The gradient fill - so easy to produce with today's software - has quickly become a stalwart of contemporary graphic design.
Its use is particularly widespread online, where the ability to suggest three dimensional form has made it a standard for buttons, tabs, and even drop shadow effects (many will also recall the apparently de rigueur rainbow blends of the web's infancy).
Yet it has also stealthily infiltrated contemporary art practice, not just in painting, but across disciplines.
Left: Tobias Madison, Photoshop study
Serving largely as a decorative or gestural feature, the gradient's current incarnation differs substantially from its last, highly influential manifestation as a Modernist trope, where it was utilised largely as a means of defining accentuated form.
Its resurgence in today's art scene seems far harder to explain - unless, of course, we regard this predominance simply as a reflection of its equally abundant presence within modern vocabularies of design.
It's worth noting that an important aspect of the Modernist gradient was its metaphorical allusion to the mechanised precision of the machine age (see Tomoo Gokita, below), and today's gradient certainly fulfills a similar function, emblematic of the digital experience that so completely permeates our lives.
Japanese artist Tomoo Gokita creates works that appear to reprise Modernist treatments of the gradient (even though he has denied any conscious assimilation), and are often particularly reminiscent of Fernand Léger.
Accordingly, they also seem to reflect something of Léger's simultaneous embrace of, yet concerns with, technology; misgivings made manifest in the depiction of the human figure as a kind of nightmarish hybrid of man and machine.
Are similar anxieties expressed in Gokita's portraits?
While it's certainly possible to view the artist's more extreme physiognomic breakdowns as coldly dehumanising, they can also be viewed as affirmations of the complexity of self.
Ultimately, Gokita's standpoint is almost impossible to evaluate: he's a notoriously reclusive artist who reveals little about the impulses behind his work.
And as an erstwhile graphic designer and illustrator, it's highly likely that his use of the gradient is motivated principally by fascination with its form; the painterly potential of translated digitisation.
What's certainly true is that Gokita's work appears to plumb a gamut of computer-generated inspiration, from Photoshop-style, multi-tone 'brushmarks', to splintered planes highly reminiscent of fractal designs.
In his occasional fully abstract works (below), debts to the patterns of algorithmic processing are especially evident.
Similarly to Tomoo Gokita, emerging painter Konrad Wyrebek often produces portraits that are heavily reliant on greyscale gradient effects.
Unlike Gokita, he also frequently makes use of full-colour gradations, their purpose not to define form (which is done by means of silhouette-like outlines) but to energise space with what he terms "hyper-real" colour.
As if to emphasise his embrace of digital techniques, Wyrebek constantly refers to his practice as exemplary of "new media" (which in truth, is far from the case, although his print work (below) is entirely produced in Photoshop. Note 2
It's interesting to note that Wyrebek also cites "...the unreal images of fashion editorial and advertising as a starting point" for his work.
Not, of course, that such sources are in any way unusual, but his obvious attraction to elements of graphic design indicate that the layout techniques of magazine production - themselves revolutionised by recent software - exert as much influence as the photographic content itself.
Recently, Wyrebek has begun to more fully explore the gradient through video footage of ambient light effects, and radial gradient paintings highly reminiscent of similar canvases by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone.
Tauba Auerbach is fascinated by visual media's transition from pre-digital to digital forms, an interest evidenced by her focus on aspects of interruption within image-making itself.
This theme encompasses, although is far from confined to, 'fold' paintings, C-prints of screen-based static, facsimiles of half-tone reproduction and depictions of moiré and frequency meshes.
Although the works in her Fold series bear remarkable resemblance to photographic sources digitally overlaid with gradient blends, they are, in fact, entirely painted by hand - substituting any apparent reliance on computerised technique for 'traditional' production modes.
Created by first crumpling cloth, Auerbach then delineates the folds and applies gradient effects using airbrushed colour - a painting technique that links her work to that of Jules Olitski and his mid 1960s diffusion of the colour field.
The canvas is finally stretched flat.
The works comprising Auerbach's Shatter series (left and below) are again produced using paint rather than the computerised processes they emulate.
For these works, greyscale or coloured gradients are painted directly onto fragments of glass before their eventual assembly on canvas. (Note the striking similarity of the greyscale version to Tomoo Gokita's equally fractal-like designs).
