Corinne Whitaker''s art studio is spic-and-span. No linseed oil-drenched rags, no splotches of paint on the floor, no bits of plaster sticking out of her hair. Her art is digital, her world is virtual; her canvas is a Pentium PC, her paintbrush is a mouse, her palette is a rainbow of software programs.

And the brightly colored, almost psychedelic pictures she creates are mind-blowing.

Digital art is a very new field, still widely misunderstood by the public and distrusted by those in the more traditional art fields. How can it be real art, skeptics scoff, if a computer''s doing it? Where''s the human input?

All over the place, Whitaker explains. "It doesn''t really matter what your hardware or software is," she says. "You need your hands, your head and your heart.

"Digital art is a new way of looking at the world. It''s not photography with a sex change operation--it''s an entirely new language. What the computer has done for us is, instead of looking at our world head-on, we''re out in space looking down on our world. It''s a radical change of perspective."

Whitaker is a pioneer in the digital art world, in more than one way. She opened her own studio-gallery, The Digital Giraffe, in Carmel six years ago, after working in a private studio in Pasadena for years. In a field dominated by twenty-something young men, she''s not only a woman, she''s 65. But her infectious enthusiasm for computer art, the glint in her eye when she talks about new technological innovations, is no different than that of a high-school video-game addict.

"It''s my obsession, my passion," she exclaims, breathlessly. "I work here all day, and I have the same set-up at home. I love it!"

A self-taught photographer from Connecticut, Whitaker was in her mid-40s when she laid hands on her first desktop computer--an Apple IIE--back in 1981. "It was the Wild West back then," she recalls. "No mouse, no menu. You''d get to a place and wouldn''t know how you got there, or how to get back. What I liked was, there were no rules. You had to explore for yourself."

Explore she did, starting with science programs, as there was yet no art software. She''d feed in irrational equations, and sometimes, interesting graphics would pop up on the screen. She was never able to repeat the same procedure, she says. The first Macintosh desktop in the mid-''80s "revolutionized" the field, she says, allowing artists to scan in photographs and manipulate them.

As new software was developed, Whitaker would expand her artistic repertoire, stretching the medium to its limits. "At the beginning we were bounded by the rectangle [of the monitor], and I wanted to do sensuous curves and 3-D modeling," she says. By the early ''90s, the technology was changing and improving so fast, techniques would be outmoded almost as soon as she''d learn them. In 1995, for example, it took her 48 hours on her Mac to do a three-dimensional sculptural rendering called "Twins." Then she switched to a PC, and the same process took 10 seconds.

"You have to love to learn," she says. "There are constant changes, and the learning curve is very steep. You need patience, and a sense of humor."

Today, Whitaker works in three main areas. First, she does digital paintings. That involves "painting" with her mouse, using a software program, creating a work of art that she then has printed professionally. Prints of her digital paintings adorn the walls of her gallery, most of them wildly curving forms in deeply saturated hues of red, green, yellow, purple and orange. Just recently she''s started experimenting with a more subdued, but still abstract, painting style involving small, repeated patterns on mainly white backgrounds.

One of the major arguments against digital art as a "true" art form is the fact that once a picture is designed on the computer, it can theoretically be printed out endlessly. Some digital artists actually celebrate that potential of the process, as a way of attacking the "fetishization of the art object." But Whitaker protects the unique nature of her artistic creations by making just one print of each painting, and then "retiring" the original, just as a master photographer will retire the negative of a precious picture.

A second area of artistic creation Whitaker has embarked on more recently is the very new field of digital sculpture. "I wanted to do it for a long time, but we didn''t have the capacity until the first programs for 3-D renderings came out in the mid-''90s," she says. From the renderings she creates on her computer, she has a mold made by innovators who are still experimenting with how to "transfer" her ideas from the flat screen to a three-dimensional form. From that form, one of several foundries casts her sculptures in bronze, aluminum, and now stainless steel.

Whitaker also maintains a Web magazine, updated monthly, where viewers can look at her work and read articles about digital art. That''s really where digital art should be viewed, Whitaker points out--on the computer screen, not printed on paper. Some digital art purists believe digital art should never be printed. The original "paintings" are fluid, in constant motion on the screen--a print can only capture one split-second facet of that work, much like the relationship between a movie still and the entire motion picture.

But Whitaker''s not a purist. "There''s no hard and fast rule," she insists. "They''re meant to be viewed on the monitor--that''s their home--but that doesn''t mean you can''t do other things with them.

"The important thing for me is to allow a native digital vocabulary to develop, using its own digital language," she muses. "It''s a wonderful field. Someone asked me once when I''ll stop, and I said, when the magic is gone. But it never will be. It''s arithmetically impossible to exhaust everything the applications can give you."

You can see Corinne Whitaker''s art at The Digital Giraffe, Dolores between 7th and 8th in Carmel, or, to get the full effect of digital art in its proper milieu, visit www.giraffe.com.

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