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Traveling Through Painted Worlds

Eric Friden | 19 Jul 2013 22:00
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"I had been dreaming of having my own 3D world made of paintings, and when I did the programming for the first time I of course made a lot of mistakes. But the mistakes turned out to produce much more interesting pictures!" Maja Rohwetter says. She's a German artist who makes paintings inspired by bugs and glitches in computer graphics.

I got to sit down and chat with the 43 year old between exhibitions in her native Germany, to talk about her process, her relation to videogames, and what it is about virtual environments that catches her imagination. As we start talking, she quickly and effortlessly moves into the very philosophical interest she has with 3D modelling.

In 3D environments, the world is incoherent.

"In 3D environments, the world is incoherent," Rohwetter says, speaking like a creator that still finds her own work fascinating. "In the real world, if we are talking to each other and I could see you in front of me - I could turn around and I would still be sure that you are there. In a virtual world it's not like that since everything is always calculated to the current viewpoint of the user; to save data space you wouldn't be there anymore if I wasn't looking at you. These clashes of the spatial concept are interesting to me, because it opens up a new freedom to think about room and to think about how spatial situations interact. In a way, it allows me to question my visual attitude."

Making paintings that try to capture these concepts means that her paintings, at first glance, look a lot like abstract art. Large triangular fields painted in strong colors, collected with no immediately apparent purpose - like it was made in the early 20th century when the style was to assemble shapes and colors in inscrutable patterns. However, Rohwetter's art is something very different. If you look closely, and this might only happen if you have played games for most of your life, you start to realize that her paintings have the same fundamental building blocks as three-dimensional games; in the end, it's all built by polygons and textures.
In fact, Rohwetter's art is not abstract, but depictive; instead of conveying meaning solely through shapes and colors, her paintings depict, in excruciating detail, objects that already exists. In a sense, it is a very realistic painting of a very abstract landscape.

With this in mind it's tempting to label her paintings as glorified screenshots, that they freeze time and collapse depth until the virtual landscape has turned into a rigid, two-dimensional object. That's a label she objects to strongly. "To me, painting is not at all like photography, and my paintings are not like stills. If you move through the painting you will always perceive different things, or maybe have a whole aspect of the painting change. Because I work so much with colliding spaces you sometimes think, 'oh now I see, this is in front of that,' but if you look further you start to think the opposite," Rohwetter says. "The paintings are really moving in themselves."

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