5 questions with: Christian Verdun - how did he create his Lincoln assassination image?

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Abraham Lincoln Being assassinated at Ford's Theater, 2009

You may have stumbled upon the amazing piece of art above on Reddit or Digg recently, a mixed media image of the assassination of President Lincoln at the Ford Theater, created largely with text.

It's really a stunning piece of work with key words and phrases scattered throughout. In fact, it's best viewed on this site so that you can scroll around, zoom in and out and explore every nook and cranny.

Being a bit nuts around here with Lincoln lore and imagery, and thinking this was just a really cool work, we got got in touch with the artist, Christian Verdun, to see how it came to be and pick his brain on the three-year creative process behind his art. Here's the lightly edited transcript of our e-mail interview, which you'll find after the jump:

So, who is Christian Verdun?

I am from Ventura, Calif., which is a small town an hour or so north of Los Angeles. I grew up here and have always had a passion for art, although never intended and still do not intend to make a career out of it. However it is something that I enjoy doing and will most likely make more work in this style. I am actually going to school for science. I was just recently accepted to UC Davis for plant sciences and my current plan is to double major in plant and computer science, but I am also extremely interested in astrophysics.

I think the main influence of the piece is the culture of sharing and copying media on the better parts of the internet. I grew up teaching myself digital art by using tools that were honestly out of my price range but given access to those tools I was able to have more freedom with my creativity. The piece itself is like a remix of music in the way I pull different words from a variety of sources and attempt to weave them into something new. This is also why I gave out a high quality lossless file for free on my website because I want to encourage these communities because I think they inspire progress.

1) First of all, interesting medium. Is this a riff on the idea of a picture being worth 1,000 words? Or is the text simply part of the picture?

I actually did not even think about the 1,000 words concept until someone commented with "Thousands of Words is Worth a Picture" on reddit. My intention was to create depth by making the piece viewable from as many ways as possible. If you stand back it is just a picture of Abraham Lincoln being assassinated at Ford's Theater, but when you look closely your brain groups the words differently than any other viewer, making the message or theme unique for each viewer. I was trying to capture paradox in the sense of a literary device:

"In literature, the paradox is an anomalous juxtaposition of incongruous ideas for the sake of striking exposition or unexpected insight. It functions as a method of literary composition - and analysis - which involves examining apparently contradictory statements and drawing conclusions either to reconcile them or to explain their presence." ( Rescher, Nicholas. Paradoxes: Their Roots, Range, and Resolution. Open Court: Chicago, 2001.)

2) How did you choose the text? Is it significant to the moment or is the totality of is more a statement of itself?

It was a combination of either randomly cutting interesting words or phrases from magazines and organizing them to searching for specific words to fill in gaps between things. Over the three years my personality and intentions evolved. I think the picture reflects my thoughts gathered together in a way to show a progression of different ideas over the dimension of time. So fragments of the piece reflect the moment but I feel they all come together for a totality of an idea's evolution through time. Over time ideas and themes developed and characters begin to form but it was always an experiment.

3) Why did you choose the Ford Theatre scene? Do you have a particular connection with Lincoln or the history of that event? Is there a current parallel involved in the work?

I honestly don't remember why I chose the scene anymore but I can try to give you reasons why I would have. I feel the scene parallels a lot of other historical characters in which while they achieve something great and a single person or movement attempts to stop them. The scene is a canvas of conflict which I can put other peoples words over to hopefully inspire questions and ideas. I have no particular connection with Lincoln or the history of the event other than a understanding of its importance to American history. What was most important to me was the role each person played in the context of the event itself just as much as the historical context of the event.

4) You say it took three years to produce. Was that working on it full time? Explain a little of the process and the choices involved in shaping the image.

It was over a three year period of sometimes being obsessive and working 6-10 hours a day and other times just cutting words for 15 minutes in a week. The magazines first came from free sources on the internet but that wasn't enough so after a while I started dumpster diving book stores because they rip off the covers and throw out old magazines. I would take these magazines and examine them for words and organize them by color and size. Then when I was ready to begin pasting I would spread them on a tray and arrange them into phrases and fit them into other parts of the piece.

5) Is this intended more as a Web/electronic image or a physical print work? It seems that the scrolling Flash effect where it's posted is perfect for something like this - allowing you to zoom in and focus on small areas.

This picture is best captured in physical form as the original has a texture that I could not translate digitally. My goal with the website is to get entrance into galleries because most of them are not interested in a science student with one large (3 feet 5 by 2 feet 3) piece but no portfolio and no interest in quickly pumping out more to have a career in art. I worked together with my friend Alex Dunn from rambisyouth.com to put together the flash applet to have a web presence because I knew if I wanted this picture to be noticed I would have to rely on the new open communities and not the galleries or traditional media. I do feel it translates very well to the digital medium but I have hopes that I will be able to bring this around the country for those who wish to see the original with all the detail and texture it holds.

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    This page contains a single entry by Craig Newman published on May 7, 2009 9:42 PM.

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