Art Review: Jason Salavon's exhibit blurs the boundaries at Rockford Art Museum

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-113036239332636.jpg’, ‘Photo of artwork courtesy of Susan Webb Tregay’, ‘Jason Salavon’s digital exhibition blurs the boundaries among photography, painting and graphic design.’);

Jason Salavon’s digital exhibition blurs the boundaries, sometimes literally, among photography, painting and graphic design. This show in Rockford Art Museum’s Anderson Gallery is both beguiling and intellectually interesting—blurring another boundary.

As you come down the stairs to the lower level of the museum, you first see a photo of Santa! Let’s admit it, this is shocking stuff to show in an art museum. Part of a series called “100 Special Moments,” “Kids with Santa” is immediately recognizable from a distance. Up close, it is blurred almost beyond recognition. It’s interesting that patterns of color, in this case white against tints and shades of red, are so instinctively recognized by some recess in our brains.

This series began in 1998 when Salavon scanned his parents’ 1967 yearbook and enlarged the images to about 5 by 4 feet! Digital imagery was relatively crude way back in 1998, so these images have a different (antique?) look to them. They, too, are blurred, but the surfaces are held together by a web of grays. 1967 was a turbulent, exciting year to be young, yet these classmates will always be remembered in bow ties and black velvet drapes around the “girls’” shoulders.

Salavon’s Golem series is a computer programmer’s dream—and a painter’s worst nightmare. According to his Web site, this artist-authored software system “relentlessly generate[s] an infinite variety” of abstract, expressionistic paintings. In Jewish folklore, Golem was an artificially created human being. So is this program. It is a digital-age version of giving 10,000 monkeys 10,000 paintbrushes. There is an interactive computer program in the gallery that lets you select a “painting” from, yes, 9,999 abstract images. Many of the images I checked were beautiful, and the Web site says they pass the “Turing Test,” an IQ test for artificial intelligence. But my artist’s eye did have problems with others.

The exhibition has four of these images blown up large and printed on canvas. Here, the cross-over between artistic beauty and computer savvy becomes intriguing. My favorite piece in this series seemed to use Wolf Kahn’s beguiling colors with Richard Diebenkorn’s geometric design strategies. Where “brush strokes” intermingle there are a smattering of pixels in a wonderful array of colors. Is the computer age impinging on the turf of these elderly, respected artists, or is it expanding their artistic contributions?

Finally, a series of studies for “American Variety” was the most recent work in the show. A project for the U.S. Census Bureau, it consists of a short video and four video stills—transparencies that are backlit and glowing. The video begins with a circle of black ink splats that spiral upward, and then grow into rods of subtle colors. These rods fan out into translucent veils that blow and dance, multiply and congeal. “American Variety.” While very pleasing and hypnotic, human artistic sensibilities might have found ways to visually introduce the tensions of daily life into this work.

Jason Salavon’s show is now hanging in the Anderson Gallery of the Rockford Art Museum. The artist will be present at the show’s opening Oct. 28, when we all can pepper him with our questions. The work of Robert McCauley will be opening that evening, as well. More about that later.

These exhibits will continue at the Rockford Art Museum, 711 N. Main St., through Jan. 8, 2006. Museum hours are Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. Admission is $3, children and students are free. Thursdays are free for everyone.

Susan Webb Tregay, a Rockford artist, can be reached online at

From the Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2005, issue

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