H and V Stripes with Offset

Posted: November 23, 2018 at 6:26 pm

I tweaked the code a little more and put the layer by layer offsets back in. I have to say I am happier with these less dense results with offsets and where the frequency is constrained more. The selections below show stripes and chevrons, respectively. Note the skew method (rather than rotation, as mentioned in the last post), means some chevrons may end up as vertical stripes. The offsets are constrained to the same structure as the X translation for chevron and circle compositions (Left, OneThird, Centre, TwoThirds, Right positions).

Horizontal and Vertical Stripes

Posted: November 23, 2018 at 11:37 am

I had in mind an exploration using horizontal and vertical stripes. These end up being very grid-like, but part of that is because the stripes themselves are not offset (where more background is visible), so the stripes fill the whole composition and are quite dense. Somewhat interesting, but even with only two layers they tend to me very dense. Maybe there should be a constraint so that the frequency of the layers are not similar… Also I’m not sure I want to have the chevrons skewed so much as rotated (so that the vertical stripes stay perpendicular to the horizontal stripes in chevrons). I’ll put back in the offset code and will post some of those results later today. Following are images showing the chevron and stripe render modes. I was unable to easily fix the circle rendering due to my misunderstanding of texture coordinates, which previously worked due to 1px tall images used to generate stripes of a single orientation.

Refined Sinewave Stripes with X Offset

Posted: November 22, 2018 at 10:59 am

I refined the code and added a random X offset from a fixed set of intervals. The code was also tweaked a little, but I think I would still like to see a greater range of frequencies. (more…)

Sinewave Stripes

Posted: November 15, 2018 at 6:53 pm

Above is a selection of results from a sine-wave based stripe generator. This allows for few parameters to describe a wide variety of densities. Also, the gaps between stripes, their thickness, and the softness of their edges are parameterized; contrast and threshold parameters allow the sinewaves to become stripes of various widths with edges of various softness. All of these images are generated with 5 layers (one wave per layer). In these results the blur shader is disabled;  any softness is due to the contrast parameter. I’ve included a few strong results below at full resolution… (more…)

Tweaks to transparency, blurred edges and density.

Posted: November 9, 2018 at 3:10 pm

The above image shows the results of some code tweaking. I added random transparency to layers (inspired by Paul Reed) and decreased the range of blur. The result is a little more variety of colour and a greater likelihood of hard edge.


Posted: November 8, 2018 at 3:12 pm

Above is a selection of some explorations of chevrons after Noland and Mehring. I had to add an additional parameter for the angle of the chevrons; for the final implementation I’ll need to make sure all the rendering methods use the same number of parameters. There is also the issue of weighting; the parameters for each layer (stripe) are all equal, but the rendering method (and background colour) have a disproportionate effect on the final composition. This means I may need (if using an MLP) to repeat the number of parameters that represent render method and background colour to increase their weight. Following is a detail of one of the chevrons… (more…)

Howard Mehring

Posted: November 7, 2018 at 5:30 pm

In the Key of Blue II, Howard Mehring, 1965

Mehring certainly enforces my interest in the sine-wave method of generating compositional elements (due to his emphasis on rhythm, musicality and repetition). His inverted ‘T’ compositions (like the one above) emphasize a central axis of symmetry and his work with chevrons encourages me to investigate chevrons.

Softer Gradients and Moiré Patterns

Posted: November 2, 2018 at 4:41 pm

I forgot that I had already written code to increase the amount of blur in a shader (written for my early grant applications years ago); I just had not tried to use very large blur amounts since I had not looked at that shader code! In the images above, the max blur is the whole width of the display (1920) so very soft and subtle gradients are possible. To emphasize this increased blur, I used only two layers on top of the background. The following image shows one of these subtle variations at full size. (more…)

