Dear Shaded Viewers,
Micha Klein is considered the pioneer in digital art and computer graphics. He is a Dutch artist living happily in Bali with his wife and children and surrounded by nature, we had a chance to cyber meet.
DP: When did you move to Bali and how has that move affected your work and how you see the world in general and the art world in particular?
MK: As a native from Northwest Europe I always had the dream to leave the gray depressing climate and atmosphere behind and move to a tropical island with a bunch of computers and a beautiful girl.
When I was so lucky to meet my lovely wife Ruzanna, who was willing to come with me to Bali and start a family, we moved to the island in 2010.
We’ve got 2 wonderful daughters who are now 7 and 10 years old, that were both born here.
Before I came to Bali, my life was extremely hectic to the point I had the feeling that I had lived 20 years and pushed them into 10 years time.
Working and partying hard, traveling all over the world as a successful artist and VJ;
Combining VJ gigs with the world’s top DJ’s in the nightlife, preparing my exhibitions and working on my art and commercial assignments during the day.
It was all super exciting, but with a taxing schedule, to the point I almost got a burnout… So honestly, the first years in Bali I took a break from work and dedicated my time to taking care of my young family, which I enjoyed tremendously, and did me very well.
My wife is a classically trained concert pianist, and in Bali we got very involved in producing electronic music, also a long term passion of mine. I’ve been experimenting with new, super exciting, 3D technology for fashion and fabric simulations that I’m applying for my own streetwear label ‘Drop The Pill’, with my infamous character Pillman as mascot, exploring new ways to make my art accessible to a larger audience.
Moving to Bali already made me more reliant on the internet and social media to do my business and promote my work. This has gotten to be even more so during Covid, and now everything is about zoom calls, instagram and clubhouse. We are moving into a virtual world and it’s getting less important where you are physically located. Which is a blessing in many ways. I am able to live in this beautiful place while doing business with Berlin and LA in 1 zoom call or clubhouse session.
The artworld is moving into new territory as well, with the advent of NFTs that move the art business and exhibitions into virtual space. For me, being active as a digital artist for such a long time, this is a very exciting and long overdue development.
Have you given more thought to creating your own NFT’s and if so what should we be looking forward to seeing?
I am very excited about the rise of NFTs and the new paradigm they represent. In many ways NFTs represent a space that I have been waiting for, and that is sort of made for an artist like me. Offering digital artists a new way of distributing and selling their work in the original format, with a level of authentication that has not been available before.
For me as one of the first digital artists it has been difficult sometimes to find my place in the artworld. Like in photography before the question of what represents the ‘original’ was always apparent. This can now be solved with NFTs.
I like how smart contracts can finally give the artist equity in their own works that get sold on the secondary market. That’s a highly needed development as artists have never before been able to profit from the increase in value of their work, which was a sad and unfair situation.
I am planning to release all my legacy digital art from the late 80s and onward as NFTs. So these pieces, that represent unique and irreplaceable digital art history, find a secure place on the blockchain in their original format, once and for all. Offering collectors the chance to truly own the digital art that helped shape the future of this movement.
Furthermore I am very interested in and working with the new possibilities NFTs and smart contract technology offer for new types of art that evolve over time and I’m developing concepts that make use of this.
As a pioneer in digital art what are your thoughts from the beginning of your career to how you approach your art now?
When I started out as an artist there were no computers, no internet, no mobile phones. I was a painter in the early 80s dealing with the Postmodern condition, where everything in art seemed to have been done before already, and there was nothing left to do for artists to play with styles and ideas from the past, commenting on and rephrasing art history.
I painted in a myriad of styles from pop-surrealism to neo-expressionism. Often showing pictures in unrelated styles next to each other to create a dialogue between them about art and painting itself.
When I discovered the first Amiga computer in a cellar of the art academy I quickly recognized the opportunities it offered for new artistic directions, ways to present art, and ways to redefine the position of the artist.
It was like a door opening into a whole new world. I started creating digital ‘paintings’ and the first animation loops. This time coincided with a new musical style and youth culture, that I became very involved in, called Acid House.
The loop based music was the perfect soundtrack for my animation loops, and this is how VJing was born. I started mixing my animations and video at the first house parties, finding a new platform for my art, outside of the traditional art world.
It was like digital graffiti / street art, projected in sweaty clubs and warehouses for thousands of people from my own generation.
From there came an interest from forward thinking museum directors and gallerists and I started exhibiting my work also in that context.
Since then I have constantly evolved my work, experimenting with new technology as it emerges, and finding ways to use it artistically, like for example 3D printing that I used for a series of sculptures I made in 2002 when this technology was brand new and hardly anyone understood what I was doing; and now 3D and virtual fashion and NFTs.
That’s the exciting thing about this new art form. The technology keeps evolving and inspiring, It’s a constant learning and growing process leading to new ways of expression and new notions of what it means to be an artist in the 21st century.
I’m very excited to see now a sort of new digital renaissance developing, with a new generation of talented artists (some of them barely born when I was showing my first digital art) and a renewed interest and appreciation for the artform I pioneered decades ago.