Auerbach's frequent recourse to labour-intensive trompe l'oeil in order to emulate effects easily achieved with the click of a button (a procedure archly referenced in Cory Arcangel's purposely pedestrian gradients (below), conveys something of the complexity of today's artistic arena, poised as it is between vastly differing methods of production.
While acknowledging the presence and, indeed, beauty, of digitally realised imagery, Auerbach self-consciously pursues antitheses to its casual ubiquity through unexpected methods of mimicry: manual preparation and serialised studio labour.
Although Kerstin Brätsch's striking abstract works are produced in oils, they owe clear allegiance to digital 'paint', frequently featuring designs which are generated entirely in Photoshop by collaborator Adele Röder.
Brätsch's swirling, gradient lines - which closely resemble the multi-chromatic brushstroke - almost exactly duplicate their digitally generated equivalents, but are also highly painterly, their creation dependent on expert control of medium.
Like many of the younger artists featured in this article, Brätsch's approach to digital technologies is far from straightforward.
Although the computer is absolutely key to many aspects of her practice (so much so that we've included examples of her work in various sections of this essay) it is also frequently usurped by ultimate recourse to traditional painting methods.
This accent on the hand-made increasingly appears part of today's painters' compromise with digitisation: referencing its possibilities, but often choosing to do so via age-old methods of reproduction.
Garth Weiser's constantly evolving, consistently impressive output encompasses influences and techniques ranging from Modernism to recent experiments with moiré patterning. A unifying factor throughout his work, however, is consistent allusion to the precise configurations of graphic design and its various methodologies.
Weiser's own interest in the gradient takes an unusual direction by replacing smooth blends with bars of near-contiguous colour.
Such effects not only link his work to the precise, plane-like forms of historical movements such as Constructivism and Art Deco, they also magnify and highlight the mechanism through which digital gradients are actually rendered as progressive bands of colour-gradated pixels.
Newer pieces featuring complex moiré effects (left) are, like Tauba Auerbach's digital-seeming works (above), meticulously handcrafted, exhibiting a similar fascination with processes of interruption, interference, and analogue response to the virtual image.
Arcangel is not a painter, and technology lies firmly at the heart, rather than the peripheries, of his practice.
Yet his series of Photoshop Gradient Demonstrations (2008) - each titled according to the specific data required for its recreation - provides a fitting adjunct to any discussion of the infiltration of digital techniques into the field of painting itself.
Works such as Photoshop CS: 84 by 66 inches, 300 DPI, RGB, square pixels, default gradient 'Spectrum', mousedown y=22100 x=14050, mouseup y=19700 x=1800 (left) focus on the absolute ease of 'one-click' production using the simplest of Photoshop's pre-set gradient tools.
While exhibiting a veneer of distanced neutrality, these digital 'ready-mades' are inherently polemic, serving both as potential celebration and indictment of the digital artwork.
Somewhat poorly received by critics, most seemed to have missed this point entirely. While Arcangel makes it clear that anyone can produce identical pieces simply by following the instructions embedded in their titles, the implication is that near-automation can stifle creativity as readily as it offers new artistic opportunity.
Routine, glib production is exactly the kind of trap offered by the 'anyone can do it' promise of the digital art arena, and Arcangel has further described these works as representative of techniques quickly superceded by newer technologies, tools and trends.
Arcangel's consciously pedestrian (though nonetheless beguiling) gradients exemplify the danger of assuming that the allure of digital tools and canned effects - however extraordinary in their own right - can ever take the place of thoughtfully crafted practice. With digitisation, the pitfalls of style over substance are more pronounced than ever.
Given the startling currency of the gradient in today's art scene, we've decided to showcase its use not only by painters, but artists working in additional disciplines.
The prevalence of the Modernist gradient extended from the geometric planes of analytical cubism and its various scions - particularly Fernand Léger's renowned 'mechanical' works - through to American Precisionism and Art Deco, with Tamara de Lempinca's celebrated portraits an obvious, though far from isolated, example of its continuing importance well into the 1930s.
Wyrebek's insistence on a distinction between 'old' and 'new' media is, perhaps, somewhat surprising in a painter of his generation - many of whom draw few clearcut discrepancies between digital and analogue forms.
This said, Wyrebek is also a highly savvy promotor of his own work, widely using the web's many forums, blogs and specialist websites to disseminate exposure to his practice; 'new media' is employed as a favoured keyword search phrase. (The manifold online opportunities for artists to promote their work are, of course, another aspect of digital technology which has impacted enormously on 21st century practice).