The Record - Hackensack, NJ
Impressionist works in a digital age
March 11, 2005

WHAT: Sugarloaf Crafts Festival.

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today through Sunday.

WHERE: The Garden State Exhibit Center, 50 Atrium Drive, Somerset. (732) 469-4000 or

HOW MUCH: $7, children under 12 free.

Much of Paul Elson's work is haunting and melancholy. That's exactly what seems to attract people to it. That, and the fact that his unique works start as photographs but end up looking remarkably like paintings.

"I notice people first squinting at it," the North Bergen resident says of his artwork. "Then, they get closer and they lightly touch the canvas; they think they can see a photograph but they are not quite sure. Finally they say: 'These are beautiful, but what are they?'

Elson is sure to hear that question again this weekend at the Sugarloaf Crafts Festival in Somerset, where he will be one of 300 artists showing and selling their works.

The answer to their question is photo impressionism, the technique Elson employs in creating his art.

The pieces start out as photographs or photos of watercolors - his own creations. He then scans those images into a computer, where he manipulates color and composition before printing out the image. Sometimes he paints or draws on it again before taking another photograph and re-scanning. When the image is back in the computer, he might add pieces of other photographs or drawings and then print, photograph and re-scan. This process often continues for seven or eight weeks. The end result is a digital image on canvas.

"Interestingly enough, that turns some people off," Elson said. "They may really love how a piece looks, but if it involved pressing a button on a computer to create the image, they somehow feel deceived."

An award-winning commercial photographer who specializes in architecture, travel and food, Elson studied art in Paris for a year in the '60s. While there, he was greatly influenced by the work of Praxiteles, Brunelleschi, Rembrandt and Seurat.

Those attracted to his new line of work, Elson said, seem to especially fall under the spell of his "Travels With Red" series, based on a photo taken during a torrential downpour in Venice. Elson's attention was drawn to a gondolier sheltering himself under a bridge; he liked the look of the bridge arch and the gondolier pressing his hand on the underside to keep from drifting into the rain. The only downside was a heavy flow of pedestrian traffic crossing back and forth over the gondolier's head.

"I waited for a more stately moving individual to cross the bridge, and then later, excised the other shapes on the bridge using Photoshop," Elson said.

The woman in the photo was carrying a black umbrella, but that made the shot too morbid, so Elson changed the black to red. He called the piece "Travels With Red, Venice." The next in the series was "Travels With Red, Bridge in Central Park," which was actually the first of the two to go on display. The image depicts a lone figure ("Red") walking over a deserted bridge in the park on a snowy day. For this and all the others that followed in the series, the role of Red is played by Elson's wife, Jasmine.

"The lone character is added to draw the viewer into a scene, while the red adds a sense of color," Elson said.

He is especially drawn to shooting at locations - particularly in Manhattan - during storms or off hours when there's nobody around.

"There's just something about the stillness of a normally busy place that seems to be filled with possibilities," Elson said.

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