Art from code - Generator.x
Generator.x is a conference and exhibition examining the current role of software and generative strategies in art and design. [Read more...]
Tag: painting

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Australian skateboard mag Refill has put together an interesting exhibition of laser engraved skateboards under the title Refill Seven. 80 artists were asked to design each their deck, which were then produced in a limited edition of 50 copies each. Price? $500.

Laser cutting is getting a lot of attention recently as one of the first digital fabrication technologies to become truly cheap and accessible. It can easily be used for “printing” images into unusual materials, or for constructing parts for complex forms. Usages include custom signage, jewelry design, models in paper or plastic etc.

In terms of laser cutting used as an image medium, Refill Seven is one of the most interesting examples to date. Skate and surf culture has always been fond of customization, so laser engraving skateboards makes perfect sense. Most of the pieces are in the baroque style popular with skaters, with only a few examples of abstract work. There doesn’t seem to be any computational pieces, so in that sense the uniquely digital nature of the technology has been passed over.

Technically, the project is very advanced. A rotating clamp was used to ensure smooth engraving even in non-flat areas. For obvious reasons laser cutting is oriented towards lines, but here filled areas are smoothly drawn. According to Wired Magazine a resolution of 1200 DPI was achieved, which is far beyond most current laser cutting.

For another take on skateboard customization, check out Mekanism Skateboard’s new collaboration with Peter Zimmermann, an established German painter. Zimmermann painted 60 blank boards with epoxy resin, giving a three-dimensional textured surface that is spectacularly colorful.

The Zimmermann boards are intended for the art market rather than teenage skaters, and have so far proven very popular with art collectors. A previous Mekanism collab with John Maeda was blogged on Generator.x in 2005.

Related links:


Images shown are not from the Swarm exhibition.

Julie Mehretu: Ruffian Logistics

Julie Mehretu: Ruffian Logistics

Wattenberg: Shape of Song

Matthew Ritchie: Self-Portrait in 2064

This has been blogged elsewhere, but it’s interesting enough to bring up again. The Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia currently have a show they call “Swarm”. The title is a tip of the hat to scientific and cultural theories, as well as a more general idea of “unplanned and decentralized modes of organization”. Some obvious references:

Curated by well-known designers and curators Abbott Miller and Ellen Lupton, the exhibition brings together artists that typically would not be shown together. Painting is juxtaposed with generative software works and installation art, well-known art world names mix with less obvious ones. Generator.x readers will be familiar with C.E.B. Reas and Jason Salavon, but perhaps less so with Julie Mehretu or Matthew Ritchie. Of course, the reverse would be true for readers from the mainstream art world.

The interesting aspect of this exhibition is how the works are selected for relevance to a cultural idea (the swarm), and not for their inclusion in specific art trends. Generative art, still an outsider art form as far as the art world is concerned, suddenly makes sense in the show. After all, it tends to address issues similar to those explored in the complex paintings of Mehretu or Ritchie (if nothing else, then certainly on a visual level). While generative artists usually shy away from talking about the relationship between their work and the human condition, this show makes just that connection.

Julie Mehretu reference via dataisnature. More to follow.

Name: Project

Dr.Woohoo: Color Analytics

With Flash 8, Flash is increasingly becoming a tool for serious visualization. Doug Marttila (lead designer at Visual i|o) has started a blog called The Forest and the Trees to evangelize this combo. As he says: “Data visualization can make the world a better place. Really.”

Marttila’s blog is only a little over a month old and a bit thin on content yet, but he does have some wonderful links. One of them is a color palette visualization called Color Analytics, using the new pixel capabilities of Flash 8. It allows the user to browse through a large database of paintings and see statistical analysis of the colors used in the paintings. It even provides links to other paintings with similar palettes. The piece is an experiment from Dr.Woohoo Brothers, a New Mexico interactive “boutique”.

See The Forest and the Trees for more Flash visualization links. (via dataisnature)


Jason Salavon’s work has been popping up all over the place lately. This week Infosthetics posted about his Playboy Centerfold piece, with several other blogs picking up the link. At the Generator.x conference Golan Levin showed his Form Study #1 as an example of how generative work could tap into richer conceptual dimensions.

