Chris Ashley

Oakland, California, USA

I use HTML, a simple markup language, to make tables with colored cells that are rendered by a web browser as an image. I call these drawings, not paintings; drawing seems to me a much more flexible term: tape on wall, stick in sand, finger on steamed mirror. I make one drawing every day to show on my weblog. They are simply what they are, meant to be seen on a monitor, within the browser, framed by the window of an operating system, in the serial, chronological, hyperlinked context of a weblog. Each drawing is typically one in a month-long series, and is also an individual, stand-alone image. Each series of HTML drawings has a subject (topical, historical, personal), explores one or more formal problems (color, shape, line, format, visual effect), and provides a technical challenge (making an HTML table do things it wasn’t intended to do).

In order to exhibit these images outside the browser, they are printed on 11” x 8.5” paper, often unframed and pinned to the wall. It is important to me that the object carrying each image and how it is shown are as basic, inexpensive, humble, and dumb as the code that originally made it. They are typically hung in one month groups, and occasionally an entire year’s worth is hung together.

An HTML table has many limitations, which I find quite freeing; it is inherently and inescapably geometric, consisting of right angles, straight edges, smooth and even surfaces, and the range of color depends on the monitor and display. Since they exist on the Web, the images are easy to disseminate, brilliantly backlit by the monitor, and instantly viewable and linkable. Since 2000 my weblog has been a studio wall, a gallery, and an archive.

The idea of making HTML drawings occurred to me as a way to integrate images into a weblog without needing an additional graphic file. Computer icons comprising a small grid of pixels were an early inspiration, and the earliest drawings resembled enlarged, blockier icons. The HTML table allowed me to follow my natural attraction to the grid and abstraction. Over time, as I have pushed the medium, the images have become more dynamic, complex, and expressive. Some even have JPEG backgrounds.

Even when using geometric form, there is still the impulse to make an image that is surprising, dynamic, and expressive. In a medium where it’s easy to make perfectly measured grids. The challenge is to go beyond the expectation of given order and structure. My goal is to make an image that the viewer relates to as something beyond a bunch of rectangles. I want to make images that encourage associations to nature, the body, place, thought, sound, language, and history.

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