Gene Davis

Posted: October 29, 2018 at 1:55 pm

Hot Beat, Gene Davis, 1964

Gene Davis was one of my initial inspirations for the Zombie Formalist. I did not find a lot of conceptual overlap compared with some of the other colour field painters. There is an interesting separation between ‘structure’ and colour that I had not considered; part of Davis’ motivation was to emphasize colour over ‘structure’, but what does ‘structure’ mean? This position is in the context of considering colour field painting as an ‘alternative’ to Abstract Expressionism. I initially though structure meant line, but Abstraction Expressionism does not depend on line either. Is the rejected structure the brush / drip structure in Abstract Expressionism? I was thinking about how art gets pushed forward by rejecting the dominant approach in relation to my own work. Could I be embarking on this hard-edge and restrained aesthetic as a rejection of the exploding popularity of GAN and CNN approaches to image making? (more…)

On Open and Narrow Readings of Phenomena and Theories in Art and Science

Posted: October 26, 2018 at 3:56 pm

Last night a subset of the LOoW folks got together at Emily Carr for a presentation on emergence from an artistic perspective and have some informal discussions at a pub.

I just wanted to reflect a little here and focus on things that really stood out from the discussion. The physicists in the room brought up the idea of emergence (as the emergence of surprising behaviour due to the interactions of numerous believed-to-be understood components) in condensed matter physics. In the discussion some tensions between particle physics and condensed matter physics became visible. I’ll need to return to condensed matter physics later on (as I had not heard that term), and a quick look at the wikipedia page seems to indicate we’re talking about modelling complexity at the transition between states (solid to liquid, etc.). Through the discussion I kept thinking about disciplines and these various senses of “emergence” (e.g. coming from the dark into the light), and I realized that my initial and implicit sense of emergence comes from the influence of fractals, ALife, autopoiesis, self-organization through my artistic career. I realized that my sense of emergence is really about complexity science as a meta-discipline. (more…)

New Square EIZO Display!

Posted: October 25, 2018 at 10:33 am

Here is an image of my workspace showing a visual explorations on the new ~27″ square display. This is the display that the Zombie Formalist will be built around. Its a nice IPS panel with very good colour and the scale and resolution (1920×1920) is indeed impressive. I could get used to making work for this display… The more I think about it, the more I see the ZF hardware platform as a basis for many different bodies of work.

Vertical and Concentric Stripes with Offset

Posted: October 19, 2018 at 6:22 pm

I added some code to randomly offset the whole set of stripes so that compositions can be unevenly weighted from the centre to the edges, or from the left to the right. This increases the variety of compositions significantly. The following images are all generated by the same program with 30 stripes with random offsets that are rendered as circles or vertical stripes. The next step will be to increase the range of possible blur amounts. I’ve also included a few full resolution images: (more…)

Concentric Stripes after Kenneth Noland.

Posted: October 19, 2018 at 3:21 pm

I finished some code that renders stripes as concentrically as inspired by Kenneth Noland. I’ve included a selection with 2 and 30 stripes, respectively. I’m quite happy with these results, but I noticed some aliasing issues with hard-edged stripes and a couple artifacts. Since these are explorations and not written for the target hardware I won’t worry about it yet. I’ve included a couple full resolution images for the new square screen at the bottom of this post.


First Leaning Out of Windows TRIUMF Visit.

Posted: October 9, 2018 at 4:14 pm

On September 28th I was present for the first meeting of the third phase of the Leaning Out of Windows project. I’m really excited about this project as I had previously been inspired by physics in my artistic work (“Engineered“) and have been looking to get back into that body of knowledge. I applied for a few COLLIDE residency awards at CERN over the last couple of years and made video submissions available here and here.

As part of this meeting we did a tour of TRIUMF and I’ll include additional photos from the tour below. The meeting (and tour) were overwhelming to say the least and I still need some time to integrate and reflect. This blog post is devoted my initial musings and some very preliminary project ideas. (more…)

Kenneth Noland

Posted: September 10, 2018 at 7:28 pm

Gift, Kenneth Noland, 1961-62

Summer Plain, Kenneth Noland, 1967

Another Time, Kenneth Noland, 1973

I don’t really have anything to write about Kenneth Noland on a conceptual level; the variety of his work is very interesting in the context of the ZF. I chose three bodies of work to show different possible directions of structural exploration. The ‘target’, in particular, is interesting since technically, it’s stripes using a polar coordinate system. This means it should not be very difficult to explore some of these structures.

