Tim Lahan’s pixel works are made with paint, pastel and a mistrust of technology

The San Francisco-based artist combines soft imagery with harsh lines and edges to question the cold and calculated nature of tech.

8 January 2024

There’s a certain contradiction at the heart of Tim Lahan’s recent works, and it’s what makes them so intriguing. Depictions of natural imagery – flowers, animals and fruit – as well as some everyday objects like clocks and water taps, are bright with hazy finger-smudged colours, only then to be trapped within the harsh confines of rigid lines and points. They take something so clearly analogue and throw it off with a finish that creates a digital, almost pixelated feel.

Through his practice, Tim is always looking for ways to “express feelings of tension and non-conformity”; one of his past projects, the zine Scratching the Itch, focussed on the itch of self-destructive behaviour and the impulse to do things that aren’t always good for you. “When I make things I’m usually just dumping out feelings and thoughts I’ve absorbed during the day-to-day but it’s almost always in a way that tries to encapsulate a response to a feeling of being at odds with how society functions, both socially and politically,” says Tim.


Copyright © Tim Lahan, 2023

With how omnipresent technology now is – both in the creative and wider world – Tim tells us that it’s the focal theme for his recent works. In regards to his new series, “most people might go there pretty immediately by seeing the hard, gridded edges that look reminiscent of pixels,” he says, “but I’m less interested in leaning into satire or humour and instead trying to convey the effects of the cold, calculated, even oppressive systems of order and rules we use to govern ourselves and the natural world”.

To create his pieces, Tim uses a mix of pastel and paint. The pastel allows him to present his subjects in a “softer and more uncontrollable way”, he then smudges the edges of each object to create what he describes as a “ghost-like quality” – an eerie effect that is often at odds with the bright colour choices and lighthearted visuals. Finally, Tim turns to paint to create the hard edges which “butt up against” the pastel, which Tim says is almost a means of “suffocating” the soft image.

Aesthetically, Tim is drawn to some of his early flower studies for their dynamic use of colour – bright, yet “not totally cheesy”, achieved by a few flowers in amongst the bunch looking a little past their sell-by. In terms of the thematic, Tim sees the pair of seagulls and the two-headed snake as being particularly successful. The snake for how it represents both looking forward and backward at the same time, the seagulls for how the wholesome image of companionship stands out against the trepidation of the series’ message.


Tim Lahan: yesterdaytomorrow (Copyright © Tim Lahan, 2023)


Tim Lahan: gulls (Copyright © Tim Lahan, 2023)


Tim Lahan: purples (Copyright © Tim Lahan, 2023)


Tim Lahan: faucet (Copyright © Tim Lahan, 2023)


Tim Lahan: field (Copyright © Tim Lahan, 2023)


Tim Lahan: backforth (Copyright © Tim Lahan, 2023)


Tim Lahan: apple (Copyright © Tim Lahan, 2023)


Tim Lahan: bend (Copyright © Tim Lahan, 2023)


Tim Lahan: cherries (Copyright © Tim Lahan, 2023)


Tim Lahan: daymare (Copyright © Tim Lahan, 2023)

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Tim Lahan: clock (Copyright © Tim Lahan, 2023)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English Literature and History, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

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