Some selected press:
Axis Artist of the Month
Tell us about your practice at the moment, how would you describe your work?
I’m an Irish artist living and working in Cardiff, Wales. I produce physical and digital work that explores the relationship between traditional art and contemporary technology.
A few years ago I naively drew up something of a ‘manifesto’ for the type of work I’d like to create. This included creating work of a large scale, using historically important techniques, colour and composition with a 50/50 blend of modern digital. Much of this still stands true but I’d like to think my work has since evolved to something more culturally relevant.
I’d say I am first and foremost a digital artist, even though I still (generally) use a paintbrush. This is much in the same way that David Hockney is very much a painter, even though he produces work on an iPad.
Tell us a bit about the role of romanticism or nostalgia of the landscapes you use? It seems like a theme which runs through a few of your works.
Its something that has never really disappeared from art, or at least from painting. Despite best efforts there remains a formidable output of overly romanticised work. Part of me recalls the early photography self-portraits, where the photographers would pose with easel & paintbrush. I don't see why its not possible to be self-referential with art, especially when working with new and evolving methods.
It seems that in the field you are making work in there is a lot of sharing ideas and work, how does this have an impact on your work? What is it about this way of working that you enjoy?
I like the idea that the piece doesn't have to stop with the work produced. To put it contextually, if you want to see a Van Gogh, you either visit the gallery, buy a book or Google it. The much needed opportunity to experience art first hand is becoming vastly easier to achieve. I like to think digital distribution adds to the interaction with the work whilst simultaneously detracting from the need to physically exhibit.
This additionally mirrors the culture from which digital art has grown from, the modding and hacking communities, developers and coders.
There is something both archaic and self-righteous about creating work in a studio until it is ready to be released onto the world via exhibition. One of the benefits of digital art is the ability to easily share work. Other aspects of internet usage are about sharing, so why can’t art be?
As an example, my recent work in Turkey was simply emailed to the curator.
“Painting from a game displayed on a screen is much more enjoyable than painting from a photograph. The game has all the beautiful ambience, wildlife, weather changes and interaction you don’t get from a photograph. “
This quote from your blog is really interesting, can you see your exploration of this developing?
Photographing a subject is arguably the best possible way to record that exact place and time, down to the very second. When you are creating a sketch or a painting you are not only capturing the place and time, but the length of time it took to produce the work. There is something in the act of working and, indeed, working with a ‘live’ subject that lends itself to the physical aspect of my practice very well.
While I was studying a number of years ago, a friend of mine was producing ‘life drawing’ sketches from a rather risqué late night tv show. Although not exactly what I was looking for in my own practice, it struck me as something in between working with a live model and working from a photograph. It was this under-explored middle ground that I found infinitely more interesting.
I think I’ve exhausted painting from games, for now at least. There is more in working from digital sources that I’d like to explore but I might return to painting in this manner in the future. I still get recommendations from both artists and gamers for what environments to investigate next.
Which artists working at the moment do you admire?
I attended the opening of the most recent solo show of ATOI, that is duo Amy and Oliver Thomas-Irvine, in Cardiff’s g39 gallery. Their work was described as ‘forensic architecture’ and simultaneously referenced big box art events like Frieze, industrial sculpture and an abandoned chemical factory in Cornwall. I found the detachment from source, polygonal output and faux art aspects of the exhibition very interesting.
Recently I have been working with artist Sarah Younan (whom I discovered via Axis) on two projects, one involving 3D scanning and printing in the National Museum of Wales and the other dealing with the immediate situation in Ankara. Younan’s strength lies in her ability to bring together very disparate practices and artists in her exhibitions. Broadly, her work deals with combining ceramics with technology.
In Dublin two months ago I was visiting the excellent Jesse Jones exhibition in the Hugh Lane gallery. After the exhibition I gave the gift shop an obligatory peruse and discovered a Thames & Hudson book on digital art with the cover image of a ‘Dead Drop’ conceived by the artist Aram Bartholl. Again, a piece with its roots firmly in the digital community. I’ve been intrigued by and followed Barthol’s work for a number of years. He is one of the most outstanding digital artists and I have recently quoted him in respect to one of my own pieces (Half-Life: Crate Edition).
I’d like to mention one of the pioneers of digital art, the critic & author Matteo Bitanti who has done much with the evolving medium and highlighted some rising stars via his books and website, gamescenes.org. I first became acquainted with Bitanti’s writing ten years ago and as the community has grown and developed he's become a consistent and increasingly important voice.
What have you got coming up?
I’m working on a number of smaller projects along the same line, with some plans to revisit eBay Morandi, an old project which I feel I didn't quite give the attention it needed. This work has been on my mind for some time and involves using found images from popular auction website eBay to create contemporary still life paintings with a focus on repetition, material and composition.
