Karen Schreiber
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The Hamilton Spectator
Burlington, Saturday, December 21, 2002, p. N08

Using computers to express impressions in art; Abstracted images are nature-oriented
Elaine Hujer
Special To The Hamilton Spectator
Karen Schreiber and Steven Toth: Transcendent Beauty
Where: Burlington Art Centre, AIC Gallery, 1333 Lakeshore Rd.
Curated: George Wale
When: Exhibit runs until Feb. 10.
Artists' tour and talk at 2 p.m. Jan. 26.

Whether it's a swirling mandala, a glowing stained glass window or a line of carved totems rising out of the mist, artists have sought to create visual images that promote spiritual enchantment. In Transcendent Beauty, an exhibition currently on view in the AIC Gallery at the Burlington Art Centre, both Karen Schreiber and Steven Toth have followed that well-trodden path. But instead of using traditional methods of painting or sculpting, both Toth and Schreiber have made use of the most modern technology, the camera, the computer and the ink-jet printer, to produce artworks of such haunting beauty that the infinite seems to have been rendered in a finite form.

Schreiber first used her Nikon EM in 1988 to record travels with her family. But what began as a hobby turned into an artistic quest, and soon she was experimenting with impressionist photo techniques such as multiple exposures, panning, montage and selective focusings to make photographs that could be mistaken for paintings.

She says, "I love the outdoors, walking the dog. I wanted to express how I felt when I went out around LaSalle Park, the valleys and trails of the Royal Botanical Gardens or my own backyard -- to somehow preserve those moments, or, at least, their impact on me. A traditional photo had never done this for me."

The resulting abstracted images are, not surprisingly, nature-oriented, but they also evoke certain art-historical styles: In Rock Garden 1 and 2, for instance, the shimmering, sun-dappled images can't help but bring to mind Monet's atmospheric rendering of his garden at Giverny. In Maple Leafs, a graphic Franz Klein calligraphy contains a vibrating green-gold mist. And the gestural qualities of Lupins recalls the early work of the abstract expressionist painters. In fact, one could think of Shreiber's process as being very close to that of a painter, but a painter, who moves a camera around, rather than a paint brush.

Schreiber's work is not digitally enhanced. Instead, her photographs are made into slides, which are scanned into a computer. They are then reproduced as giclee prints, a printing process that translates an original into the finest digital print that can be created. To make a giclee print, the artwork is converted into a digital format, usually by scanning. A blank paper or canvas is attached to a drum and a digital ink-jet printer sprays a fine stream of ink onto the paper, exactly duplicating the original image. The artist then applies a light resistant coating on top. The resolution of the digital print is 1,800 dots per inch, which makes these prints as fine in quality as the originals. The prints, in fact, have a higher resolution than lithographs and a more dynamic colour range.

Limited editions of these very fine prints are used also as material supports for the digital artworks created by Steven Toth. Toth's originals are produced on the computer in Adobe Photoshop.

Toth insists that his works are prints not reproductions and explains, "The work is conceived and executed entirely on the computer without the use of scanned or photographic material. I do not incorporate material transferred from other media such as painting or drawing. In short, these digital images have been designed from the outset to be printed with digital technology, the same way that lithographs are drawn on a stone and designed to be printed with a litho press."

Toth's subject matter, like Schreiber's, is often nature-oriented, but he is also inspired by music, a theme or impression, certain emotions, a sense of place or time or even concepts of Zen Buddhism. Prints such as Stream, Calming and Moment to Moment have a soothing meditative quality perhaps, because of the cool, gentle colours and the predominantly horizontal lines. More complex and dynamic is Old and New, a work based on Japan that super-imposes an eastern calligraphy over a multitude of fragmented images.

Both of these artists' images are abstracted and very harmonious and the always present danger is that this type of work can easily slip into the merely decorative -- pretty pictures to hang on the wall to enhance the colour of the sofa. In both cases, however, light and light effects set up tensions and create illusionary space and movement, often in surprising ways. It is this radiance and luminosity that transforms the panels into metaphorical gateways; step through, and leave the material world behind.

Elaine Hujer is a freelance writer based in Burlington. She can be contacted at elainhujer@aol.com or 905-637-8410.

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