Ellsworth Kelly

Posted: September 7, 2018 at 6:42 pm

Colors for Large Wall, Ellsworth Kelly, 1951

It is probably my bias towards these particular painters, but I continue to be surprised to the degree I find an affinity with their processes and artistic intentions, especially considering the gap in time and media.

Kelly shares with me an interest in an artistic practise that is “impersonal” with an emphasis on “anonymity” (ambiguity in my interpretation) and a rejection of “expression”. Kelly often finds formal inspiration in the world around him, that is then abstracted in his painting process. This seems quite interesting in the context of my machines using cameras to capture their environments in order to generate novel forms, images and structures that are not predictable nor perfect representations of the world. There is also the inquiry into objects, perception and the relation between form and ground that connect deeply with my works framed as “Subjective Machines”. Kelly and I also share and interesting emphasis on fragmentation, especially in the context of his early work with collage reconstruction and the use of chance operations. Kelly’s interest in autonomy where a work “adjusts itself” and his use of chance are highly relevant to the ZF. As is also his interest in anonymity and the impersonal.

Dense Stripes

Posted: September 6, 2018 at 3:04 pm

After my last post on Karl Benjamin, I modified my stripe code to increase density and the following images show a selection of the results. Compositions are selected for variety and not necessarily aesthetic success. The code in the first case draws 25 stripes, but since the width of stripes could be as wide as the whole picture plane, many stripes are occluded.

The following images show an increase of density with 100 and 1000 stripes respectively. In these explorations I also sort the stripes by width so that the thinnest stripes will be on top to increase the visual density; there can still be occlusion thus not all the stripes will be visible. I pushed these explorations to the limit in order to get a sense of what maximal density could look like. It will be interesting to see how the sine-wave approach works out where there will be just as much density of stripes, but also more constraint in terms of colour variation. (more…)

Karl Benjamin

Posted: August 30, 2018 at 5:57 pm

Vertical Stripes #5, Karl Benjamin, 1960

I’m most interested in Benjamin’s stripe paintings. It is interesting that, as noted by Claudline Humblet, that colour values in his paintings are non-systematic (diverging from other stripe painters) such that each stripe has its own autonomy. I was thinking about this in the context of the autonomy of each of the stripes in the current sketch of the Zombie Formalist. The ZF stripes are totally independent and have no relation to one an other; in some cases one stripe may cover up another entirely.

Benjamin’s process provides an interesting precedence for the ZF as only thinking about each image component in isolation and not being concerned with overall composition or colour constraint. The value of the overall composition is determined solely by the viewer (as modelled by the machine), so why not provide as much variety as possible?

This also may influence the generative approach where I’ve been torn about using an evolutionary method. With an evo approach, there is some stability in the structure of successive generations. Another option is to use a critic (that models the viewer’s sense of value) that is allied to constantly regenerated paintings. This way there is no successive development over time; each painting is unique, fleeting and does not persist through successive generations. Interestingly, Claudine Humblet writes that Benjamin has used chance operations in his colour selection, which fits very well a non-evo approach where each composition has maximal autonomy. This is also consistent with Benjamin’s process orientation that “accepts the sometimes unexpected results that arise from the process” (Claudine Humblet, The New American Abstraction (1950–1970)).

At this point I have three directions of aesthetic exploration for the ZF: (a) Increasing the number of stripes in the current system significantly (I counted as many as 25 stripes in one of Benjamin’s compositions); (b) Use the sine-wave approach to increase the range of possible number of stripes; (c) a sine-wave approach where the parameters are constrained to force a grid-like relation between the different sine-waves. The latter would cut against the autonomy of the sine-waves, but it’s worthwhile exploration. Maybe I’ll completely change my mind once I get to Gene Davis!