I’d like to contribute towards my local Cardiff Contemporary in Autumn 2016 with my own take on the previously mentioned ‘Dead Drop’. This is something I’ve also been planning to do, and as the theme of the show this year is ‘Communication’ I think this would be the perfect opportunity.
Further plans include a larger ‘crowd sourced’ piece later this year involving received digital 3D model files and 3D printing. If anyone is interested in sending me some items for this project please feel free to get in touch.
Gamescenes.org interview: Jason Rouse's Painted Gamescapes
GameScenes is conducting a series of interviews with artists, critics, curators, and gallery owners operating in the field of Game Art, as part of an ongoing investigation of the social history of this artworld. Our goal is to document and discuss both the origins and evolution of a phenomenon that changed the way game-based art is being created, experienced, and discussed today.
The conversation between Jason Rouse and Matteo Bittanti took place via email in June of 2014.
Jason Rouse is an artist living and working in Cardiff, Wales. In Rouse's work, digital and traditional arts converge, creating unexpected, surprising results. Rouse has painted game landscapes, developed interactive games, and experimented with generative spaces. In our conversation, we discuss Rouse's latest project, Postcards from Mexico (currently on display at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, April-June 2014, as part of the (Im)material Artefacts exhibition, curated by Sarah Younan), his fascination for landscapes - both real and imaginary, and videogame genres.
Can you provide some details about yourself? Where do you live and work? What and where did you study? What are your key interests as an artist?
I am an Irish Artist, from Co Tyrone in the North West, studied Foundation Art in Limavady College before moving to England to study Painting in Bath Spa University. Post-Degree I spent some time back in Ireland before relocating to Cardiff, Wales, where I now work in BIT Studios. As an Artist I am keen to produce work that is deeply layered yet instantly accessible. I enjoy using technology in my work to achieve this.
Can you briefly discuss the origins of your latest project, Postcards from Mexico?
A local ceramic/performance artist Sarah Younan has been prolific in working with emerging 3D printing & scanning technology. As part of her PhD work a number of museum pieces were scanned, with the intention of artists reinterpreting them through digital intervention. Where many artists in the group were interested in software manipulation and reprinting I wanted to make something more interactive. My initial thoughts were to generate some kind of game using the pieces as avatars or entities, but this proved difficult due to the hugely detailed files. I eventually used this to my advantage in expanding one scanned file up to fill a whole landscape. There were also thoughts on running a server so multiple people could explore the landscape together but this was abandoned in favour of a downloadable executable file, much like I have done in a previous exhibition (CLIFTON).
Postcards from Mexico examines the relationship between post-geographical spaces and new production techniques, i.e. 3D printing. How do you reconcile your own experiences in the intangible environments of videogames with the materiality of 3D printing? Does the postcard become a memento or some kind of evidence of a journey, a trip, that took place in a different dimension?
Bringing made up entities from games into existence makes them more real. When I was younger my brother took some photographs from a game, off the TV, with a simple film camera and had the photographs developed. To me this is giving the game a step closer to reality.
Conversely, when you take something that physically exists and create a digital copy of it, does it somehow compromise its reality? It’s an interesting subject and one I feel worth exploring with my work.
You have been using games as a medium, raw material, and canvas for quite some time. For instance, you have painted several scenes from videogames - I am referring to the Outpost - shown at the Holborne Museum of Art, in Bath - and Watchtower series. Do you see some kind of historical continuity between game landscapes and traditional painting? What is the quid, the essence, of the gaming medium in representing, or, rather, simulating "nature"? In other words, what idea of nature is constructed by games?
Context and execution is important when combining painting with games. As soon as you lift a paint brush you instantly create the link to historic painting. When games simulate nature, they too are opening up to be decontextualised. Painting lends a little more authenticity to work, and I’ve been able to use it to my advantage when dealing with art & games. Then again, there is always the danger of slipping into fandom & fan art.
Videogame spaces are often created with the only purpose of being smashed, that is, destruction in inherent and intrinsic to their own existence. You are extrapolating buildings, structures, scenes and situations from the screen to the canvas. By doing so, you are actively re-framing their importance and "visibility". In 2008, you mentioned that this process gives the image more ontological substance. Can you elaborate? Also, what inspired you to create such an interesting body of work? What is about games that you find so interesting, as a visual artist?
Games have their own language, same as photography, video, sculpture and painting. They all have aspects of ontology and when you mix things up you get interesting results. To bring it back to Postcards from Mexico, the screen shot ‘postcards’ have specific 6x4 aspect ratios, and they also have post processed slight camera lens defects, such as vignetting in the corners. In the work discussed in 2008, the physical process of painting the scenes completely changes the context and inherent nature of the source.
