Tim Schwartz: “Escapism” at Leon Gallery


At first sight, the Tim Schwartz pieces that make up “Escapism” at Leon Gallery look like simple minimalist abstracts made up of constructivist arrangements of dark gray rectangles against white grounds. These rectangles are outlined in extremely thin metal frames. However, those gray rectangles are not colored solids, but in fact feature extremely subtle renderings of sea waves or roiling clouds; very dark, these depictions themselves resemble abstractions. Barely visible under the glare of the gallery lights, and seeming to float behind the imagery of waves and clouds, are ghostly passages of text taken either from Lawrence Lessig’s “Free Culture” (2004) or “The Anatomy of Melancholy,” a 17th-century work by Robert Burton. This inclusion of printed writing provides a clue as to what we are actually looking at-disabled ePaper devices, like Kindles. Schwartz begins by hacking the devices, then uses interference patterns of his own design to create the imagery. Unlike other digital screens, on ePaper screens, the imagery that appears when the power source is taken away will become permanent. Schwartz has likened his process to that of early photography, and the pictures he conveys are grainy and indistinct, just like antique photos. But instead of recording external reality, as photographers do, Schwartz has invented his own environment that apes natural forms and processes. In this way, he sets up a dichotomy between the real and the virtual, with his waves and clouds appearing to be actual depictions, instead of what they are-non-objective electronic patterns.

A noted Los Angeles-based artist and activist, Schwartz first studied physics, earning a degree from Wesleyan College in Connecticut, before receiving his MFA from the University of California San Diego just six years ago. He’s also an expert on digital media and the art of hacking, and has widely lectured on those subjects. He has a special interest in the dynamic between traditional archives and digitized ones, and generally speaking, “Escapism” at Leon delves into that very subject. Digital techniques have gained a major foothold in the visual arts over the last twenty years, but few artists address the high tech medium in the same way
that Schwartz does. For Schwartz, it is the actual computer screens covered with static images that are his final products, as opposed to his having employed the technology to produce prints or photos or other things that would exist outside the devices themselves.

Ocean #1
Tim Schwartz
55 1⁄2″ x 23″
Photo: courtesy of Leon Gallery