Salavon’s project is a kind of anti-visualization. He hints at profound hidden meaning, but ultimately obscures or ridicules it. This is particularly true of his series of what he calls amalgamations, which includes the Playboy Centerfolds, 76 Blowjobs, 100 Special Moments etc. In these and works like Everything, All at Once the strategy of data averaging is an ironic device, ultimately reducing signal to noise. Not coincidentally, the resulting images tends to be pleasing to the eye, composed of pastel colors and soft shapes. In this way Salavon succeeds at creating visually interesting abstract images, while imbuing them with a suggestive content.

As attractive as the amalgamations are, Salavon’s Golem is a better comment on generative art. Golem is a series of 100 000 abstract paintings, created by software designed by Savalon to “relentlessly generate an infinite variety of such paintings”. This is a conceptual piece disguising itself as a visual work. Salavon claims that Golem “might be said to pass a Turing Test for abstract painting”, but in reality it is an ironic (if not nihilistic) comment on generic abstract painting and the use of software to create infinite variations.

Golem cuts to the heart of an issue meticulously avoided by most generative artists: What is the value of a single image produced by a process that generates infinite series? What constitutes the art object, the singular output or the process as a whole? For artists that are trying to operate in a commercial art reality (as Salavon is), these are dangerous questions, potentially undermining the value of software-based work. Artists like C.E.B. Reas have circumvented this problem by selling software works as unique one-off objects with no editions, or as single large-scale prints presenting snapshots of the work. The difference is that Reas is genuinely interested in the single image, whereas Salavonseems intent on demonstrating the meaningless of the same.


The Cranbrook Art Museum (part of Cranbrook Academy of Art, famous for its influence on architecture and graphic design in the 90s) had an exhibition in 2003 called Post-digital painting. Curated by Joe Houston, the show presented positions in painting that reflect the influence of digital media on visual arts. From the web site:

This group exhibition presents 12 contemporary international artists whose work reflects the dynamic visual perspective of the computer age. Using densely layered patterns, morphed imagery and cybernetic spatial distortion, an emerging generation of painters are adding renewed vigor to the traditional medium of painting today. Hailing from the United States, England and Germany, the artists included reflect the global impact of new technologies on vision and representation.

It’s an approach I have noticed on occasion, with painters using Adobe Illustrator and other tools to plan paintings. I’m not completely convinced, but it’s an interesting perspective. The reviews from Detroit News and Metro Times are interesting for their mainstream painting perspectives on digital work.

As an aside, Kim Cascone used the term “post-digital” in his article "The aesthetics of Failure" to describe a movement in computer music that rails against the cleanness of digital audio, and strives to rediscover the material qualities and defects of the binary world. Interesting article.

Tom Moody: Swarm

Tom Moody: Swarm

Tom Moody’s work is done with lo-tech digital tools: MS Paintbrush (the old version, mind you) and consumer printers. Quite a stretch for someone who originally started out as a painter. Moody also maintains a wonderful blog on life, digital art and everything (his art work is here). He posted yesterday about an interview with him in the magazine NY Arts. To quote him slightly out of context: “..the text is an attempt to legitimize working with the computer to my brethren in the gallery world; that quest seems totally doomed..”

The interview and Moody’s own reflections on it is worth reading for anyone who cares about overlaps between the electronic and commercial art worlds. And if you’re not, then just read his blog for the pleasure of it.

Leonel Moura : Artsbot

Leonel Moura: Painting with robots

Leonel Moura is a Portuguese artist who creates generative art using robots. He places his work in the field of painting, but questions the artist’s own role in the work. He envisions a “Symbiotic art” where man and machine work together to abandon the domination of the art field by arbitrary human perceptions. The text "Swarm Paintings - Non-human art" outlines his interests in the fields of Artificial Intelligence and robotics as artistic tools.

A true unmanned art depends on the capacity to produce mechanical ‘organisms’ able to create their own art. This can be achieved by building devices with some kind of environmental awareness that run algorithms based on simple rules. The art produced is not predetermined in any manner, resulting rather from randomness and stigmergy, that is, indirect communication between multiple agents trough the environment. To witness the construction of a painting by autonomous robots represents for the human viewer an experience of global consciousness.

