How Digital Artist Nema Adel Fosters Creativity and Inspiration in a New Artistic Field
The Sydney-based projection artist discusses the importance of experimentation and nightlife to his art.
May 11, 2020
in partnership with
If you've ever needed a positive example of how one night can change everything, just chat to Nema Adel. He had no intention of becoming an artist. In fact, he had just completed a university degree in a completely unrelated field when he went to a Flying Lotus performance at the Sydney Opera House that sparked a new passion for real-time digital art. Four and a half years on, Adel is now a sought-after digital artist who has created activations for festivals such as Liveworks and Vivid. He is also one of the visionary artists to team up with Miller Design Lab in 2020 to celebrate our nightlife and its impact on culture to deliver exceptional moments to you and your home.
Deciding to forge a career in a relatively new — and quite niche — artistic field has meant Adel's path has been anything but traditional, so Concrete Playground sat down with the artist to discuss his creative process. Read on to discover how he seeks inspiration and the importance of nightlife to his art, then check out the video above to see him in action.
In addition to the Flying Lotus gig, Adel pinpoints one other serendipitous moment that propelled his career. At his first ever event in 2016, which involved digital projections on a bank of trees over a river, Adel met an artist from Germany who liked his work. What followed was a six-month stint touring Germany and Austria doing shows. "And that was my education," he says.
Adel explains that because digital art is such a new and ever-evolving art form he is mostly self-taught. "If I go on Google, I won't get any answers to the things I want to know, because nobody has really done it before," he says.
Instead, Adel relies on connecting with others around the world who work in similar artistic spaces, particularly through Instagram, to share ideas, new techniques and advice. In particular, he notes San Francisco-based company All Of It Now and its Creative Director Kev Zhu, who shares tutorials online and has worked with Drake on custom projections for arena tours, as a key source of inspiration and knowledge sharing.
But mostly, "it's just loads of experimentation. Unlike fine arts and classical arts, where [there is a] technique that we've perfected over hundreds of years."
Customisation is present throughout Adel's entire process. "The design mainly happens on the computer, but I don't know how that actually looks unless I set up the projection and understand it in reality. Then, I'll take it back to the computer, then back to reality, and keep ping-ponging back and forth."
For that reason, Adel doesn't really have a traditional workspace. He has a studio at Marrickville's Create Or Die, a creative hub filled with artists that he loves to bounce ideas off or collaborate with, including graffiti artist Iro Kitamura.
"He might be painting murals and I'll be projecting onto the mural painting. I really enjoy it as I don't have those fine art skills," he says.
Adel also likes that his work takes him out and about. "I love my style of work so much because the space changes — different venues and different galleries — and that'll always inform how you're going to work."
And he mostly works at night. "On the most basic level, I cannot do my craft in the middle of the day… the natural light will wash out my projection light. Without the nighttime, I don't have a craft."
Beyond that, he acknowledges the symbiotic relationship art and nightlife have: "I work in a lot of events and I was able to keep practising through the nightlife that we have — whether it's working with musical artists or exhibitions. If you have an extensive nightlife, [artists] can keep rolling and keep becoming better".
Of course, much of that has changed in the past few months due to restrictions on public gatherings. Adel has had many jobs cancelled and has made the decision to temporarily move out of his Marrickville studio for safety reasons. Though he knows many other creatives are trying to keep up the collaboration and creativity in this time, he isn't. For someone who believes that "creativity is a mirror" and will reflect the artist's mood or current situation, it makes sense that he'd prefer to pause on creating for now.
"I've consciously decided to use this as a bit more of a rest period, and that's partly due to the fact that there is a lot less inspiration in my life at the moment," he explains. Instead, he is viewing this time as a "study period" by doing some online tutorials, perfecting techniques and keeping up to date on the software tools he relies on.
But when normal life resumes and he is ready to boost what he calls his creativity "metre" again, Adel has a few tried and tested techniques for seeking inspiration. "Travelling or seeing a new place and taking photos — that'll always bring new ideas to me," he says.
"When there are events on with artists from other countries, I love it. I have no idea what to expect… but their art has been formed in a different way. You want to get as many perspectives as you possibly can under your belt.
"I'm also very inspired by the Studio Ghibli films…. They've managed to create rich stories from imagery, and I think for me that is the ultimate goal: not just creating things that look nice, but things which convey meaning. That's hopefully what I aim for in the next ten years."
For more, check out Nema's collaboration with Miller Genuine Draft here.
For more ways to celebrate your city's nightlife and recreate its energy in your own space, head this way.
Images: Reuben Gibbes