NFTs are redefining the way digital art can be sold and the relationship of the artist with the collector and the art world. I find this very inspiring, and I’m working on new works that make optimum use of this space.
Was there a time when you became disenchanted with the art world?
I think it’s very normal for artists to be disenchanted with the art world in various phases in their career sometimes.
From their education in which they may not always be stimulated to follow their own path, but are often pushed to confirm to certain current notions of what art should be. The process of finding a place to show their art can be daunting. The subsidies and grant system can be very corrupted, and relations with galleries can be cumbersome, from an artistic and business perspective.
It’s a great frustration that artists often don’t get to know their collectors, as gallerists are trying to protect their client base, and are not profiting from their rise in value on the secondary market.
All of these are challenges to overcome, and often sources for creative thought and solutions to break the status quo, and find your own way.
When I was 18 and told my mother I wanted to go to an art academy and become an artist, she told me: ” Oh please don’t be like your father, you’ll live a life of financial misery and uncertainty. Better study law or something…”.
I told her: ” Mama; every time has had it’s successful artists. Look at Picasso… Maybe I can be one in my own time”. And I went ahead and gave it all I got.
For sure she was right about the uncertainty, but I believe when you do something you love, and are determined, you can achieve anything you want!
Do you still work on advertising projects? What are your thoughts on advertising in general?
Not at the moment. Unless it’s for my own brand. Hahaha…
In today’s day and age advertising is all pervasive. Everybody is forced to be their own personal brand. Which can be very exhausting sometimes. Hahaha…
I thought I was old enough to skip Instagram a few years ago, till I was made aware that an artist today doesn’t exist without an account. Once I started it I discovered how cool it was to be in direct contact with my followers, and it became an important channel for me to communicate my work.
I was lucky to have been offered a couple of unique opportunities to create advertising for Coca-Cola where I was offered complete artistic freedom. That way I was able to layer my ideas in the message. Although my approach was extremely successful (my commercial sold to 26 countries, and appealed to a unusual wide range of demographics)
I did not get offered that freedom again, as brands really are scared to move out of their comfort zone and try anything that hasn’t thoroughly been tested to target audiences, effectively ending up in some echo chamber of familiar solutions for their communication. That’s why I’m no longer interested in that type of work.
What is the story behind PILLMAN? Crystal Powder from God?
Pillman is a 3D character that I developed in 1992. It was one of the first 3D animated characters, and I showed him at raves and house parties at the time. It was a good 3 years before Toy Story so people were totally unfamiliar with this type of art, and were amazed by it.
Although he is strictly speaking just a dancing capsule, of course he resonated strongly with the ongoing Ecstasy culture.
But basically Pillman is challenging the way we think about altering our consciousness, our moods, our sexuality by taking certain chemical combinations, whether they are legal or not.
8 years later I was asked by Eminem to create video projections for his first tour featuring Pillman. After all those years in the house scene, Pillman was dancing to The Real Slim Shady, when the Hip Hop scene discovered ecstasy, or Molly as it was called by then.
Pillman can also be viewed as the red pill from The Matrix, the pill you choose to wake up to a maybe uncomfortable truth, as opposed to the blue pill that keeps you in ignorance. After all these years it’s still a very humorous and strong visual character loaded with possible meanings.
Crystal Powder from God is what we called the purest and strongest version of MDMA that we ever came across. It came in a clear crystal form. This was at the end of the 90’s as we were going back to the origins of house music as a spiritual thing.
It was distributed for free at our ‘Club Love’ parties and sessions, and provided a profound psychedelic transcending experience that expanded our consciousness, spirituality and sexuality, and had an unforgettable impact on all who had the opportunity to receive it and be part of these epic events.
It’s the title of one of my works from the ‘Arrival of the Rainbow Children’ series from 2000. In a sort of futuristic ‘dejeuner sur l’herbe’, it portrays a blissed out group of my friends, surrounded by sacred geometry and rainbows. In essence it’s a religious piece, paying tribute to the revelations we took part in, and experienced.
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently in the north of Bali in the middle of nowhere in a mountain resort by the sea, surrounded by cows and chickens. It’s amazing.
Bali is completely deserted because of Covid and I’m homeschooling my kids. Teaching them math and computer graphics.
They are both very smart and artistic, and it looks like they will follow in their fathers footsteps. like I did.
I feel so grateful to be here at this moment in time.
The isolation is a blessing in disguise, as I’m super focused on my work and enjoy incredible quality time with my family.
I’m experimenting with new 3D software and real-time rendering technology, and I’m working on new artworks and concepts to be released as NFTs, and creating a new collection and a virtual fashion show for my streetwear label DTP.
Any plans to make a new film?
My life is a movie that I continue working on, or maybe I should say witnessing.
It’s got incredible highs and incredible lows, and it’s not always been easy, which makes it all the more interesting, and mind expanding.
Maybe all of this has already happened, and slowly the deeper truths and lessons are being revealed to me…