arty experiments

Alongside commercial projects one of the simplest ways to get innovation done is to follow one’s own star. And rope in some brilliant talent to help out.

I see brands exploiting the variable abilities of digital print, but oddly the world of fine art prints has not yet seemed to grasp the possibilities. Surely the aura of an artwork that is unique within a set is potentially greater than a hundred prints that all look exactly the same? This was an itch I wanted to scratch.

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Godfather of pop art Sir Peter Blake agreed to create a new artwork based on a gad using iconography and colours he has been reworking throughout his career. We collaborated with HP, customising their Smartstream software to allow it to not simply transpose colours and positions of artwork within the grid, but also to automatically resize squares within the grid.

As Sir Peter put it “I’ll let my artwork talk to the machine, and we can let the machine talk to my artwork, and let’s see what conversation they have”.

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We produced fifty prints, but the algorithm could have created millions of unique versions.

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The artists’ reaction was of pleasant surprise to see ingredients very familiar to him rearranged in unfamiliar and unexpected ways. This is part of the fun – embracing the ghost in the machine.

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I wanted to try something similar but more figurative. Distinctive large heads are a significant element of artist David Shillinglaws work. I asked him to give me twelve craniums, twelve pairs of eyes and twelve chins. The idea was to get the Smartstream algorithm to automatically shuffle these like crude police photo fits, to create a set of unique portraits.

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Look at the speed that unique art prints can be generated and come off the press. The challenge will be to know when to apply the brakes. This is potentially the tip of a creative and business iceberg for independent artists, Taschen, whoever. I just feel good about being first (as far as I know) to play with this tech as an artistic medium.

Sir Peter Blake has an admirable track record for creating affordable art for everybody alongside more rarefied pieces. A key example of this would be Babe Rainbow, initially released in an edition of 10,000 enamel plaques sold for £1 each back in 1967. Surviving copies in good condition now go for eye watering prices on eBay.

Meanwhile, David Shillinglaw creates artworks that equally at home on street and gallery walls. I would see the democratic ethos of both artists work informing these experiments, and their future development. And the unexpected juxtapositions that the algorithm might throw up can follow in the footsteps of surrealist collages by Max Ernst. To that end next up I want to get the software to do some collage-based storytelling, so hopefully watch this space.

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  • Artistic Collaborators: Sir Peter Blake and David Shillinglaw
  • Special thanks to Ben Cox at Central Illustration Agency
  • Technical Collaborators: HP, specifically Guy Bibi and Hadar Peled Vaissman.
  • Printing Collaborators: F.E. Burman Ltd.
  • Concepts and hustle: Silas Amos

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Design Ideas & Strategy