All this theory about the negation of the artist-as-genius is well-founded both in artificial intelligence theory and art history, but what is interesting is how the artist translates his ideas to actual work. Moura’s robot-executed paintings are very expressive, even organic in their appearance, without any aspect of a machinic aesthetic. The pieces are possessed of a distinctive movement and quality of line, as well as a dynamic use of color.

The mbots themselves look more like pragmatic solutions than high science, elegant in their lo-fi simplicity. It must be a pleasant experience to watch them paint.

Lieberman / Kimura: Drawn

Lieberman / Kimura: Drawn

Drawn is a performance collaboration between Japanese “frequency surfer” Pardon Kimura and artist Zach Lieberman, using live painting combined with computer vision as an interface for creating visuals.

A camera films a stack of papers on which Lieberman draws with a brush. The camera’s image is sent through a computer, which analyzes the scene and converts the painted shapes to mathematically described curves. The computer then modifies the image seen by the audience, erasing the original painting and superimposing the new computer-generated shapes. This allows the shapes to be played with as though they weren’t actually painted on paper, and the user can push them around the page using only his hands. The illusion is efficient and feels beautifully organic and lo-tech.

Drawn is a logical progression for Lieberman, whose work often concerns itself with gestural input and performance. As Tmema, Lieberman and Golan Levin created the Manual Input Sessions performance, using overhead projectors and computer vision to create both sound and image. It’s interesting that two people whose abilities are so high-tech are consistently attracted to low-tech gestural input. But then, a seamless organic illusion is one of the hardest things to do with a computer.

Original link from

Zdenek Sykora

Zdeněk Sýkora: Line no.50, 1988

Czech painter Zdeněk Sýkora (born 1920) is one of several pioneers who started using the computer as a tool for artistic production in the 1960s. In his case the computer takes an advisory role as a tool with which to plan his paintings, which are then realized in the traditional way.

Sýkora’s work is concerned with the structure and relationships betweens objects, typically configurations of a given number of lines of varying dimensions. The computer is used to plan these structures and add chance or variation.

The Prague Post has an article on a recent exhibition of Sýkora's work. On the pages of the CCA Prague there is an interesting interview with Sýkora where he discusses his history and process with Vítek Čapek: Interview with Zdeněk Sýkora. The interview seems to have been part of an exhibition called Orbis fictus, which dealt with new media art and was shown in Prague in 1994.

Sýkora has some interesting insights on the nature of collaborating with a computer. From the interview:

Q: What opportunities opened up to you with the use of computers?

A: I started using computers with the influence of various circumstances which probably had the following sequence: I have already clarified my route to structural paintings, and another factor was the period around the year 1960 which meant for us the chance to use computers in our work. In the art world, this was and still is understood as heresy, like something dangerous for this “fragile realm of feelings.”

Art which doesn’t feel or isn’t capable of perceiving the spiritual pathos of contemporary scientific knowledge and actual work, is not the art of today or the future. I am continually intrigued by the possibilities of New media and knowledge so long as it deepens or clarifies the expression of my life emotions.

Q: Let us return to the computer which functions within the working process. It assists you in your work. Do you allow for the fact that its language also influenced you?

A: I have to make a few things clear concerning my relationship with computers. During the phases where one decides to use the computer, the material has to be set into elements which can be brought into the binary language of computers. This applies in all fields. My “Grey Structure” was even construed by instinct. The basic rule was the attempt to ensure that the vicinity of the same elements would, as far as possible, never be repeated. I didn’t ever think of using a computer at that time.

Later, when I started working with Dr. Jaroslav Blazek, I was forced to accept a consistent rational logic which in no way impoverished my ideas, on the contrary, in fact.

The first works using the computer showed that consistent adherence to a set system disturbed a number of artistic conventions, composition or otherwise, which would, for example, probably not allow for the same element to be repeated ten times one after the other. The computer then can influence one’s thinking in that it behaves more logically and accurately.

The tip about Sýkora came from Floex .