Known for his ridiculously well-rendered digital art, Washington D.C.-based artist Jonathan Monaghan has crafted a name for himself for the otherworldly environments he creates, as well as his superb rendering skills (which look as if they’re almost too good to be true). Represented by bitforms gallery, Jonathan started out his career making prints, video installations and sculptures around 12 years ago, and has gone on to exhibit his work as an internationally acclaimed artist.
Having studied computer graphics and 3D animation, Jonathan first ventured into the realm of 3D modelling and animation software as a young teenager. He taught himself the basics with the intention of developing his craft into video games, but as time went on the digital artist became more interested in the visual portrayal of human nature and society. As a result, Jonathan gradually moved into the contemporary art world, creating art through the medium of moving image and animation. “I think of my animations as art objects, not even films,” he says. “I felt as if art was a way to explore our often fraught and unsustainable relationship with technology.” And below, in an interview with It’s Nice That, the artist tells us about his recent, and most impressive endeavour titled Out of the Abyss.
It’s Nice That: Can you tell us about your creative process for making Out of the Abyss? Do you approach a highly rendered film like this similar to any other animation?
Jonathan Monaghan: The term film doesn’t describe my works particularly accurately. There is no beginning or end, there aren’t any cuts or edits; it is a seamless loop. _Out of the Abyss_ consists of a single “camera” tracking shot through dreamlike environments referencing everything from modern consumer culture to baroque architecture. Like an architect, I design spaces and environments virtually and then “film” them. I also create lighting and materials that seem photorealistic. This is intentional, there is a certain slickness to my work, which like a work of Pop Art, appropriates the commercial glossiness found in advertisements. I like making something familiar but also oddly alien at the same time.
INT: What was the inspiration behind Out of the Abyss?
JM: The digital age is paradoxical – it offers many new opportunities to create and connect, but at the same time can be alienating, and it also brings potentially grave ecological consequences. I want to explore these enigmas through my work. Artists throughout time have looked towards the mythology of the Apocalypse to frame present-day issues, and I began looking at the works of Albrecht Durer, William Blake, Odilon Redon and others. My video installations are created entirely by myself, on essentially no budget. So I only produce about one video installation a year around this length (19 minutes).
INT: Can you tell us a bit about the mythical symbols within the piece?
JM: Out of the Abyss draws on the fantastical and otherworldly imagery and symbols associated with the Apocalypse. Symbols like the four horseman and the seven-eyed lamb are re-imagined for the present day, adorned with things like surveillance cameras, selfie sticks, luxury sneakers, organic grocery bags, yoga mats, and riot gear. By using these ancient symbols we once associated with the end of the world, I am commenting on our growing technological dependency and our materialist obsessions.
INT: What other projects have you been working on recently?
JM: Currently exhibiting at VisArts Center in Rockville, Maryland is my most recent artwork A Trace Left by the Future. The VisArts Studio Fellowship presented me with the opportunity to create a new body of work over a six month period. For _A Trace Left by the Future,_ I depict a candy-colored but unsettling world. Through sculpture, prints and wallpaper installation, I juxtaposed imagery of soft fabrics with ambiguous electronic devices and surveillance cameras. Like much of my work, the installation explores my anxieties about an increasingly technological future.
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.