Pixel Prophet 

The "techno-impressionism" of Tony Karp at the JCC.

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Tony Karp is an inspired man. He seeks to "create an impressionist art movement for the 21st century," according to a statement issued for his show of 55 digital pigment prints at the Weinstein JCC.

While the success of his art movement is yet to be determined, his first show in Richmond, though uneven, contains a few pleasant surprises.

Karp begins each piece with a digital photo and then unloads on it all the bells and whistles found in your average image-editing computer program. Fluorescent, pixilated silhouettes of swans and weather vanes are placed beside trippy minimalist portraits reminiscent of '60s poster art.

It's appropriate that there are so many works in the show (21 on view and 34 in racks). The wild shifts in colors, subject matter and styles are as varied as Karp's fascinating biography. Karp got his start in 1959 in New York as a photographer for NBC, where he took most of its on-air advertising images.

His photography work, which also appeared in Life magazine, The New York Times and Newsweek, led him to design a specialized computer-controlled zoom lens for motion pictures. The lens was used in the opening sequence in "The Godfather," which earned Karp an Academy Award nomination for technical achievement.

After focusing on designing computer systems for multimedia pavilions in museums and theme-park rides at Walt Disney World, Karp found himself in semiretirement in the early '90s — and at the beginning of an art movement.

To some, techno-impressionism may seem like an oxymoron. Impressionism is concerned with capturing light through immediacy, as opposed to the heavily mediated image-editing programs and filters found on the desktop computer. In fact, the most successful works in the show seem to have the least to do with impressionism.

"Metropolis in Blue," a tribute to Fritz Lang's robot in the movie "Metropolis," is a wide-open abstract depiction of an androgynous face traced in circuitry. The print manages to simultaneously reference the past, via art movements such as futurism, as well as the present fascination with flat, simplified fields of color that inform contemporary painting.

This image, and to a lesser degree some others, appear as fresh as something that might be featured in the latest issue of New American Paintings. It's a pleasant surprise in a venue that likely isn't concerned with presenting the newest of the new. Yet many more images, though nice enough, don't quite live up to Karp's ambitious standards. If good art sometimes walks the line between the sublime and kitsch, Karp's techno-impressionism spills over generously on both sides. S

"Photographer Tony Karp: Techno-Impression" is on view at the Weinstein JCC through Nov. 19. Visit www.richmondjcc.org for more information.

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