The digital mastery of Chuck Clip in Second Life

Elven Falls Art Collective, November 2022: Chuck Clip

Chuck Clip has perhaps been most widely known as a tireless promoter and curator of art in Second Life through his Sinful Retreat regions, which have housed a stunning mix of personal art as well as exhibitions and a home for both 2D and 3D artists from across the platform and the world at large. However – and as I’ve noted in the past in these pages – he is himself an accomplished artist in the physical world and in Second Life (where he has also exhibited widely, if often quietly), working in a range of digital mediums, including prims, which he still sculpts today in preference to using mesh and external-to-SL tools like Blender.

I’ve long been attracted to Chuck’s work, particularly his 2D art, because of its powerful expressiveness, and his ability to take and mix a range of digital techniques to create pieces of art that are visually captivating and impactful whilst carrying messages of social conscience either directly or through more esoteric means using the surreal, the fantastic and the dark – elements which may be born in part out of his own life path – to offer insights into the human psyche, love, life, death, religion, and the (my term here) ambivalent nature of the human condition.

Elven Falls Art Collective, November 2022: Chuck Clip
I went to Rochester Institute of Technology initially for medical illustration. After set backs with mental illness, I returned to school, graduating from duCret School of Art for graphic design. Aside from a few small shows in local galleries, mostly I freelanced to make ends meet … My 2D work is created mostly digital using a variety of methods, from photography, to digital painting, to compositing, and more recently, using artificial intelligence to enhance and evolve these pieces into something entirely new. 

– Chuck Clip

Many of these aspects of Chuck’s work can be seen and appreciated at Elven Falls Art Collective, owned and operated by operated by Ant (AntoineMambazo) and Aires Hax, where the main gallery is currently given over to an extensive exhibition of chuck’s art across its two floors and which opened on November 18th, 2022.

Elven Falls Art Collective, November 2022: Chuck Clip

Starting with the two pieces facing visitors as they enter the gallery’s foyer and progressing right throughout the seven halls (three on the lower floor, four on the upper, reached via the foyer elevator) this is a veritable tour de force of artistry at its finest.  Each and every piece is layered both in terms of its physical composition and its meaning / interpretation. Some aspects of the pieces offer might disturb the sensitive; other might upset the deeply religious – but all will challenge and give pause for thought as to the statements each carries.

The narratives found within the offered works may be as direct as highlghting the role of formalised religion has often played fomenting war, death, and destruction (the entire upper rear hall of the gallery); or more subtle reflections on human nature  – such as the mindset setting behind the avatars we encounter in Second Life (Behind the Avatar, within the lower floor, right-side hall) or the fact that as evolved as humanity might appear, we are as a race still prone to the drive of the primeval within us (Modern Man, within the lower floor right-hand hall).

Elven Falls Art Collective, November 2022: Chuck Clip

Each of the seven halls in the gallery also offers a 3D sculpture by Chuck. Each offers something of a reflection of the core themes to be found within the 2D art presented within it (perhaps most powerfully through Holy War, again to be found in the gallery’s upper rear hall); however, they also stand as a statement to artistic expression in Second Life, as Chuck also notes in his biography:

As a prim sculptor I’m largely self taught. I learned by trial and error and by going to places where the works of the old prim sculptors are still shown, examining them for hours on end just trying to figure out what they did to achieve certain effects. I am forever indebted to the old prim sculptors, for they paved the way for people like me. It is their legacy that I try to perpetuate as prim sculpture slowly but surely becomes a lost art in SL. Second Life has provided us with this wonderful medium, and it is my hope that one day it becomes recognized again for the greatness it can achieve.

Chuck Clip

Elven Falls Art Collective, November 2022: Chuck Clip

Bold, emotionally-charged, rich in narrative and marvellously enfolding digital and virtual artistry, Chuck Clip is a genuine maestro of digital art, and his exhibition at Elven Falls Art Collective stands as a powerful underscoring of this fact.

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The Face of Beauty in Second Life

Carmel Art Community: Hermes Kondor – The Face of Beauty

The Carmel Art Community is home to many SL artists, offering both boutique studio spaces in which they can display / sell their work, and regular art-related events through the year. It’s a community I’ve covered in terms of facilities and exhibitions in the past in these pages – and will continue to do so. However, for this piece I want to focus on just one newly-opened exhibit, as it is focused on an tool that is fast becoming very popular with artists the world over, and one I’ve mentioned rather a lot of late: Midjourney AI art generator.

The exhibition in question is The Face of Beauty, by Hermes Kondor. Comprising a total of 14 pieces, it has attracted me due to the manner in which Hermes has used Midjourney;  one that is somewhat different to the exhibitions featuring its use I’ve so far mentioned in these pages.

