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Date Minted: April 21, 2020

Artist Description: This wonderfully colored and gilded water dragon rests in its rugged habitat. Its sinuous, fractal body is reflected in the rippled lake as it waits to feed.  

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

Integral to artist Dick Gillman’s (misterdg29620) ethos is this, taken from his Superrare bio, “As a teacher, he has inspired others to embrace the digital genre, allowing the creation of images that are almost impossible to achieve with traditional techniques.” Though there’s very little rhyme or reason in Gillman’s oeuvre, this being an artist with a sprawling interest in techniques and composition styles and aesthetics and subject matter, this is a defining and omnipresent principle: You can’t do this kind of art without the aid of a computer. Gillman’s art is a rowdy celebration of digital techniques, of which he is apparently a multifarious master. Glitch, 3D sculpture, hyper-realistic texture, digital collage, portraiture and the abstract; this is a 240 piece collection on Superrare alone, and looking through it, one might assume they were within the artistic catalogue of an entire digital art museum, let alone the collected works of a single artist. Therefore, comparing Water-Dragon to the other works in Gillman’s collection is a futile exercise; we might find dozens of semi-comparisons to it, but probably find the overwhelming majority of his work to share little with Water-Dragon, this interesting piece of paint-like glitch created in mid-April of 2020. Gillman is a digital art veteran, a savvy septuagenarian with a wild eye and limitless ability. Water-Dragon displays the artist completely in his bag, exploring computer graphics, exploring fractals, exploring textures and color together; using them to establish a new kind of impressionism. What he’s created is abstract to the fullest, and yet, doesn’t it feel so familiar? Doesn’t it seem to flit around on the very edge of mimesis? 

Using water as a framing device, quite like Frenetik Void, Gillman constructs his piece in a cave. Or it might be a cave, certainly a dark and ominous cavern, overcast by a crag of glitchy, unreal texture, coated along the ground by a shimmering series of reflective wave; is it actually water beneath the image, or does Gillman’s compositional technique merely mirror water’s effect? Obviously, our eye is not drawn to the faint aquatic texture or the dark blue and grey and black glitchiness in the corner, but to the fantastical creature before us, positioned central in the piece, this completely abstract and unknowable series of shapes, twists, and colors, the eponymous Water-Dragon, if I had to guess. The dragon itself is hardly an organic creature, but more the impression gleaned from a completely unknowable series of digital events. With skin made of a hundred rainbow hues and edges constructed from a series of swirling fractals, the dragon’s twisting, eccentric body seems to have come about as the random result of a parent shape being dragged, like paint by a brush, across the length of the image. Its colors stay spread throughout its shape, dripping like layers of combined paint. Its body touches down into the water below it, cut into hanging stalactites that stick out like feathers. This is a dragon without a head. It’s a dragon with hardly a tail. If it breathes fire, I certainly don’t see from where. Most artists, I presume, would be comfortable giving this abstract image an equally abstract title. But Gillman has no interest in thwarting us; he has created an abstract image, but fills it with what impressions he gleans from it, informs us of that impression, and in that simple act, means his abstract creation is forever married to what it seemed to resemble to the artist.

Titling it Water-Dragon certainly confirms, or anticipates, our expectations. The beautiful, convoluted shape seems to have some spiritual, quasi-mythological character. I can see how one would look at it and see the elongated, feathered dragons of Chinese mythology. I can see how the panels of refracted color in the upper-right corner of the screen would resemble smoke billowing out from a dragon’s nose. What I can’t see, however, is any indication of what came first: Image, or Title.

Not that it matters, because the two are forever entangled. To see Water-Dragon is to look deeply into it and try to confirm the artist’s conjecture of exactly what we’re being shown. Not that we’d seek to doubt the artist for any reason, but if we’re told that there’s a Water-Dragon in this image, we want to see where and how one has come to such a conclusion. We will bend the piece itself, and its many abstract aspects, to our will so as to confirm that initial understanding. We will, ourselves, place a nose there. Long, dangling teeth here. A tail and feet and the puddles underneath it. What we need not do, because it’s entirely obvious, is question the artist’s ability. He has anticipated many of our preconceptions and questions, and has displayed an immense ability to mimic non-digital entities and processes and ideas using purely digital, unrelated techniques. I don’t know if this is actually a Water-Dragon I’m looking at, but I know it has to be, and I know the artist wants me to believe it is so, and I know, especially after looking at Gillman’s bursting works, that I will work to affirm him. 

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