I may be a Millennial, but I fall into that awkward camp of older, early-thirty-somethings who grew up before the advent of smartphones and social media. In fact, the most impressive piece of technology I had growing up was the original, thick-as-a-brick Nintendo Game Boy. I was very late (and reluctant) to get a smartphone, I still refuse to take selfies and only recently, did I agree to enter the Twittersphere (it’s strictly for business purposes). OK, so I’m a little behind.
Laurence Gartel, on the other hand, who’s nearly twice my age, has been ahead of the tech curve for more than four decades. “I discovered digital art in 1975 because of a high school girlfriend,” he tells me (more on that story in a minute). In fact, Gartel’s a legendary digital artist. The New York City native’s work has been exhibited all around the world, and he was the official artist for the 2015 Grammy Awards. He even introduced Andy Warhol to digital art, teaching the famed pop artist how to alter an image on his Amiga 1000 home computer.
This summer, Gartel’s driven some of his best work straight up to Saratoga Springs. Literally. DePaula Auto Group commissioned Gartel to skin a uniquely crafted Maserati Ghibli art car, bumper to bumper, with his eye-catching digital designs. The car made an appearance on Opening Day at Saratoga Race Course, at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, and has figured in a number of other charity events in the Capital Region this summer. Art cars are nothing new for Gartel; his first was a trippy (pun intended) Roadster commissioned by Tesla for the 2010 Art Basel Miami Beach. The Saratoga-themed Maserati that Gartel designed down in Florida marks his 58th such creation, and it’s been a part of raffles and fundraisers for Equine Advocates, Skidmore College and the Saratoga Automobile Museum, among others: Couples have been bidding for a chance to drive the art car to Lake Placid for a weekend getaway. (Tickets for the Auto Museum’s art car raffle will also be available at the Saratoga Wine & Food Festival presented by saratoga living September 7-9.)
But back to that girlfriend—and discovering digital art. Though Gartel says his mother used to take him to the Guggenheim Museum in New York City every Saturday, his true fascination with computers and digital art began more than 40 years ago when, fatefully, he followed that high school love interest to the University of Buffalo for a semester. There, by chance, he met avant-garde Korean-American artist Nam June Paik, long considered the father of video art. At the time, Gartel was interested in taking still images off of moving ones—and approached Paik with the idea (he’d gotten the notion watching Charlie Chaplin’s film Modern Times). “I told him, ‘I believe this is the future of art,’” says Gartel. “And he said, ‘You’re a crazy man.’” Taking that as a “huge compliment,” Gartel followed his passion, and the rest is history. It allowed him to drive a Maserati up from Florida to spend a summer in Saratoga. Sounds like he made the right decision.