Abstract Goes Mainstream, And Digital


While studying art history and philosophy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, David Diskin couldn’t afford the kind of art he wanted—large-scale modern works by the likes of Mark Rothko, Roy Lichtenstein, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning—to cover his walls.

So, the Canada native painted versions of his own.

“I was just doing whatever abstract expressionist stuff I wanted,” Mr. Diskin said last week. “All of this goes back to that time period.”

He gestured around his Bridgehampton showroom hung with bright, bold canvases. Some of the pieces are graphic, sharp and clean. Others show off texture created by broad brush strokes.

They are all modern, he said. And they all look painted—but they are not.

This is Modern Digital Canvas, a hub of decorative, modern art that is well-designed yet affordable, Mr. Diskin said, made possible by digital thermal printers and a dream he had in college.

“Many people do very inexpensive reproductions of very famous paintings or they’ll do reproductions of artists that are not in major galleries,” he reported. “We try to do a design version of it. Here’s an interesting echo of what these people have done.”

In the Hamptons, Mr. Diskin and his design team are working with its vast abstract expressionist artistic legacy to create a new collection inspired by the various villages and hamlets across the East End. They will start with Bridgehampton and its very own Roy Lichtenstein in August. The plan is to eventual move into artists associated with East Hampton, Springs, Amagansett and Sag Harbor—where the entrepreneur currently lives.

“When we look at somebody’s work, I might think, ‘Oh, that’s interesting what they did,’ but then I’ll think of a completely different color story or do it in a completely different way,” Mr. Diskin said. “But you’ll still recognize it. The goal is to say, ‘Well, that could have been another painter of the same time period.’”

The process begins with an initial design, achieved either by hand, computer or photograph, Mr. Diskin explained. The image is then converted to a digital image and printed at 2,400 dots per inch.

“They’re printed at such a high resolution that whatever the original thing was, it gives you the appearance of the texture. But the texture itself is just the canvas,” he said. “Nothing is an oil painting, but our feeling is if you do a really good printed version of it, then it becomes what it is: a really good print.”

The pair of Epson digital thermal printers run non-stop, Mr. Diskin said, pumping out 20 to 50 pieces per day, depending on the size—small, medium or jumbo, which is how the entrepreneur personally prefers them. Modern art is meant to be large, he said.

Within three days after ordering, each canvas is hand-stretched, steamed, boxed and shipped—free of cost—to customers inside the United States. The company does business internationally as well, production manager Annie Scheuring explained while cutting excess canvas from a bold, stripe-patterned print before laying it over a 58-inch-by-43-inch jumbo wooden frame.

It’s a great way to own a piece of recognizable modern artwork for not a lot of money, she reported.

“It’s a big pop of color for an inexpensive price. Where else can you get an almost 5-foot canvas for $389, shipped to your door free? That’s the draw,” Ms. Scheuring said. “I have them all over my house. I have one in the bathroom, the bedroom. It’s waterproof, too. You can’t put it in the shower, but it can handle the moisture.”

The art may be modern, but it can hang in any setting, Mr. Diskin said. The trick is learning how to decorate with it, he said. And Ms. Scheuring, who lives in Hampton Bays, said she has had no problem.

“I use them in everyday. My house is just regular,” she chuckled. “When you put one of these in your home, it just totally changes the room. You can take one out of one room and move it to another room. And then it changes that space. It’s amazing, and it makes you feel happy when you walk into a room with color. A lot of people get beautiful rugs and beautiful furniture, and the walls are bare, you know? Not here.”

The key to decorating is less about matching the artwork to the interior as falling in love with how the piece feels, said Mr. Diskin, who previously worked as a fashion designer in Canada and Manhattan.

“If you enjoy it, it’s going to make your space a happier place to be. We’re in the modern art business, but at the end of the day, we’re really in the happiness business. That’s why we have an unconditional, money-back guarantee,” he said. “If, five years from now, your kid throws a soda at it, you’ll get a new one. We actually look forward to those things happening because we know it’s a surprise for our customers. We just believe that if you’re going to connect with somebody who’s very far away, you have to treat them extremely well. That’s what we do here.”

Over the last two decades, Mr. Diskin has watched his college dream come to life—from its humble beginnings in his Sag Harbor basement in 1999 with parent company Artivise. That same year, he landed his first major client: Crate and Barrel.

To cope with a changing market, he founded Modern Digital Canvas five years later. The company has created hundreds of designs, Mr. Diskin said, noting that many have expiration dates. Of the approximate 60 new pieces created over the last eight months alone, only 20 will live on in the permanent collection, he estimated.

“It’s amazing. You just never know how it’s going to go,” Mr. Diskin said of a new venture. “When you start it, you just don’t know.”

He laughed, shaking his head. “I had no idea it would turn into this. And this is just the beginning.”

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