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Digital disasters


Imagine a gigantic tsunami engulfing Rio de Janerio, leaving only the famous statue of 'Christ The Redeemer' on top of Corcovado mountain visible above sea level. Now envision a jumbo jet crashing into the middle of Times Square or worse, an entire city being sucked into a colossal cesspool. These disturbing images are not out of a Hollywood movie. These are digital images created by Canadian artist Steve McGhee, who seems to have a morbid fascination for apocalypse and a gift of turning that into art that's larger than life.
Richard Bach wrote, "There's no disaster that can't become a blessing, and no blessing that can't become a disaster. " For 35-yearold McGhee, it might be the former.
"People either love it or think I'm weird and want to get far away from me, he says. An awardwinning graphic designer based in Ontario, McGhee's images have taken the virtual world by storm, no pun intended, and he has been listed among the Top 20 digital artists in the world. He spoke to TOI-Crest about bringing catastrophes to life, with some help from Adobe

Why do your images focus on disasters and the end of the world?

I seem to have a fascination with things we, as humans, have little or no control over. We walk through life feeling like we're indestructible, while in reality, we're just the opposite. I find that catastrophes tend to reboot society into a more caring, loving place. Whenever something terrible happens in the world, people come together and work hard to help those affected. It's just too bad we have to be reminded that we're human in such terrible ways. Also, I've probably seen too many disaster movies!

Is there a market for such art? What kind of clients do you attract?

My market is small but growing. I sell my work in poster form and short run prints, mostly to people who have a particular fear and want to embrace it. I'm currently doing a commission for an airline pilot. . . it's a midair collision of two commercial airliners. He told me it's his worst fear. So, I guess, having an image of it might help him deal with this fear. . . I'm not sure.
I'm told there is a "disaster" market. . . I'm not sure I've tapped it yet. I'm also not sure I want to. Originally, and to this day, my art is for me. If I don't sell another piece, I'll be fine with that. And some pieces just aren't for sale. Some have very specific, personal experience, type issues behind them. I don't want to cheapen those memories, even the really awful ones.

Do you believe in the 2012 doomsday prophecy

of the Mayans?

No. It's a sham. That being said, if it's true, it's going to look a hell of a lot like my art. . . and that's cool.

Digital and altered images seem to be dominating media these days. Do you feel the time is up for old-fashioned illustrator/ cartoonist?

Well, I used to do a lot of illustrations, professionally. It's not that it's a dead art. All art has its place. And all art dies and is eventually re-born. If it's not in vogue now, it will be in the future.
As for cartooning, take a look at modern animation vs Disney's original, rotoscoped, Snow White film. Digital vs hand-drawn /painted cells. They get to the same place - amazing artwork that people all over the world can enjoy - they just get there in a different way. All art evolves eventually. If anything, the modern cartoonist/ animator has it far easier than his predecessors. If you have natural talent, then it's just a question of applying that talent and making the software do what you want it to do.

What process do you follow in creating your apocalypse art?

The work basically starts with a thought of something that scares the c** p out of me. Once I have the idea - a plane crashing through a shopping mall - then I have to go and find the source images to recreate it. I pretty much have the finished artwork in my head from moment one. It's just a case of replicating what's in my mind to the digital format. And by the way, I don't do terrorism. My work is usually based on natural disaster or mechanical failure, leading to disaster. Oh, and I use Adobe CS exclusively.

What made you choose this profession?

I'm actually a graphic designer in real life. My digital artwork has always been a side project. Oddly, it's where I've had most success.

With global warming a harsh reality, do you think art like yours can drive home the message against pollution?

Maybe. Although, my work isn't about 2012 or global warming or even the event featured in the piece. It's about the survivors. My work isn't about the event - the "shock and awe" - I feel a deep compassion for the spouses, children, mothers and fathers left behind to deal with their family's tragic loss.

There is a lot of controversy about airbrushing of celebrities. As a digital artist, what's your take?

I completely agree with the airbrushing issue. But we have to remember that nothing we see in advertising is real. Most of what we see in the media is skewed to some extent by the political views of the source from which it comes. There is no altruism anymore. Every action has a motive. I don't mind if an advertiser needs a blemish removed from a model who had a breakout that day. With today's optical capabilities, it's harder to hide the imperfections. But when advertisers make a model 20 years younger, 30 pounds lighter, add 6-7 inches to her bust line, pout her lips and raise her cheekbones, then portray that as normal, that's just deceptive. And we have to stop that from happening.


Digital art is a general term for a range of artistic works and practices that use digital technology as an essential part of the creative and/or presentation process. Since the 1970s, various names have been used to describe the process including computer art and multimedia art, and digital art is itself placed under the larger umbrella term new media art. The techniques of digital art are used extensively by the mainstream media in advertisements, and by film-makers to produce special effects.
Digital art can be purely computer-generated or taken from other sources, such as a scanned photograph or an image drawn using vector graphics software. Artworks are considered digital painting when created in similar fashion to non-digital paintings but using software on a computer platform and digitally outputting the resulting image as painted on canvas.

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