved) a world of possibilities opened up for me. “
It’s an odd approach, and in the case of the Eromozoic, the images also draw inspiration from dioramas of animal forms found in natural history museums around the world. By taking these recognizable images out of context and placing them in an exotic, unfamiliar environment, Jim manifests a world of magical realism that undermines our comfortable idea of the natural world and its future.
As for the name of the exhibition, it is taken from a term coined by the biologist and writer EO Wilson, which describes the current era of the development of the Earth. Eremozoic is an apt title for the show, as it characterizes the modern era as one of mass extinction. It is also called The Age of Loneliness, which further captures the dislocation found in Jim’s digital paintings.
“Eremozoic is a continuation of my practice but without a doubt my most important project to date,” he explains. “I am interested in how, in the blink of an evolutionary eye, humans came to dominate and overwhelm the planet and how our relationship with the natural world has fundamentally and dangerously diverged from that of our ancestors.
“I hope the work will create awareness and discourse about this disconnect, our fictional ideas about the nature and possibilities of positive change.”