Printmaker fuses real world with virtual in Arts Center exhibit

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Lawrence Art Center artist in residence, John Paul McCaughey is pictured with an installation of his, which like his work, aims to blend real world items with those of the digital world and consists largely of items he has printed and found throughout Lawrence.

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Image courtesy of the artist

"Cynthia, Maggie, Yelena, and Blake" by John Paul McCaughey

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Image courtesy of the artist

"Merging I" and "Merging II," by John McCaughey

Other printmaking events

• John Paul McCaughey will discuss using a new aesthetic concept for works in "Not Compatible" at 7 p.m. May 29 at his Insight Art Talk.

• John McCaughey and visiting artist Jesus De La Rosa have been leading a Large Format Steamrolling Print class at the Arts Center where students carve large-scale 4-by-8-foot woodcuts. The class will meet in the street on May 31 and use a steamroller to make prints. Other artists throughout Kansas have been welcomed to print using the steamroller as well. This will be in conjunction with the Art Tougeau parade.

The level in which technology has advanced is making the physical world around us slightly fuzzy.

Looking out the window of an airplane, the patches of earth below resemble the perfect grid-like structure of Google Maps.

From the comfort of your couch, you can travel the world with Google Street View at your fingertips.

Army uniform designs, traditionally a camouflage pattern, have adopted a pixilated look.

These three instances exemplify the concept of “new aesthetic” that Lawrence Arts Center printmaking artist-in-residence John Paul McCaughey has been working with for a new display at Lawrence Arts Center titled “Not Compatible,” which opens to the public Friday and runs through June 22. The "new aesthetic" — a term coined by artist James Bridle — refers to society’s fascination with blurring the lines between digital and real.

“We’re designing things in this world based on our digital world,” McCaughey says. “In this work I wanted to capture that word ‘blurring.’ How can I do that? What kind of space would that look like?”

McCaughey started by collecting unwanted objects found in Dumpsters, wooden scraps from a construction site, wallpaper and other found home items to use in his first installation. He then fused these items with paper arrow computer cursors, cut-outs of Google Maps image, and bright, three-dimensional dots in cyan, magenta, yellow and black to resemble CMYK pixels, which is a theme that recurs throughout his works.

Taking over the back wall of a gallery, the installation is McCaughey’s physical representation of humanity's increased dependency on the virtual world.

McCaughey began his artistic exploration of the “new aesthetic” while pursuing his master’s degree at Ohio State University, creating an exhibit using QR codes as it relates to surveillance.

“QR codes are really cool because they bring you from the world that you live in right now to a virtual world,” McCaughey says.

Usually it’s Subway or McDonalds bringing you from the real menu to a virtual one, he says. “That’s really boring, so I was like, 'How can I make these more powerful?'”

Walking around downtown Columbus, he photographed areas where he found surveillance cameras. Later he would insert those photos into QR codes. Instead of tiny black squares making up the code, it would be tiny photographs of the cameras, and scanning the codes would take viewers to a map where they could then find the location of those cameras.

“It still works because it doesn’t need to be black and white; it just needs to be light and dark for your iPhone to read it,” he says.

In the gallery itself, one QR code would take viewers to a live video feed of them scanning the code in the gallery, “so you could watch yourself in your iPhone as the camera is looking at you,” McCaughey says.

McCaughey uses prints he makes within larger sculpture and installation pieces. He is currently teaching a couple of printmaking classes at the Arts Center as part of his residency and will be teaching a drawing class this summer.

His preoccupation with the pervasive manner of technology is expressed in other mediums in the “Not Compatible” exhibit. In a room adjacent to the first installation is an elevated geometric rock made from wood sitting atop a fresh bed of sod (which McCaughey has to water daily to maintain). He plans to sprinkle dried dandelions on the grass to look like a mini-landscape.

“So you have this geometric shape that you kind of believe is a rock sitting on something organic, something real,” he explains. “This reference to digital and then the reference to the real world, once again.”

McCaughey will also hang silkscreen prints on the wall, the original inspirations for the two installations in the exhibit. One piece called “Cynthia, Maggie, Yelena, and Blake” is a four-color silkscreen print created using CMYK halftone dots that depict four strangers he found on Facebook. McCaughey then used large CMYK dots to conceal parts of their faces, taking inspiration from John Baldessari’s ‘90s works using dots to obscure subjects’ faces.

“Not only are CMYK pixels an important way to see our world, but they are also being used as a way to censor it by blocking the image behind it,” he says. “Of course the dots were not originally meant as a way to hide the image; just the opposite, advertisers use these codes so people can actually see what they are scanning. But I liked this notion of duality with those dots.”

His stay in Lawrence, specifically at the Arts Center, has been one of the best professional experiences of his life, he says. Staff members have gone out of their way to get to know him, and he is involved with many other smaller projects, like painting a new mural on the wall with reasons students in the dance school love to dance.

“Here out of any other place I’ve been, I feel like the community has cared about my presence,” he says. “I’ve lived in places where people don’t care to talk to me at all. Everyone’s just working, working, working. Here, everyone has welcomed me with open arms.”

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