What do you get if you blend the visual DNA of two mid 20th Century artistic movements into a 21st Century generative art algorithm?

Harvey Rayner
7 min readDec 17, 2022

“When there’s anything to steal, I steal.” — Pablo Picasso

The original ideas evolved by these artistic canons tell very different stories in the history of post war American art. My approach however is more about just stealing from the visual lexicon of mark-making that characterizes these movements ignoring much of the contextual conversations around these works. I’ve never had the intellectual chops to be a conceptual artist. I’ve always been a simple builder of things and when I develop a project I think about it almost entirely in purely visual terms. So, below I hope to reveal something about how I go about deconstructing and rebuilding what I find visually compelling in these two great art movements.

Primitives

A primitive in generative art is an elementary building block used to construct the main forms in a work. When I started out building my first primitive for Velum I was picturing in my mind something that looked more like a broad paint-stroke. Adding formalized comic-esk outlines to the structures however separated them from the background and gave them a floating quality. Liking this effect I quickly forgot about my first idea of making paint strokes to explore the emerging curtain-like elements and found ways to make them dance. Velum is Latin for curtain.

Secondary primitive

The secondary primitive in Velum is a linear molding-like form that I use to push out the pictorial space and attempt to create more punch and volume. I see it as an equivalent to the POW motion marks seen in Pop art, borrowed from comic book representation of motion or force. Curtains in real life often live together with molding and so there seems to be a familiar relatedness between these forms, like somehow we recognize that they belong together. This might seem tenuous, but there is a reason these two types of form have been placed together for so many centuries. It is a classic blend of visual ingredients.

Background

I’ve admired Rothko for many years for creating work that has so much presence with so few elements. When we look at objects we subconsciously gather far more information about what we are seeing from the edges of those objects than from what is going on in the middle. For me, what happens at the very edge of the canvas is crucial to the success of an artwork. The edge is not just some arbitrary crop location. The edge needs to have a beautiful reason for being where it is. The soft ‘cloud edges’ in Velum are made up of thousands of semi-transparent SVG diamond shapes. Each one has a slightly different shape, offset and orientation all stacked up along a line that more or less tracks the boundary of the canvas. The long axis of each diamond points approximately to the center of the canvas creating a subtle directionality to the feathering produced. Its subtle touches like this that are often not noticeable unless it is pointed out to us that make a big difference to the authenticity of a texture or detail.

Different iterations of the Velum algorithm

Building any complex project often means changing your mind and direction many times. I feel being creative is about being adaptive and responsive to what’s emerging right in front of us. The enemy of adaptivity is idealistic thinking and to some extent just over thinking in general! A child can make a mark without a single thought just to make a mark that delights their heart. Clever artists are always in danger of forgetting how to perform this primal act and in doing so lose access to their most vital and authentic artistic vision. It’s no different for the generative artist. We still have to preserve our ability to look with the open hearted innocence of a child.

More thoughts about Trad realism

In a previous essay I described Trad Realism as generative art that intentionally imitates traditional art media. When I first saw this done I felt this was just a way of holding onto the past and not exploring new visual languages which grow directly out of algorithmic approaches. With my last drop Fontana I put aside my stubborn ideals and am now starting to see the creative potential in re-imagining traditional art media and mark-making. I now feel it’s just a simple case of what we have valued aesthetically for centuries in different art media we also value in generative art. Watercolor paper for instance has been appreciated for centuries for its warm and homogenizing texture. It might be that if textured papers had never existed before, generative art approaches would still create textures that look similar. If this is true the future of generative art may look increasingly organic and traditional-art-media-like just by virtue of the intrinsic visual qualities we find universally appealing in the art, design and materials we like to surround ourselves with. Or put another way, we have created media textures the way we have for centuries not because we couldn’t have made them any other way, but because they help us make the art we want to make.

Thirty words for peace

I want to make art and IRL experiences that are a celebration of life and do not place a heavy burden of intellectual seriousness on my audience. The little hidden peace words in Velum I do not feel have to be justified in terms of the main visual themes in the work. Prior to becoming a full time genartist I renovated old houses. Back then I used to do the same thing and hide positive messages in the walls and under floorboards. Maybe nobody will ever discover them, but it’s the act of putting them there that has value just for its own sake.

Velum will be dropping with Bright Moments in NYC — January 2023

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Velum drop night — In real life mint offering ceremony

In a ceremonial experiment IRL minters are invited to offer a message in the offering tent. This message is completely private and will not be seen by anyone else. It can be in the form of a prayer, a wish, a hope or even just the name of a loved one. This message will become the seed of their mint. I view this ‘mint offering’ in the same spirit as the salt offering made at the lighting of a wood fired kiln. In a wood fired kiln the movement of the flames inside the kiln produce most of the glazing effects on the ceramics within. A large part of this process is jumping into the unknown and surrendering control to the ‘fire gods’. One interpretation of this type of offering at the outset of an uncertain journey is that it is merely symbolic of a trade. I offer something to the unknowable forces that produce the art and in return these forces will work in my favor. However, I feel there is something more plausible happening in this exchange that is much more profound. Giving and wishing well for others is an immediate way for us to find a more open, compassionate and receptive state of mind. Entering into any new journey with this open mind I feel will create a deeper beauty. When generating thousands of mints during the development of a project I have noticed that mints are consistently better when I am not doubting what I am doing. When I am excited and grateful to be making art, the mints and projects unfold in a more effortless and beautiful way. There is a fascinating branch of science called micro-psychokinesis (micro-PK) which seeks to understand the potential influence of the mind on quantum-based random number generators. For me however, my hunch that this phenomena is real is not born out of science. If this is something that can ever be measured then we may still be many decades away from understanding such a subtle effect. My hunch is simply born out of my experience of life. I feel the outer world is always reflecting back my inner world as much as the other way round. Once in a while I believe we are all able to penetrate this truth in our own life and experience the blurring of the boundary between inner and outer worlds.

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Harvey Rayner

Artist (aka patterndotco) - Just trying to make art that has not been made before: http://discord.gg/XzzRasxg