A virtual future for art?

01 July 2022

To mark our 100th year in Monaco, and our proud status as the first international bank to open in the Principality, we were delighted to host a prestigious gala dinner at the Musée Océanographique.

We were joined by award-winning virtual reality artist Lorna Inman, who created a stunning piece of digital artwork live on stage, to symbolise our commitment to a sustainable future. Guests were able to watch the commemorative ‘digital monument’ being brought to life from the artist’s perspective.

Gérald Mathieu, CEO of Barclays Monaco, spoke to Lorna about this innovative art form, her creative process, and how virtual reality is shaking up the world of art.

Gérald Mathieu (GM): What is virtual reality art and why did you choose to specialise in it?

Lorna Inman (LI): I’ve been creating virtual reality (VR) art for three years using an application called Tilt Brush, which enables me to paint in a 3D space, via a VR headset. It’s a very immersive experience – far more so than a 360-degree image for example  – as you can move around with six degrees of freedom1.

I was always drawn to traditional oil painting at university, particularly landscapes. But I was also interested in new media – video, all kinds of digital design – and I tried to find ways to combine my interests. I first started exploring immersive art by creating huge oil paintings, 360-degree panoramas up to 3 metres long, which I’d digitally manipulate so you could view them from within. But eventually I found VR/Tilt Brush, and it just clicked.

GM: How can people experience your virtual artwork?

LI: Some of my work has been used at events, where people can put on headsets and follow a journey through the artwork. You can also create camera pathways from within the artwork, and a video can then be exported and viewed on other devices.

For example, I was lead artist on a short film produced and directed by Nutkhut during lockdown, and we exported a video that could be viewed in 360 degrees on a phone or lower-end headset, to make it more accessible. That film was then shown at the Mozilla Festival 2021, and has toured several other film festivals worldwide.

GM: How does the creative process differ from more traditional art media?

LI: For me, it’s a mixture of oil painting, sculpting, and video. There are lots of different handheld tools to create different effects and textures – some are more akin to painting, and are flat like a brushstroke; others create 3D ‘modules’, so that’s more like sculpting. You’ll see a combination of all of these in my work.

The output can be a still snapshot, video, 3D models, or left as the immersive experience itself within Tilt Brush. And you can use either a handheld camera to take more photographic shots, or you can use a camera pathway.

Unlike traditional painting, you can undo/redo, copy and paste, and enjoy all the benefits of designing digitally.

GM: Where do you get your inspiration from?

LI: My inspiration has come from natural landscapes, first and foremost. Artists such as David Hockney have also been a huge influence from a stylistic perspective – using opposing colour hues to bring out colours that juxtapose each other.

Recently, a lot of inspiration has come from the film industry, and the art of narrative. So thinking about storytelling through form, drama, and mood within a virtual landscape, and also about how people might experience it from within.

GM: Where are you seeing demand for this type of art?

LI: There’s a lot of demand from event spaces, particularly from the corporate sector, to create something exciting and enticing for people to try, and be wowed by.

There’s also demand for VR experiences from film and the performing arts. Anything that deserves its story told, particularly subjects like history, or narratives that put you in another’s shoes, where the feeling of immersion can be used to evoke an empathetic reaction or understanding from the audience.

Such as ‘Manic VR’ by Kalina Bertin, which attempts to show a family member’s experience of bipolar disease, or ‘Girmit: An Untold Story of Indentured Labour’, which aims to tell the history of indentured labour through different lenses..

GM: Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are creating a buzz in the art world. Are they just hype, or could they transform it?

LI: I think NFTs have already transformed the art world in some sense. They’ve given artists a certain level of ownership over their artwork – and given it a monetary value for the first time in many cases. I’ve seen first-hand how that’s changed the lives of many artists around me, who are now able to make a living from their art.

In my opinion, NFTs also bring more transparency around transactions and trades, compared to traditional art, where artists typically lose track of it once it’s been sold.

They’ve also helped build an amazing new community of digital art enthusiasts – not just artists, but also investors and traders – who come together to support each other, creatively and practically.

GM: What do you think is their appeal compared to physical artwork?

LI: People who own NFT artwork often say to me they feel closer to the artists, as there’s less separation between artist and investor. They’re able to really support them, and ultimately the artists’ success plays a part in determining their investment. So it’s changed the trade relationship.

And everyone who owns NFT art can create their own personal galleries for others to view online, which can be included in larger districts in the metaverse, where people can meet virtually and build networks.

GM: The Principality has a huge focus on sustainability. How do you address sustainability in your art?

Sustainability is not something I necessarily separate out – it’s integral and tied into projects. I think focusing on the natural world as a source of inspiration gives you a deeper appreciation of it, even if the end result is virtual. I also think it elevates nature and the inclination for preserving it. Trees and the ocean are my favourite things to paint – and both are central to the art I created at the Monaco gala dinner.

About the artist

Lorna Inman is an award-winning Virtual Reality Artist and Immersive Producer based in London, creating bespoke, hand-painted VR experiences and videos. Using Tilt Brush, a VR software that allows her to paint in 3D space, she specialises in storytelling through 3D environment design. Lorna studied Art and Design at the University of Leeds, which included a year at the Academy of Fine Arts in Milan.

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