My inspiration came from looking at new ways to represent location via painting. Prior to the game paintings in 2008 I had been painting from digital & found sources and produced some separate digital pieces. The Outpost and Watchtower series came from an amalgamation of these two previously separate practices. I have been developing it since then. Part of me has always been intrigued in art imitating art, for example, early photographers taking self portraits holding brushes and palettes. This was kind of my take on that, to some extent.
Artists respond best to their immediate surroundings and it just so happens that my immediate surroundings involve video games.
In Skybox Friedrich, you allude to and simultaneously remediate the aesthetics of Casper David Friedrich's art. Why do you think gaming is so obsessed with the Romantic style?
Games have their own over synthesisedversions of reality. As games and game engines get more advanced the inherent limitations decrease, therefore, developers are more likely to produce a gorgeous and overly romantic landscape than a boring realistic landscape. They want to make the player go ‘wow’ which you don’t always get in real life. I love how this can tie visually into Romantic landscapes, perpetually beautiful, misty, sunrises and sunsets, beams of light, and of course, the third person view of the main subject.
Your examination of game landscapes continues with CLIFTON, a remix of Team 17 seminal puzzle game Worms. How did you develop this project?
My piece CLIFTON was produced specifically for the Bristol Festival of Photography. There was a group exhibition that had a number of responses to Brunel's famous Clifton Suspension Bridge.
Bridges tend to feature in my work from time to time. They provide a link from one location to another, often over a body of water. I also enjoy the visuals of a horizontal line cutting across an otherwise organic landscape. In games, bridges can be control points, objectives, destruct points, or action set pieces.
Team17’s Worms game has been a favourite of mine since it came out in 1995. The game itself is relatively easy to modify, and user generated landscapes are simple to create and install. Worms itself makes great use of bridges, providing links across randomly generated landscapes. I thought I’d play with this concept and introduce a replica real life bridge into the game, in a fairly crude analogue to digital conversion.
I must also point out Worms was not exactly a puzzle game, more of a turn based artillery game.
"The addition of the military installation adds a contemporary subject to otherwise 'dated' landscape paintings. The contemporary theme adds political weight to a painting that has nothing to do with such subject matter.
Military installation subject matter relates to the idea of the computer game shooter more than the previous landscapes, but they sacrifice the calmness and relation to historic art inherent in the landscape painting."
Indeed! I should know better considering that I am playing the latest iterations, Worms Battlegrounds on the Xbox One right now. Apropos... What are you working on these days? And playing?
I am currently working on a number of projects, a number of them experimenting with the idea of painting en plein air. For example, I have a series of landscape paintings I am producing using webcams from around Ireland as my source. I like the idea of the painting being of a set place and time, and the challenge of a changeable landscape, forcing a quick capture of the scene. Concepts of location and forced composition/colour are also important. I don't think anyone has tackled subjects like emigration or location quite in this way before. Its also a kind of homage to great Irish artists from the past.
This idea is also being explored in relation to gaming, through a number of small paintings using the stylised eastern block landscapes of indie mod DayZ. There is an even more important role of haste with these paintings, as the game is only played live online, and there is constant danger of death due to other players or from zombies. You can’t stick around too long in one place.
The intention is to do some resurrection work on an older project, eBay Morandi, which I don’t think I developed as much as I’d liked. eBay itself is fascinating and I think there is a lot more to claim from it artistically.
I have been doing some pieces based around Google Street View in the last year or so, but none of them were particularly to my liking so that project is on temporary hold. There are some other game related pieces I’d like to do but will keep them quiet until I’ve established exactly what I want and how to do it.
Game wise, I’ve been really loving the indie game scene. Generally AAA titles with their ‘catch-all’ methods have lost their appeal. I like games that are a little bit deeper, personal, with rough edges but also great experiences.
I loved DayZ, found it to be one of the most original and entertaining games in a long time. Anything by Edmund McMillan, I’ve put more hours than I’d like to admit into The Binding of Isaac and I am excited for the reissue. I like Minecraft but preferred RPG-alike Terraria. Adventure games like Kentucky Route Zero and To the Moon are great. I also loved the tediously realistic Papers, Please. I genuinely enjoy 'non-games' like Proteus and Dear Esther too. The closest thing to a big budget game I’ve put any hours into has been Blizzard’s Hearthstone, which is both exceeding difficult and fun to play. The last game I bought was Kero Blaster, an excellent and charming run & gun platformer for iOS by Cave Story creator, Pixel.