John McLaughlin

Posted: August 24, 2018 at 11:47 am

Untitled, John McLaughlin, 1951

McLaughlin is another painter with whom I see a lot of conceptual resonance. He was interested in the ‘void’ in Japanese painting in relation to our relationship to nature and the universe. This is somewhat mirrored in my interests in origination and the state of the universe before the big bang, and my ongoing question of the ground in relation to the object.

McLaughlin had an interest in “replacing” the “excess of individual expression with a “neutral structure” (quotes from Claudine Humblet’s language). This “neutral structure” (McLaughlin’s language) emphasizes the anonymity of the painter-as-subject. The void in his works is a lack of the painter’s subjectivity that is restrained in order to allow the viewers’ subjectivity / knowledge / experience to dominate. This is certainly compatible with my interests in self-erasure and process over expression in art. (more…)

Poor Zombie Formalist sketches.

Posted: August 22, 2018 at 4:21 pm

The image above shows a selection of results from the same code used to generate the initial sketches used in Zombie Formalist proposals (included below). I just got access to this code recently as it was on the Shuttle PC used for the Watching and Dreaming exhibition at the Surrey Art Gallery.

I thought it would be interesting to take another look at these results after doing some of my colour field painting research. One insight is that even though this system is highly random, it often produces some quite interesting results; in fact most of the results are somewhat successful (as much as 75%). I’ve selected a few that lean towards being unsuccessful to contrast with the somewhat successful initial sketches. I think part of the reason for the high proportion of stronger compositions is due to the their simplicity (in particular the number of stripes); this is despite the softness of edges, widths and colours being random and evenly distributed.

For the next iteration I’m considering a generator that would allow for much more flexibility and variety; this will likely decrease the number of compositionally successful results due to a lack of constraint. The plan is to allow a much greater diversity in terms of image density and orientation. (more…)

Ad Reinhardt

Posted: August 21, 2018 at 6:27 pm

Abstract Painting Number 4, Ad Reinhardt, 1961

There is quite a bit about Ad Reinhardt that resonates with this project. Thomas B. Hess saw Reinhardt as being an “inventor of patterns, not of forms”, which is interesting to consider in relation to the Zombie Formalist generative approach and the notion of pattern as form. There is also the emphasis on the square in his later work, and also his adherence to near  invisibility due to extreme low contrast (as in image above). In viewing such dark images on my display I realized my reflection was much more dominant than the content, which plays nicely with the machine that watches the viewer.

The focus on timelessness and universality is interesting and Claudine Humblet in The New American Abstraction (1950–1970), asserts that Reinhardt’s work “rediscovers a certain origin of the mystery of creation”. This is an interesting mirror of my interests in computation and generative art in relation to origination. For Reinhardt, “pure painting” should be devoid of emotional and intellectual content and whose meaning is not detachable or translatable, independent, which may be the case in the meaningless works of the ZF. The notion of the New Academy emphasizes a lack of texture, brushwork or calligraphy, sketching or drawing, forms, design, colours, light, space, time, size or scale, movement, object, subject, matter which seems quite aligned with the ZF.

There is also Ad Reinhardt’s rejection of commercialism and assertion that art should be useless that is interesting in the context of the ZF being a pure generator, but one constrained and shaped by the whims and behaviour of the viewer, disrupting the random processes and perhaps enabling scarcity. The ZF could be somehow both an example of a “pure” art, but also an anti-pure art.

Barnett Newman

Posted: August 2, 2018 at 6:47 pm

Covenant, Barnett Newman, 1949

Barnett Newman was one of the main references when I first starting thinking through the “zip” (vertical stripe) aesthetic for this project. While Newman fits in with Rothko in terms of a borderline fetishization of the primal, I see quite a few overlapping concerns. Like, me Newman also sees art as being rigorous and removed from chance or the arbitrary. Newman also sees art as a mission to contest styles and conventions, which is interesting the context of my thinking about art as a process of articulating what art is.