Carmel Art Community: Hermes Kondor – The Face of Beauty

As  I’ve mentioned previously, Midjourney utilises descriptive text and text terms to curate together / generate images. The results can be far ranging, from almost perfectly capturing the artist’s intent in the most realistic of fashion, to entirely abstract or impressionistic results, depending on what is defined. For example, “/imagine a city in Japan at night” will result in something close to the description, whereas, “/imagine a knight in battle, cinematic, epic, detailed, octane render, intricate” may result in something more abstract – or at at least, unexpected.

For the images presented in The Face of Beauty, Hermes has used his own descriptions – or as he terms it, “personal concept and prompts”, then taking the results and further processing them using PhotoShop. The result is the most remarkable collection of head-and-shoulder portraits of women from around the world, dressed in period / floral / regional dress. Such is the craft involved – and allowing from the human touch in post-processing, it is difficult to comprehend these were images defined by the use of algorithms rather than captured on film or committed to canvas in oil.

Carmel Art Community: Hermes Kondor – The Face of Beauty

To describe these pieces further is to defeat the objective of having them displayed by the artist; therefore I’ll leave you with the images here as a taste and suggest you pay a visit and witness The Face of Beauty first-hand.

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Melusina’s Greyscale Magic in Second Life

Artsville: Melusina Parkin – Greyscale Magic

Currently open at the relocated Artsville Galleries and Community is a new exhibition by Melusina Parkin entitled Greyscale Magic. Located in a skyborne gallery space at Artsville, this is an exhibition that makes full use of the main display/ event hall and its two side wings to present a collection of images offered – as the title implies – greyscale tones which have been captured in Melusina’s always-engaging style.

Black-and-White or greyscale? I preferred to title this exhibition using the greyscale term because b/w photographs actually aren’t black-and-white: they show a palette of endless shades of grey, from the absolute black to the absolute white. 
But why are they “magic”? It’s because they offer a conventional image of the reality they depict, forcing our brain[s] to interpret the different greys as colours of the “normal” view.

– Melusina Parkin, Greyscale Magic

Artsville: Melusina Parkin – Greyscale Magic

The three-room layout of the gallery space allows Melu to present this collect as a three-part portfolio; one in which she those familiar with her work might see as being – intentionally or otherwise – new interpretations from themes which have been the focus of some of her past exhibitions and work.

In the main hall, for example, is a total of ten images that offer us unique views of rooms and furnishings. Some present images of private living, others more public spaces – a café here, a diner there; collectively they bring to mind Melu’s work in exhibitions such as Empty Spaces and Absences (2017). Meanwhile, in the side rooms we have, respectively, fives studies focused on motor vehicles, evoking thoughts of Cars (2019) and perhaps also Roadside Images (2020); and also five images of buildings and streets that carry with them an echo of Night Walks (2019).

Greyscale photography has been, for a long while, the only one admitted and legitimated to represent “art photography”. Although colour techniques have been available for many decades, [it was] only in the late 1930s [that] colour photography started to be considered a form  of art, thanks to the surprising new technique introduced by Kodak with the famous Kodachrome film … But while the colour TV overwhelmed the b/w one and made it obsolete, greyscale photography endured as a more sophisticated for of art.

– Melusina Parkin, Greyscale Magic

Artsville: Melusina Parkin – Greyscale Magic

Which is most certainly not to say Greyscale Magic is is any way derivative of those past exhibitions, these are new pieces. However, in echoing these from her past exhibits, Melusina is both (again, quite possibly subconsciously) drawing a thread of continuance through her work, giving us further chapters in her ever-expanding and captivating artistic narrative. This is further reflected in the overall framing of these pieces, wherein the angle, subject, lighting and focus speak a single utterance of a much larger story that sits beyond their physical size, so inviting us to enter into the story and interpret it according to our own viewpoint, thoughts and imagination.

More particularly with this collection however, is the fact that these are images captured in Second Life which exude a powerful sense of depth and life entirely of their own and separate to that which otherwise might be present were they to be offered in colour. As a long-time admirer of both greyscale and monochrome images and art, I’ve always felt both have a powerful means to often better convey the vitality of Second Life as a “place” we don’t merely see – we inhabit through our avatars and the time we spend here. As, again, Melusina notes in her statement on the exhibit:

I think that this is due to the “magic” I was talking [about] before. SL photography is colourful, windlight and PhotoShop allow us to play with meaningful colours to represent more real, or more surreal, scenes. But if you select the the right images, desaturate them or turn them greyscale, the result is often closer to the “real” world that it can cheat even the most attentive observer. Isn’t that “magic”?

– Melusina Parkin, Greyscale Magic

Artsville: Melusina Parkin – Greyscale Magic

I  would wholeheartedly agree; and within Greyscale Magic, Melusina demonstrates again, that she is a master magician in the magical arts of Second Life photography.

