In Conversation with Harvey Rayner

Jeff Davis
The Link — Art Blocks
7 min readOct 3, 2022

--

Harvey Rayner, White Space Transmission, 2012

Harvey Rayner is an English-born artist and creative coder currently based in upstate New York. He has a diverse background working as a designer, inventor, programmer, and business owner while creating an extensive body of artwork spanning over 25 years. Harvey is the father of two adult children, a lifelong meditator, and keen rock climber. I had the opportunity to speak with Harvey in anticipation of his upcoming Art Blocks Curated release Fontana.

JD: Hi Harvey! It’s great to have a chance to chat with you. How did you first get into making art?

HR: Hmm, I can’t really remember a time when making art and building things was not a big part of my life. One of my first clear memories is actually of painting two pictures in preschool. One I was very happy with and the other I felt deeply ashamed of. I tried to hide it so nobody would see it, but when my mum found it and tried to tell me it was beautiful, I was inconsolable. I think if it wasn’t for school, I would have spent my whole childhood playing with Lego and drawing. It’s great that now that I’m approaching 50, I finally get to play all day long making art. We will see how long that lasts… I’m sure my expanding family has other plans for me.

Harvey Rayner, Waveform visualization tools, 2012–2020

JD: When did your creative tendencies start tending towards digital and generative art?

HR: About 10 years ago I started making visualization tools without really being aware there was an emerging gen art scene. It just seemed like a natural evolution in my work to use code to explore the geometric objects I was interested in and help to build better intuitions about them. Some of the outputs from these tools were strikingly beautiful so slowly this work evolved into art just for its own sake. Some of the functions I wrote for these early visualizers still provide building blocks for art I make today.

JD: Yes, I see a lot of crossover between data visualization and generative art. So how did you discover blockchain and NFTs?

HR: I listen to a lot of science and tech podcasts, so I think I was aware of crypto and NFTs fairly early, but it was just another curiosity for me back then. Initially it didn’t really seem like an authentic means of sharing what I was making at the time. This is probably just because I’m stubborn and slow to change. Then just over a year ago I heard a podcast with Snowfro and was immediately captivated by the concept of longform generative art and the minting protocol you guys were shaping with Art Blocks. I thought, wow, this really does seem like an authentic home for the type of art I was starting to imagine. So on that day I made it a priority to put together a submission. And now here we are!

Harvey Rayner, Waveform Artifact, 2021

JD: Well, I’m glad you found us! How would you say your creative practice has evolved over time?

HR: Ooof, well there have been many changes over the decades. As a teenager I was sure I wanted to become a painter. I went to a pretty classical art school in London for fine art painting but quit before completing the first year as I became obsessed with making art from geometry. I would say the biggest shift in recent years has been in my appreciation and application of randomness as a means of exploring the space of new artistic language. Getting my head around the power of randomness as a creative tool and possibly becoming less of a control freak in the process, is probably a big one. That and the fact I now make money from art, we should not miss that, as most of my life the idea of making a real income from the kind of art I made just seemed implausible.

Harvey Rayner, Photon’s Dream, 2022

JD: That’s funny I had a really similar trajectory in my own art practice. Geometry as represented through painting, then digital, then through randomized means. What are some recent accomplishments?

HR: I dropped my first Art Blocks project Photon’s Dream in June. Getting over the line with that was a big deal for me. Although I’ve been making gen art for years, this was my first true longform project. Outside of art, last year I also completed a total gut and remodel on our home that took a number of years. This work is a very personal creative endeavor that’s just for my family. I did all the work myself including making some of the furniture, so I’m pretty proud of that although I wouldn’t want to do it again. It was perfect timing because now I am working full time making art which has always been my dream. To actually make that dream a reality has got to count as one of my greatest personal achievements. Dropping Fontana as a curated Art Blocks project couldn’t be a better opportunity to continue to build on that dream.

JD: It always brings me great joy when I hear that someone is able to pursue a full time career making art. OK Fontana! Let’s get into it. What was your inspiration for the project?

HR: After my last drop I wanted to re-explore some of my earlier artistic roots. Before I even used a computer to make art in the 90s, I used a compass and ruler to construct my art. I’ve always loved technical drawing, so I wanted to make a project that reimagined this type of process using a generative approach. I love the idea of attempting to capture movement or an ever-changing form with static, precise, and geometric methods. Like in Leonardo’s drawings of the turbulent flow of water or what the Futurists were attempting in the last century. It’s impossible, but I love the perverse challenge of at least attempting it and hopefully in the process I find some compelling visual forms. So Fontana means fountain in Latin — the project is an exploration of capturing the flowing movement of a fountain.

Harvey Rayner, Development output from Fontana, 2022

JD: What should collectors look for in Fontana as the series is revealed?

HR: One of the other central aspects of the project is the use of generative color. The project has no reliance on preset palettes and so every output will have a unique color expression within the color story revealed by the project as a whole. I wanted the colors to evoke early 20th century art and design media, a time when hand-draughted technical drawing was common and at its height of complexity and beauty. I wanted the outputs to look faded and worn to create another reference to time passing on another scale. That and I just love the look of worn and aged surfaces. I know in this context it’s a lie, but what did Picasso say? Something like — ‘The greatest art is the most convincing lie’.

JD: Ha, I’ve never heard that quote before but it’s fitting for digital artworks that have the illusion of fine art practices. Is there anything else you’d like to share to help people better understand your art?

HR: For all the things I have written about this project and my work in general, I hope that people are first and foremost just touched on some level by the intrinsic visual qualities of the work. For me, at least, the conceptual narrative we artists weave around our work is secondary, but I would say is important in providing a gateway into the art for many people. When I was younger, I only cared about making art that didn’t look or feel like any other art I had seen from another time. In this way I was very uncompromising and idealistic. I’m more excited today to make art that both looks familiar and at the same time is a new twist and interpretation of something that we may all have a connection to. When building my home, I love to use worn and reclaimed materials that reveal a story about how it has been used in the past. I feel that being surrounded by the beauty of imperfection and the marks of time helps us to feel more accepting about our own idiosyncrasies and humanity. Long form generative art I am increasingly finding feels a lot like making ceramics or building with reclaimed materials. There are aspects to all these processes that introduce effects beyond our control. I feel once the algorithm is completed the only thing left to offer the minting gods is our state of mind and trust that the process of creation is now out of our hands. Being forced to let go of this last step is great medicine for me so I feel there is a healing and almost mystical aspect to this type of art making that may not be obvious at first glance.

Harvey Rayner, Fontana test output, 2022

JD: Awesome stuff Harvey, thanks. What’s the best way for people to follow your work?

HR: I post daily on Twitter and I use Instagram as a visual diary of work in progress. I also have a pretty comprehensive website and plan to use my new Art Blocks artists discord channel quite a bit.

https://www.artblocks.io/collections/curated/projects/0xa7d8d9ef8d8ce8992df33d8b8cf4aebabd5bd270/367

--

--

Jeff Davis
The Link — Art Blocks

Artist / Chief Creative at Art Blocks / Founder at Davis Editions