Newman was also highly preoccupied with the concept of origination, the origin of the universe in particular. In his context, this takes on a spiritual / religious connotation, whereas I am interested in scientific bases of origination. It was actually this idea of origination that motivated my grad studies and interest in dreams and creativity. This probing of origination or foundations of structure connects with his interest in starting from a tabula rasa and questioning the foundations of geometry. This is challenging to algorithmic work limited to a particular set of possible geometries computed by the machine. In my case, perhaps, the geometry of sine-waves. There is still a question of composition though, sine-waves are more a underlying vocabulary and do not define the whole of the compositional system.

Highly relevant to the ZF is Newman’s interest in the Sublime that transcends “categories of value” which relates to the critique of art as commodity implicit in the ZF. Again, we have an interesting relation between the artists work and the viewer. As described by Claudine Humblet in The New American Abstraction (1950–1970), Newman’s works’ “…sole aim is to convey the space against which Man measures himself.” This is very interesting considering my previous reflections on the work (the AI enabled work in particular) as a mirror of our understanding of ourselves. In the context of this project, this space could be the machine (as external model of cognition), or even social media itself. Newman wanted the viewer to gain an awareness of themselves through the work; not just a surface awareness of self, but self as a ‘totality’ both connected to separated from others, mirroring my interest subjectivity as the projection of imaginary boundaries.

Mark Rothko

Posted: July 26, 2018 at 6:26 pm

Red Orange Orange on Red, Mark Rothko, 1962

When I did my first sketches of colour fields I had Rothko in mind when I used a blur shader to soften some of the hard edges. Now I’m thinking about using sine waves with various contrasts to provide both stripes and softer gradients. This way I can represent highly dense images without increasing the number of parameters. For example, this could allow things like one pixel alternating stripes in complimentary colours that was inspired by the stippling patterns in some of Robert Irwin’s work.

There is certainly some romanticism of ‘primitive’ artworks in Rothko’s early surrealist works, which are strange to read from a contemporary post-colonial perspective. The background of the work certainly reads as Modernist and there is an influence of Jungian archetypes, dreams, the unconscious and states of consciousness. During this period there is an interesting attempt to fuse a social awareness with formalism. Rothko has an interesting perspective on evolution of style, as quoted from Claudine Humblet’s The New American Abstraction (1950–1970): “The progression of a painter’s work, as it travels in time from point to point, will be toward clarity: toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the observer.” This seems quite aligned with some of my thinking during my Masters where the act of art-making allows what is technically possible to change what the concept of a work is. There is also that sense of the work blending with the experience of the viewer to create a unity of experience. One small formalist point of note is that Rothko intentionally avoided exploiting colour theory, which is an interesting precedent for the ZF, whose use of colour will be highly unconstrained.

Robert Irwin

Posted: July 14, 2018 at 5:16 pm

Untitled, Robert Irwin, 1962–63

I had not heard of Robert Irwin’s work before and I’m extemely amazed by our overlapping artistic interests. I’ve struggled with considering myself an image-maker because I’m not very interesed in images, I’m interested in the relation between images, thought and reality. This also seems to be a strong preoccuption of Irwin, who is also inspired by Merleau-Ponty. I’m particularly amazed by the relevance of his work to over 10 years of my work involving live cameras, site-specificity and the questions of objects and boundaries (Resurfacing, Memory Association Machine, Dreaming Machine, Watching).

In the context of the Zombie Formalist, he is interesting in that his work seems to be covering a territory of exploration that has been described as evolutionary. His iterest in purity as a method of removing the arbitrary is also something we both share. I may go so far as to say we are both embarking on art as philosphical inquiry. There is also an articulation of the gap between perception and cognition / recognition. Most interesting is the idea of the painting to be a result of the viewers perceptual participation. This fits very well with the ZF, that does very little without the attention of the viewer. There is also this bleeding of the work and its evironment, which is interesting in the context of a potential ZF that uses the colour palette of its context in the construction of its images.