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  • Artsville (Caribbean Ocean, rated Moderate)

Monsters, Demons and Chess in Second Life

Kondor Art Centre: Monique Beeb – Monsters, Demons and Chess

Monique Beebe – Moni to her friends – is one of the most expressive digital artists I know in Second Life. I’ve had the good fortune to follow the growth of her photographic and digital art skills since her first exhibition, hosted at Nitroglobus Roof Gallery back in early 2017 (see: Hidden Faces in Second Life), and have always utterly enjoyed exploring her work as it enfolds the sensual, the sublime, the emotive and more – always with a story to tell, a question to ask, or a subtle means of engaging her audience’s minds.

Through the years since that first exhibition, Moni has continued to enthral, engage and challenge through evolving styles and approaches, as is the case with Monsters, Demons and Chess, which opened at the Kondor Art Centre, curated by Hermes Kondor, on November 8th, 2022.

Kondor Art Centre: Monique Beeb – Monsters, Demons and Chess

To be honest, this is an exhibition I would have embraced even without having an admiration of Moni’s work which has only grown over the last five years, because it encompasses a form of art that is gaining increasing traction among artists engaged in Second Life: that of hybrid art, and specifically the use of AI processes – in this case the Midjourney AI art generator. I’ve outlined this open-source software previously in these pages, but I’ll let Moni – who has been using it for around six months at the time of writing this article – describe it:

It is software used to generate realistic images, based on Artificial Intelligence. It is used with text we can write down, and it creates some indications; it is not a random image taken on Internet, which corresponds to your text, your words really create something with a deep learning algorithm, giving birth to a new image.
[It presented] A complete new experience for me! In the beginning I was doubtful about it, and I did read a lot of discussions around this subject. It ended becoming a curiosity in my mind, and turned out to be a complete addiction. It [has] allowed me to search more about AI, to discuss it with users and artists, in what way they manipulate it to come to something they wanted at first or appreciate something they did not know about previously.

– Monique Beeb

Kondor Art Centre: Monique Beeb – Monsters, Demons and Chess

Offered across the two floors of the striking gallery building are some of the fruits of Moni’s labours with Midjourney: a striking series of 25 images that allow us to see into Moni’s journey with the software tool, a journey involving chess, monsters and demons, as she explains in her liner notes accompanying the exhibition:

My first use of this software was rather random, I was mostly discovering it. I took simple shapes, balls, and it ended in chess pieces. I made many of them, arranging the background, the lights, the perspectives … When I tried to make faces, I often saw irregularities in the way they were created. Distortions on the eyes or lips, strange shapes. Then I worked more, trying to identify why it came that way. I was at some point left with a gallery of “monsters” on my computer. Their unusual odd curves made me like them … I eventually edited them on Photoshop, and make them: beautiful monsters and quiet demons!

Monique Beeb

I don’t propose to delve into the pieces in depth – each and every one of them speaks clearly and beautifully for itself. The lower floor of the gallery focuses on the works featuring chess, and like that game, there a marvellous strategy at work within them as Moni takes the nuances of MidJourney’s algorithm and combines it with her own innate ability to frame a single-frame story which born of the aforementioned sensuality, subtleness and expressiveness.

The latter is also present in the images around the upper level, where Moni’s “monsters” and “demons” reside.  These may not be sensual in the conventional sense like those on the gallery’s lower floor, but there is a richness of expression, beauty and look that makes them as equally attractive and as rich in their own narratives.

Kondor Art Centre: Monique Beeb – Monsters, Demons and Chess

As a part of this exhibition, Moni asks a question that is not uncommon with the subject of hybrid art: are images generated through, or collated and manipulated by, AI (and other) means really art? She also enquires whether such images have a place in Second Life. My personal response to both questions is an unequivocal “yes”; traditional artists manipulate brushes, paints and inject their own eye and imagination in their work in order to create a piece of art; similarly, Second Life (and digital) artists also manipulate images with tools like  PhotoShop and GIMP and paint with digital tools to produce an end result.

The fact that tools like Midjourney rely on descriptive text elements or the manipulation of algorithms or alterations to their baseline parameters does not lessen the fact it is the artist’s eye and imagination, often assisted by additional tools that allow for editing and / or compositing – just as with other digital art forms, as noted above – guiding the entire creative process.

Kondor Art Centre: Monique Beeb – Monsters, Demons and Chess

More than that – I’d defy anyone to visit Monsters, Demons and Chess and not see the images presented as a richly artistic expression.

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Camels and Chameleons with Cica in Second Life

Cica Ghost: Camels and Chameleons, November 2022

November brings with it another foray into whimsy with Cica Ghost, as she offers an installation entitled Camels and Chameleons – which you have to admit is an interesting combination of beast and reptile!

