Show and Tell
Have you ever admired Google’s maps? I mean, have you ever stopped to consider not only what a technical marvel they are, with the spider’s web of streets scrolling along by just putting in an address or landmark, but also the aesthetic quality of their colors and shapes?
Neither had I, until a good friend sent me a link to the artwork of Christoph Niemann. I mean, for years I’ve been amazed at how accurate Google’s maps have proven to be, and when they superimpose the satellite images, you wonder what mankind won’t think of next. But the artistic merit of those smooth, tube-like streets and soothing colors didn’t really strike me until seeing Niemann’s work.
And it’s not just Google’s maps that Niemann has been able to turn into art. His non-pixelated, digital pen has become for 21st Century graphic humorists what Sharpies were to 20th Century cartoonists. Scoff at his technological invasion of the craft if you like, but Niemann has been able to carve out a surprisingly compelling medium with a computer and imaging software.
What Does "Digital Colloquial" Mean?
I haven’t been able to find a term for Niemann’s style, so I’ll call it “digital colloquial” since it has the crispness and polish of modern iconography set to a popular theme, with nuances of current social commentary thrown in for good measure.
He’s already won awards for his work, has published several books, and is virtually an artist-in-residence for several New York periodicals. At the age of 40, Niemann has grown up around technology long enough to be a master at digital design, while also being old enough to have a finely developed wit and satirical observation skills.
For my long-suffering friends who tire easily of my references to New York City, please bear with me, but anybody who has ever tried driving into Manhattan from New Jersey through the Lincoln Tunnel can appreciate Niemann’s take on the convoluted route:
And although I doubt Niemann had America’s current healthcare debate in mind when he crafted this image below, can’t you see how "drowning in red ink" takes on an even more sinister - yet appropriate - theme? Bleeding taxpayers to death had yielded the red ink an officious person is going to use for writing an important document:
Niemann may be best known for his downright creative “Bio-Diversity” series, in which he took scissors to leaves and created amazingly simple humor:
Be honest, now: have you ever seen a leaf and thought, "that looks just like a bolt"? Leaves themselves can be considered works of art - except when hundreds of thousands of them fall on your yard every autumn. Can you see the genius of taking what most of us consider ordinary byproducts of tree exfoliation and re-using them so creatively? Talk about recycling!
Of course, he's an artist, so not all of Niemann's work is politically correct. There's a digital composition of cigarette butts shaped as the symbols for major world religions which I consider to be in very bad taste, but at least Niemann's an equal-opportunity blasphemer. Another image portrays "W" as a blockhead - with literally a stone cube above the shoulders. And accurately enough, one of his New Yorker covers depicts Asian "Rosie the Riveters" sewing American flags.
Which considering Niemann is a German, somehow makes ironic sense.
All images (c) copyright Christoph Niemann