Arno Beck is obsessed with anything digital, from your all-time favourite video games to the program Microsoft Paint. In spite of this, he has nothing to do with computer-generated art. Meet an old-fashioned artist stuck in a new era, insisting on turning this kind of imagery into analogue form by using acrylics, woodblock prints and even typewriters as mediums instead of a cursor.
Tell me about yourself, who are you, what do you do and what led you to become an artist?
My name is Arno Beck and I’m from Bonn (Germany), which is also where I currently live and work. I’m a painter and printmaker and I did my MA in Fine Arts at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. My prints and conceptual paintings evolve around digital aesthetics and focus on analogue production of digital images. It is an interplay between the contemporary digital screen world and traditional techniques. By using those manual, analogue techniques my aim is to make the digital images physically experienceable. Art and music have always played a key role in my life since an early age. Therefore, I love the idea of building your life around the one thing that you obsess over the most. For a long time, I have been both DJing and painting but at one point made the decision to put my main focus on one thing only.
I would like to hear your take on why you portray digital material, especially low-resolution graphics, into physical creations. How did you come up with that idea?
I stem from a generation that grew up being confronted with the visual phenomena of the computer age, and as a painter engaging with digital culture, I’m transferring those experiences into painting. With my paintings, I aim to portray the essence of the digital. Low-resolution or high-pixelation are key characteristics of digital representation because those are features you won’t find beyond computer-generated imagery.
Initially, digital art is intangible, and as a painter, I am expressing the urge of capturing digital aesthetics with painterly means. So, when you deal with digital images and transfer them into the physical space, you have to start thinking about surface structure and how the materialisation can be achieved. The transformation of those screen-based impressions and the materialisation into physical, haptic existence is one of the key aspects of my work. With my approach, I humanise technology, welcoming the glitches of the handmade – and the error is part of the beauty.
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Your Syntax Error paintings were just printed once as classic-style paintings, what is the significance of this? 
That series of woodblock prints is based on the thirty-two colours that the GameBoy Color console was able to display. I mix my oil colours in relation to this thirty-two-colour palette and apply them to twelve thousand small hand-cut wood bricks, each representing a single pixel in the motif. Line by line, I combine these wood bricks to a big mosaic, which I then print on thin Japanese paper. I don’t utilise printmaking for the purpose of reproduction, therefore all works are unique in the sense of a classic painting. I would describe my works as conceptual paintings, using a painterly language, which is not necessarily manifesting in painting itself.
What inspires you to create a new set of work? For example, how did you go from the typewriter drawings to the block print series?
Actually, the woodblock prints came first, but the typewriter works are following the same thought process. Initially, the typewriter wasn’t bought with the idea to create art. A playful approach turned into a much bigger thing. I’m continuously searching for different analogue ways of translating digital imagery from the screen to the pictorial space. The typewriter drawings are achieved by typing line by line using an old-fashioned manual typewriter. I utilise different letters and symbols, which create a variety of differing grey values.
I develop a lot of new ideas from previous projects. Coming up with new works often derive from working in different media – each medium demands different thinking and a specific approach, which again gives birth to new ideas. At the same time, keeping your eyes open and staying curious are good ways for constant artistic progression.
What is it about video games from the ‘80s and ‘90s that attract you so much? Is it purely to do with the aesthetic, or are there some values that you especially relate to?
I am not a gamer, it all really goes back to a leftover childhood fascination growing up with the Nintendo. It’s less about the games themselves but rather about the aesthetic of early digital representation. The beauty and the clumsiness of highly pixelated images, graphics and interfaces just fascinate me.
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Have you ever thought of exclusively becoming a digital creator, or does that defeat the purpose of your work?
That wouldn’t excite me, as I’m primarily interested in finding analogue ways of transforming digital imagery and making it physically experienceable.
If you could live in any video game universe, which one would you choose?
I used to play a game called Boogerman on Nintendo. It’s a pick and flick adventure where the mighty Boogerman is able to flyfart, whilst picking boogers and throwing them at villains. Can it get any better than that?
Can you reveal to us any projects of yours that are going to be released in the near future?
There are several shows coming up this year. Keep checking my website for all the updates.
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