Laurence Gartel: A Digital Art Innovator
Issue: Volume: 28 Issue: 11 (November 2005)

Laurence Gartel: A Digital Art Innovator

© 2000 Laurence Gartel
Clown Cuzin (2000) An ink jet print, this collage was made in Painter and Photoshop running on an IntelliStation. It was exhibited at the Edison College Gallery of Art.

© 2005 Laurence Gartel
India (2005) Created on an iMac G4 running Painter, this print was produced as part of the upcoming DVD titled Gartel: India.

© 1989 Laurence Gartel
Double Disguise (1989) This R Type print selection, which was created on a Commodore Amiga, was first exhibited at the Joan Whitney Payson Museum of Art in Portland, Main

Laurence Gartel, whose home base is in Boca Raton, Florida, is regarded as the father of the digital art movement. For the past 30 years, his works have been exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida, the Joan Whitney Payson Museum in Portland, Maine, the Long Beach Museum of Art in California, the Princeton University Art Museum in New Jersey, and many more, including permanent collections at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History. In fact, Gartel's biography for his pioneering efforts includes being named to various Who's Who lists.

Born and raised in New York City, Gartel-a self-described "artist from birth"--instructed Andy Warhol how to use the Amiga Computer. Since then, he has rubbed elbows and developed professional associations with many celebrities, including musicians Debbie Harry of Blondie and the late Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols. More recently, he has created artwork for pop stars Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake.

Gartel attended the New York School of Visual Arts with fellow art student (now renowned graffiti-style artist) Keith Haring, earning a BFA in graphics. Soon thereafter, Gartel started his electronic career working alongside fabled Korean artist Nam June Paik at Media Study/Buffalo, an electronic art center in New York. There, people were experimenting with large video cameras and early analog computers by breaking down a picture by gray values, which they manipulated by turning knobs. "I wanted to capture an image off a monitor," Gartel recalls of his early ambition. "I believed that electronic art should hang on a wall like a painting."

"I turned to this medium because I knew that the future of art would be electronic-I just had a vision," says Gartel of his decision to go digital. "And when I saw the potentials of manipulating an image using electronic means, I knew that the possibilities were endless and that nobody had created anything like this before."

Within the digital medium, Gartel began experimenting with tools and techniques, which led to his "trademark" style of digital collage that mixes painting and photo manipulation-a decade before corporate-produced software allowed others to do so, he points out. "Anyone can do a collage today in Photoshop or some other program, but I did it decades ago prior to the availability of commercial painting and photo-manipulation software," he points out.

"At the time, there were no personal computers, no commercial hardware or software, no digital printers, no storage devices, and no digital cameras. So to capture an image, I had to throw a black cloth over my head and use a film camera on a tripod to photograph the monitor," Gartel explains. "I had to make sure that I would not get the refresh scan lines, so I had to photograph the screen at one-thirtieth of a second or less, and the final result was a 35mm transparency of whatever I created on the computer screen."

Today, thanks to technological advances, the scan lines are no longer an issue. Other advances, such as those in the printing process, have led to evolutions of Gartel's work. Lately, his interest lies in creating multimedia works and motion works through a time line, fusing art and music, then burning the result onto a DVD (see "Visual Notes," September 2004, pg. 10). "The distribution of art through DVD technology is explosive right now. And, who knows what's next. But in my opinion, the cell phone and PDAs as other distribution and viewing practices will explode soon as well."

Gartel's pieces can be described as unique collages, which tell a story. "Good artwork has a succinct message that is embedded within multiple views. Thus, each picture that I use is carefully chosen and carefully positioned," he states. "It is the placement that makes someone a true genius of storytelling. Situate an element in the wrong location or of the wrong size, and it sends a completely incorrect message. Or, if the collaged item is placed in an awkward location that doesn't make sense, the resulting piece is 'hard on the eyes,' as collage should have a flow, allowing so the viewer moves from one part of the picture to another. By looking at the overall image from a distance, the viewer should see a sea of color that takes the person on a visual journey."