Some of the most striking overlaps are made explicit in Claudine Humblet’s articulations from The New American Abstraction (1950–1970): “The ultimate goal of art is to renew vision and invite the viewer to recapture the meaning of the real” (p.1657). Also the idea that Irwin’s art “[q]uestion[s] the very source of perception” (p.1659).

Walter Darby Bannard

Posted: June 29, 2018 at 3:33 pm

Alexander #2, Walter Darby Bannard, 1959

Again, as with Olitski, this is not quite what I have in mind. Bannard’s use of colour is very interesting, in particular the low colour contrast between minimal components. He has also used a grid as an organizing structure in his works. This use of muted tones contributes to what has been called the “unreality” of his forms. This is interesting in the context of painting as an exploration of a space of possibilities. This also connects with an interpretation of his work as improvised but constrained by conceptualism. In the case of the Zombie Formalist the system improvises as a random generator, but where conceptual(?) constraints actually come from the system’s attempt to model the preferences of the audience.

Jules Olitski

Posted: June 29, 2018 at 3:14 pm

Pink-Grey II, Jules Olitski, 1970

I’m part way trough “The New American Abstraction 1950–1970” to get started on my post-painterly abstraction research for the Zombie Formalist but realized I’ve been looking at the third in a three part volume! So I need to go back to the other volumes that mention artists I’ve been considering as inspirations such as Mark Rothko, Elleworth Kelly and Gene Davis.

While Oliki’s aesthetic is not quite what I am after, I found a few ideas quite interesting; I’m interested in the emphasis on colour as structure, and the tention between homogeneous and hetereogeneous composition at varying scales. Paintings made with the airbrush (like the above) remind me of some of the structures that emerge from my segment collages as part of Watching and Dreaming.

Early Research for Painting Appropriation

Posted: June 13, 2018 at 5:45 pm

I’ve been thinking through the gargantuan task of deciding what 4 images from the whole history of painting I should appropriate in this project. The general focus of my practise as an image-maker is on the relation between images and reality or interiority; this project should reflect that. I have in mind a trajectory of abstraction starting with the mathematical effort of objective representation in the Renaissance and ending with abstraction and problematizations of realism in painting. Since the Zombie Formalism project will focus in particular on post-painterly abstraction and colour-field painting, I was thinking about the four painting sample as including two works from the Renaissance (perhaps early and late), one surrealist, and one cubist work. I’ve been thinking in a very top down way by considering first the movement, then the painter and eventually narrow things down to the painting. (more…)

Early sketches appropriating (consuming) paintings from the western canon.

Posted: May 18, 2018 at 12:43 pm

In addition to the “Zombie Formalist”, this new body of work includes a series of works that appropriate the painting canon. Images are deconstructed into individual pixels that are recomposed using machine learning methods such as the Self-Organizing Map (SOM) that arranges pixels according to colour similarity. The following images show the original painting along-side the SOM reconstruction.

“Lucca Madonna”, Jan van Eyck (1436)

“Palace of Windowed Rocks”, Yves Tanguy (1942)


Early “Zombie Formalist” Sketches

Posted: May 18, 2018 at 12:31 pm

This is my first post documenting my new body of work, “Machines of the Present Consume the Imagination of the Past”, funded by the Canada Council for the Arts. The first couple months will be early research focus but I wanted to post the current sketches developed for the grant application.

A little background: the “Zombie Formalist” is a component of this body of work where a diptych of light-boxes will generate banal and satirical formalist images inspired by 1960s post-painterly abstractionists such as Gene David, Barnett Newman and Guido Molinari. Following is a selection of aesthetically successful images using an early sketch of a painting generator. All these images are composed of vertical stripes with random colour, position, width and blurring on a coloured ground.

Video: Dreams from feedback in predictive model

Posted: October 11, 2017 at 9:04 am

Video of a dream (imaginary sequence generated from feedback in predictive model):