Geoffrey Lillemon Of Champagne Valentine Brings A Painterly Approach To Digital Art [Artist Q&A]
Geoffrey Lillemon reinterprets artistic practice by bringing a classic romantic painting and drawing style to technology. Unwilling to be restricted by medium, Geoffrey uses various art forms, mixed and moving media, literature, and soundscapes to create works of hallucinatory poetry that reach into the infinite depths of the subconscious of his viewers.
Lillemon was one of the founding members and creative directors of Champagne Valentine, a shapeshift studio situated between the realms of advertising, technology and research. He has exhibited at the Museo Tamayo in Mexico City, was the Invite d’Honneur at the Centre Pompidou, and has produced award-winning work for the Tate Modern.
The Creators Project: Prior to Champagne Valentine, how did you come to playing with art and technology as coexisting mediums?
Geoffrey Lillemon: Before Champagne Valentine, I was focused on the net art movement. Taking traditional mediums, like painting and drawing and adding a slight level of interactivity and animation to create digital pieces of art that would use the internet as a gallery. This was the start of merging technology and art together. From this, I broke the art with technology, and broke the technology with art.
When and how did Champagne Valentine start?
This got the attention of the Banff New Media Institute in Canada, which is where I moved in 2002 when I was 20 to work in the creative electronics environment and explore more complex methods of merging the two. I met Anita Fontaine there, and we are working on mobile experiences with a focus on location-based cinema.
Was this still as an artistic exploration or with a bit of a commercial mindset as well?
This was still with artistic intention, although such an engine and idea has massive commercial application, so we would tell that to the bosses and investors, which gave birth to the idea of making art and selling it to clients or commercial applications later. We were keeping the method of creation pure but still paying the bills and pleasing those with vested interests.
I then got a job at Modernista in Boston working with Nando Costa. Anita and I were enjoying our collaborations and work methods, so I brought her add into work with us all.
During this time of over-saturation and a lot of homogenous ‘motion graphics’ work, how did you try and distinguish yourselves?
I think we always had a bit of a rough edge and kept humanity in the work, with sometimes even sloppy levels of production. This added character to the work we where doing then. Also a big part of working is being friendly to people because, at the end of the day, the work should be good, but more importantly, it’s how you spend your day. Having good energy so everyone can make interesting things and not have a selfish, polished, robotic method.
I can relate. For me, it was also a rebellion and a way to assert that it was the content and not the finish that was most important.
I agree, and still agree about this way. It’s about the meaning and story or approach.
So what happened next, specifically with Champagne Valentine?
We set up Champagne Valentine in Amsterdam as a commercial company (before that, we had the name and were operating it as an art collective in New York and Boston). We started to offer Champagne Valentine as a digital creative agency and sought out clients while still keeping true to the work flow of making pure art with no commercial purpose, then showing these tests to potential clients and adapting them to something that made sense for them, and our tastes. The main thing is being able to communicate a good idea without too much of an investment, then people get excited and are willing to part with money. Low cost prototypes to create interest and excitement.
And then you grew? Did that growth eventually start to compromise your initial process/principles?
Basically we started to get treated like an actual advertising agency and with that comes massive demands of running a business.
Was there a desire to come back to the purity of where you started?
It got to the point of having to choose between being business men and women or artists and the art won. We then set Champagne Valentine aside to pursue individual art practices. I’ve gone back to making art with Oculart and pushing out digital works and collaborating with companies or brands when it makes for a stronger art piece, such as the pieces for Bernhard Willhelm. This way, you still keep [yourself] challenged with these new opportunities and different ideas.
It’s also about feeding new ideas and approaches to keep the dance moving, but also good not to over commit. Generally, the clients I get are saying, “Just do your thing.” That’s why they ask me, not because they want a specific thing, they just want an Oculart approach.
Do you think it’s possible to be fulfilled artistically working with a brand?
Yeah, I think so. It depends on their involvement. If it’s a fashion brand, for example, it makes your own work stronger. Somebody had to design the dress for the classical portrait.
In regards to your process; it seems now, your mind balances pretty simultaneously between one of fine art and technology. Was this always the case? Is there still a dialogue or is it just pure coexistence at this point?
I think both have their inspirations. Currently, I have been doing classical oil painting, which has taught me the division of labor. For example, preparing the ground of the painting, doing the underpainting, waiting for dry time, then days of glazing. So this technique applies to digital as well, like setting up the base scene or a framework to develop from or getting a pipeline between 3dsmax and web technologies and setting up a basic level of interactivity that accommodates changes in the 3D file. This is the like the painting ground in the digital world, then from there I can start adding layers and see them in realtime. This speeds up the process to the point that it feels like painting with digital assets as opposed to an oil paint.
This changes the drawing process, too. I’ve been testing out photogrammetry [and] was able to scan a head and generate a 3D model, then print this 3D model and do a projection mapped drawing that was based off of the 3D scan, as opposed to doing a drawing and making a 3D model from that.
Has this change in process affected the final outcome of your latest personal work? Has there been an aesthetic or other shift?
I think this stuff is affecting the new personal work in a way that is more of a statement about the process and work flow than about keeping a specific aesthetic. I think all of the work I’m doing feels ‘Oculart’ but it doesn’t have to be victorian surrealism net art — it can also be psychedelic projection mapped interiors. I think one of the consistent things that’s important to me is character and story in the work. So having something human to identify with, and in that case the idea of bringing a sculpture to life is an appealing idea. It’s cheaper than having a baby and there is still something that you created to have a moment with at a dinner table.
So if the medium is partially the message, do you have any sort of idealogical connection to the digital world?
I don’t see a separation between the digital and physical world anymore. It’s all one thing now. It’s just life, and art as a reflection of that life.
Any thoughts on the worlds of art and technology and how they can continue to evolve towards total integration?
More tools and technologies that are available allow for the same experimental approaches. The same people that broke the television to make art (like Nam JunePaik) are going to be pushing our holographic particle display systems of the future. It’s just new opportunities to break things and try to throw humanity into it on some level. They feed each other and dance.
Is this ‘flower/still-life’ series a focus at the moment on redefining painting for yourself in general?
Yeah. I’m going to make about 12 of them with a slight narrative arch, put them on Oculart, then put them to iPad apps and sell those as collectable fine art with a certificate of purchase and stuff.
Sounds pretty cool. Any idea how you’re going to go about the practicalities of that? Is there a market for something like that yet?
Yeah, absolutely. I think more and more people are valuing exclusive digital content. Whether it’s the format you are selling or access to installation instructions giving something more immersive than just web-based experiences.
Lastly, if budget and/or technological restrictions weren’t an issue, are there any projects you’ve got in mind that you’d love to develop?
I’m really fascinated with the idea of realtime mesh generation on (future of Google Glasses for example) and that way we can re-skin the world around us in realtime. You could put the glasses on, walk outside, and the world is made of velvet and diamonds. Instead of artists making flat pieces of works, they are making realtime filters.