So what makes Gartel's work so unique? As he states, his art has always been autobiographical, and includes people he has met and happenings he has experienced. He also includes personal artifacts from his travels. "I don't follow any particular style. So, I guess that is my style in a way," he says. "If you are living, traveling, reading, looking, observing, studying, thinking, and being emotional, then you have a good palette to work from. And I've traveled enough and deducted enough to have a library of stories in my head."

Moreover, Gartel's collages contain images of varied resolutions, textures, and surfaces. As a result, a person may not see everything in the image at first glance, encouraging the viewer to take another, closer look.

Gartel also describes his works as a complete evolution of the entire medium-another aspect that differentiates his works from those by other collage artists. "I have used practically every piece of hardware and software to come along, and have experimented with turnkey systems and those at research labs at the New York Institute of Technology and the Jet Propulsion Lab, for example. Some programs that I have used are no longer available, but if I would use them today, people would probably think the art was truly new in the sense that it doesn't resemble the signature look of current programs. And art should not look like software."

As Gartel notes, when the Page Curl effects were released years ago in Kai's Power Tools, the result was a programmed effect, not a piece of art. But everyone used it as such. "That's not art. And filters in Photoshop are not art, in and of themselves, unless they are massaged and managed into something that creates an emotional statement," he says.

Currently, Gartel uses a range of tools for his artistic endeavors: Illustrator, Painter, Photoshop, Amorphium, Bryce, and Poser/Shade. And, he is quick to point out that he enjoys using different versions of a program, "because there may be something in one that is not in another."

So what can the artist achieve through the computer that he cannot do through traditional means? "Everything," Gartel says. Then again, he also finds traditional mediums interesting-provided they inspire him. "Computer graphics allows a person to create images that no one has seen before, or it provides a unique perspective. People who create redundant images are not innovators."

According to Gartel, if someone is trying to create something "new" in print or in CG, it's probably been done before. Yet, the digital medium now has expanded so much and extends into so many genres and delivery systems that there is a wide array of options for today's CG artists. Digital filmmaking, for instance, allows for creative storytelling in unique ways. The editing process allows a person to create, fix, manipulate, and tell a story just the way the person envisions. Moreover, the advent of DVDs allows a person to create a work and project it on, say, a side of a building.

"So much innovation can be done now," Gartel maintains.

Recently, the artist traveled across India with a team of eight people, taking more than 3000 photographs and hours of digital clips-a compilation of art and his interpretations of the country that he is fusing with world music. The multimedia release, titled Gartel: India, will be available this coming January. Meanwhile, Gartel is also hosting his own television show in Miami called Culture Talk, during which he interviews "the movers and shakers" in Florida who contribute their excellence to all things cultural: film, art, music, fashion, and performing arts.

Gartel also has published two books-Gartel: A Cybernetic Romance and Gartel Arte e Tecnologia. In mid-October, at the finale to the Mobile Imaging Summit, he created a master 24- by 36-inch print live in front of the conference audience by collaging together images he received from people around the world via their camera phones, incorporating the images into a final print. (To view the results, go to

In the future, Gartel plans to make a film in Miami that's set to urban music and gives a unique view of the city. He'd also like to create a film festival made with low-cost camera equipment, and begin a gallery featuring great, innovative artists. And, he would like to design a sneaker. (He already has his own pen collection and neckwear line.)

And being Gartel, he will no doubt find success in whatever venture he tries.

A selection of images by Gartel is featured on these pages. A more extensive look at the artist and his works can be found on the Computer Graphics World Web site at For additional information on the innovator, visit

© 1995 Laurence Gartel
GM TRUCK (1995) This ink jet print, created on an IntelliStation with Painter, was produced as part of Gartel’s ongoing “automotive” focus.

© 1987 Laurence Gartel
Energy Men (1987) Created on a Commodore Amiga, this image was part of the artist’s “Amiga Series,” which took advantage of the personal computer.

© 1991 Laurence Gartel
Dance of the Moonfairies (1991) Created on an Apple IIci, this was the catalog and signature picture of Gartel’s retrospective show at the Norton Museum of Art.

© 1986 Laurence Gartel
Lip Service (1986) This black-and-white print was created on the original Macintosh 512 with the first MacPaint software and a Thunderscan, a primitive scanning device.