THE DIARY: Computer creator

Pictured is Ernest Edmonds with part of his exhibition at the Site Gallery,Brown Street,Sheffield
Pictured is Ernest Edmonds with part of his exhibition at the Site Gallery,Brown Street,Sheffield
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BACK in 1968, there were plenty of people who were sceptical about Hathersage artist Ernest Edmonds’ work.

He had started to create pictures using a new machine installed in the bowels of Leicester Polytechnic but few thought his methods would catch on.

“They didn’t see the potential,” he says. “They didn’t think it had a future.”

That machine was an early computer.

And, today, Ernest - a grandfather-of-four living in Heather Lane - is widely celebrated as one of the world’s first digital artists.

He was making images with that computer before most people had even heard the phrase: ‘Have you tried rebooting?’

“It was the size of a small building and had less memory than your average 21st century watch,” he says today. “But I was convinced it had the potential to be this incredible new medium for visual imagery. I thought if Leonardo da Vinci was around, this is what he’d be working with.”

He’s too modest to call himself a pioneer (though others do) but following from those early experiments with that early computer, Ernest has spent the last four decades exhibiting around the globe.

His work - bold abstract blocks of patterned primary colours - has gone up everywhere from London to Los Angeles, Moscow to Mebourne.

And now it’s Sheffield’s turn. This Saturday his first ever show here opens at Site Gallery, in Brown Street.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he says.

It is some way from those bowels of Leicester Poly, circa 1968.

Then, he was teaching logic but working on digital art in his free time.

“There were a handful of us experimenting in different parts of the world,” he says. “A lot of traditionalists frowned on it but it became my passion.”

That eventually led to him quitting logic and continuing his work while teaching computation, firstly at Loughborough University and then at the University of Technology in Sydney where he still lives half the year.

And as computers advanced so too did his pieces. By the 1980s his art actually changed depending on how an audience reacted.

“So, at Site there are cameras in the work,” explains Ernest who was born in London but moved to Hathersage after falling in love with the Peak District in 2002. “Those cameras feed into a programme which means colours and shapes change depending on the movement in the room. I think it makes every viewing special.”

The exhibition runs from Saturday to February 2. It begins with a talk from four leading computer art pioneers on Saturday.