As with recent installations from Cica, this one is extreme easy on the eye to view and offers gentle exploration on foot. The largely flat landscape offers a desert-like suggestion with adobe-style walls and structures for the most part not too far removed from the kinds of environments one might reasonably expect to find both camels and the desert varieties of chameleon common to the more arid parts of Southern Asia. These are interspersed with cacti which, whilst not common to the lands in which camels might be found, are certainly found within the more arid parts of the California, into which Chameleons have been introduced.

Cica Ghost: Camels and Chameleons, November 2022

Of the two types of creatures, the camels are the most numerous, with two of the three recognised “true” species represented: the single-humped Dromedary (aka Arabian camel), which accounts for around 94% of all camels and which is common to the Middle East, the Sahara Desert, and South Asia, and the two-humped Bactrian camel, common to Central Asia, including the historical region of Bactria, and also found in remote areas of north-west China and Mongolia.

Exactly which species of Bactrian is represented isn’t entirely important, but given their short-haired nature, I preferred to think of them as being the rarer Wild Bactrian of China / Mongolia. The chameleons, on the other hand, are fewer in number, and I can’t help but feel Cica perhaps missed a trick in not blending them more with some of the landscaping / other features within the setting (allowing for their size, of course).

Cica Ghost: Camels and Chameleons, November 2022

I qualified the structures within the setting above, because whilst most of them are styled in a manner in keeping with the desert / arid environments in which camels tend to be found when roaming free, there is a rather novel structure towards the centre of the installation. Comprising blocks and towers that are, at first glance vaguely reminiscent of a Middle-Eastern fortification, it also has a slight other-worldly feel to it, with some of the blocks suspended in mid air on horizontal planks bridging the gaps between other blocks, and many of them sprouting deadlock-like growths of cacti from their tops.

Rounded out with another quote from Dr. Seuss, Camels and Chameleons also includes a range of  places to sit and / or dance (including on a camel or tow!) and offers a further opportunity to appreciate Cica’s art in a whimsical and light setting.

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The digital mastery of Milly Sharple in Second Life

Milly Sharple – November 2022

I found it hard to believe that two years have passed since I last visited an exhibition of Milly Sharple’s fabulous digital art; so when I recently happened across a Landmark to her current gallery, I knew I would have to pay a visit.

For those who may not be familiar with Milly and her work, she is a successful artist and photographer in the physical world. Not only is her art sold on a global basis, it has been used for book and CD cover art, in promotional material, posters for theatrical productions, and even on bank cards. In 2020 she was invited to do a collaboration representing the Covid pandemic with Salvador Dali’s protégé, Louis Markoya.

Milly Sharple – November 2022

Milly joined Second Life in 2008, and established her first gallery the following year. Not content with simply displaying and selling her work in-world, she also established the Timamoon Arts Community, which in its day, hosted over 40 resident artists and was regarded as one of the most successful and popular art communities on the grid before circumstance forced Milly to retire the region on which it was based.

As one of the pioneers in introducing the world of fractal art to Second Life audiences, and while in recent years her work has diversified as she continues to develop and extend her range of artistic expression, fractals have remained an integral part of her creativity. To produce these pieces, she works with Apophysis, and open-source software package which allows her to create soft, flowing, liquid effects that sets her work apart from other, more rigidly geometric fractal art that can also be found displayed within Second Life. It’s an approach that not only acts a a differentiator between her work and other fractal art, it also gives her work a stunningly organic look and feel, rich in life.

Milly Sharple – November 2022

Alongside her fractal pieces, Milly also produces digital portraits that combine her use of organic forms with the human face and body. Flowing with intentionally rich and vivid colour, these pieces have a life that is both connected to, yet utterly separate from, her fractal pieces, containing as they do their own stunning depth of expression. These portraits share the upper floor of the gallery along with pieces that enfold within them elements of abstract expressionism, pure abstractionism and touches of surrealism in a further engaging selection of digital images.

And if this weren’t enough, the gallery offers a rich vein of Milly’s 3D sculptures and pieces. These again fold within them those elements of natural, organic form and multiple artistic genres to offer a rich and engaging select of pieces that work individual and collectively as works suitable for display in one’s own home.

Taken individually or as intentional sets (such as We Didn’t Start the Fire … Or Did We? – a quite marvellous commentary on climate and ecological disasters that can be said to have their roots in our own role in impacting the world’s climate), Milly’s work is always expressive not just visually, but in offering an idea or story.

Milly Sharple – November 2022

Offering the full richness of Milly’s art, a visit to her gallery is a must for anyone interested in either her work or in the potential of Second Life presents to physical world artists to display their work to a global audience.

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