Gene Davis

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?

Davis explicitly rules out the use of systems and composes images with “no leaning toward mathematical progress or order” and rejects “color theories” (Claudine Humblet, The New American Abstraction (1950–1970)). This fits nicely with the (initial) plan for the Zombie Formalist not to use any kind of colour model and having colour choices be random and evenly distributed.

There is something interesting in the self-organizing process used by Davis: the composition is, as stated by Gerald Nordland, “…developed intuitively in the process of growth from random beginning to a highly imaginative and controlled completion.” This resembles the general mechanism I’m considering for the Zombie Formalist: compositions are generated randomly and then a subset is selected by the classifier trained on audience attention. This would not happen at the level of a single work though, but occur through the iteration of multiple images. This description of Davis’ process reminds me of a cellular automata where stripes may determine their colour based on local relations with their neighbours; this could be an interesting exploration for the future.

The tendency for rhythms over space to emerge in Davis’ work is a strong precedent for using the sine-wave method as previously discussed. One statement of Davis’s that I found particularly interesting, in the context of generative art in general, is that he “paint[s] to surprise himself”. This is certainly one of my main motivations for working in generative art and computational creativity.