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Gary Tonge

Vision Afar, the accomplished artworks of Gary Tonge, give us a glimpse beyond the edge of the known universe…

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Age: 35
Country: UK
Favourite artists: Craig Mullins (digital), Syd Mead (traditional)
Software used: Adobe Photoshop CS
Web: www.visionafar.com/va

"Colour. I love how it can make you feel cold, hot, happy, sad, in awe or scared.” Colour is important to Gary Tonge. “It’s such a powerful force,” he says. “If used well.” And indeed he does, producing dreamy visions of impossibly far reaching scenes. Gary paints in order to understand: “I think that maybe space is our closest glimpse of the totally, utterly unimaginable truth of reality.”

Taken together, Gary’s Vision Afar images show an amazing sense of perspective, so strong in certain images you could fall in if you weren’t careful. “I have always been fascinated with grand scales,” admits Gary. The artist traces his fascination to a particular moment: “The Star Destroyer/Corvette sequence at the start of Star Wars,” he points out, excitedly. Gary remembers that he was precisely seven and a half at the time when the arrival of the Empire made its bold and long-lasting impression: “It was a stunning scene.”

The concentration of under-twelves left slack-jawed with awe has probably never been higher, in that theatre or any other: “I think from that point on you could say I have been very interested in perspective and atmospheric depth.” Thank you, Mr Lucas.

On the drawing board

Gary works as an art director at a leading game development studio: “That means in my day job I create artwork for clients, very rarely having the chance to work on something I really want to,” he notes. But he points out that there’s good and bad in this: “To be honest, you learn by being pushed away from your area of comfort.”

Gary admits he found the technical requirements of the gaming world blunted his artistic excitement somewhat, and he needed to let off creative steam. “I never did any art for me, so I decided to start painting some pieces that I wanted to see.” Pretty quickly, the artist realised he wanted to share his work with the world, and www.visionafar.com was born.

What started as a personal project has paid an unexpected dividend. Gary is now faced with the option of illustrating full time: “I’m quite keen on that,” he enthuses.  “Art directing can be fun, but hands-on is where the real sparks fly!”

Style guide

What drives Gary’s style? “Oh, I used to be obsessed with clean detailing and nice lighting, but I’m definitely evolving that style,” he explains. His current look is still quite fresh, but you can see the brush starting to loosen up, particularly in his speed paintings. “I’ve started to speed paint more recently,” he adds. “This involves me smashing random brush shapes around for between 30 and 90 minutes in an effort to produce a vivid and spontaneous image.” This approach is naturally feeding through to other areas.

“My concepts are pretty loose as well,” Gary observes. “I find it important not to get too tied up in little details when you’re trying to convey a feeling or idea.” Of course, as he produces his work in Photoshop, this freeing-up process is contingent on the speed and flexibility of the underlying technology.

Computer love

Gary first entered the games industry in 1987. “Back then, we made very crude graphics for computers, on computers,” he recalls. But things have come a long way since then: “Now I find the digital environment a wonderful place to be.”

He acknowledges that digital painting is not without its disadvantages, of course: “Like not being able to see a big canvas in full res.” But Gary is so used to this limitation he hardly sees it any more. And along with many others he feels that the medium is beginning to come of age. He reckons that until recently, digital was seen as a ‘pretend’ medium – a poor alternative to natural media only chosen through necessity. He thinks that has changed now: “It’s becoming quite respected, thanks a large part to feature films and conceptual design.”

All in the mind

One thing computers will (probably) never be able to replace is the imagination of people like Gary. “I’m always seeing images in my head.” These images implore Gary to make them real. “But the rational part of my mind tells me I just haven’t got time to paint them all!”

So what is out there, in Gary’s universe? “Ok, conjecture time. I would surmise that what we can see is a fraction of what there actually is. I cannot believe there isn’t an intellect behind all of what we consider to be real.” The so-called teleological argument. “Space, matter, time – all of these things would therefore be a part of that being’s creation. And if it is created, how many more people and races are out there in the far reaches of the universe? And what are they up to?”

The possibilities seem endless, to Gary, but one thing’s certain in his mind: “There have got to be some kick ass spaceships out there too.”

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