David Bollinger is a leading thinker and creative experimentalist in the world of Generative Art. We were honored that he chose to participate in The Art of Touch project. His unique vision (and unorthodox approach) resulted in some memorable works of art. We asked Dave to share his views (and secrets!).
How long have you been working with generative and algorithmic art? How did you get started?
First I must state that I rarely, if ever, think of myself as an “artist.” At least, not in any proper sense of the word. So I don’t feel that I’m pursuing any particular style or movement within the “art world.” Rather, I consider myself just a “tinkerer,” though my interests seem to lie primarily along lines that are now described as generative/algorithmic/procedural works.
I may be dating myself, but my earliest experiments were on an Apple II and TRS-80 in the early/mid-80s. I can remember writing a rough game, somewhat like the old arcade game “Robotron,” though all of the actors were controlled by the computer (no human player). Its only real purpose was to accumulate the “debris” resulting from the simulated combat play as its “artistic” output.
I’m not even sure I know what the proper definition of “Generative Art” really is, though to me it implies that at least part, if not most, of the output is created by semi-autonomous “agents.” That is, I enjoy crafting code that might simulate something like a virtual ant farm (used merely as an analogy) where the output might be the pattern of trails and caverns they dig out for their virtual colony.
Your Art of Touch creations are striking and unique, and one of your pieces won our weekly prize package. Can you share any secrets about your technique?
The rules clearly forbade “robotic” entries and voting, but said nothing about submitting a human-drawn entry created with altered code. So I figured that anything not expressly forbidden must be allowable and fair game, right? To my thinking, this was exactly in keeping with the spirit of generative art.
I began by simply playing with the various tools provided. Unfortunately for me, the tools seemed better suited to those with more traditional sketching talents, and didn’t seem entirely appropriate for creating the types of images that I tend to work on. So I began to wonder if there was something I could do to alter the given tools to better suit my style.
At first, I simply replaced the mouse handlers, and quantized the coordinates onto a larger rectangular grid (effectively like a “snap to grid” type function, as is common within illustration software). I then killed the mouse move handler so that only mouse downs and ups had any effect. Those “tweaks” allowed me to more precisely draw the types of hard geometric figures I was interested in.
By the time of my third submission, I had grown tired of red, so I altered the palette as well. I also had the code automatically spawn some “workers” that generated the actual line work. Thus the entire piece was created with about a dozen human mouse clicks, just to initially position the workers and give it some sense of directed composition.
By the time of my fourth submission, I had replaced the entire brush logic with my own, based on a prior piece I had coded in Java. This code was again more brush-like, in that I “painted” the piece by hand, but had the code “augment” my simple strokes with additional complexity.
What is your favorite tool for artistic expression?
Code, clearly. Java is my preferred language these days – specifically the variant present in the processing.org project. I’m fluent in a number of programming languages, but the Processing environment does a wonderful job of “getting out of the way” of artistic creativity, handling many of the more mundane and tedious aspects, providing a framework from which you can just start coding the fun part, almost in a rapid-prototyping sense. Recommended.
Where do you find inspiration?
I’m an admitted geek when it comes to anything related to math and science. I’m no great master of either, but again just a “tinkerer” and fascinated observer. So my work tends to reflect that: strongly geometric, purely abstract, often in response to some new bit of math/science trivia that I’ve just learned of…wondering “what would that look like?” if used as part of the “behavior” of an autonomous agent, for example.
Many thanks to Dave for sharing his insights with us!