I’m just giving them
a page in the family album.
We are coming to appreciate beauty
as a revelation of problems rightly solved...
A visible rightness.
- Walter Dorwin Teague, 1936
I am a painter, and machines are my subject. I arrange machinery in formal compositions, appropriating traditions ranging from religious iconography to royal portraiture to evoke the power that technology commands in human society today. Like religious icons and royal portrayals of noble ancestry, my paintings conceptually trace the lineage of 21st-century robotics and artificial intelligence back to the steam-powered mechanisms of the Industrial Revolution and the electrification of factories and cities. My paintings reveal a historical continuum, paying tribute to the innovations of James Watt and Nicola Tesla, while also recognizing humanity’s legitimate fears of automation. These machines are preemptively posing for their place in museums of the future, provoking us to preemptively consider the trajectories they embody.
Nude Descending a Staircase No. 3 oil on Belgian linen, 90 x 56 inch
Boston Dynamics, Guest Artist-in-Residence with SPOT 2020 - current
I am schooled in the European figurative tradition of painting. My aim is to deploy this old-fashioned training in a contemporary way, while also referencing the legacy of 20th century avant-garde movements such as Futurism, Precisionism, and Pop Art. I am working to create a hybrid idiom that relates the grandeur of oil on canvas to the radicalism of machine vision. Both humans and machines may ultimately look at these pictures as representations of the past, and even value the works as collectors. I want to serve both audiences. I also want to evoke these potential future spectators as context for present-day viewing.
2020 - 2021 / Studio at 4WTC, Silver Art Projects, New York
In my paintings, I treat each machine as an individual. I consider my subjects to be noble and beautiful. They are manifestations of parsimonious engineering, form following function. However, I do not look at a machine only in terms of the task for which it was made, but also consider its role as an actor on the broader technological stage. In this framing, all machines are important, whether or not they were the first of their kind or led to the next stage of progress. They are all related, and their most profound impact on society is collective. Although most of my paintings are heroic or mythical, they intentionally subvert conventional heroic narratives and myths in order to represent the way in which machines truly operate.
Yutta / 2018 Waymo Guest Artist
Radar Sisters 48 x 48 inch oil / 2018 Residency aboard USS Hornet Aircraft Carrier
I began by depicting machines from the past, which I view as humanity’s children and also appreciate as ancestors of modern robots and artificial intelligence. Although most of these antiquated technologies are obscure to people today, their importance cannot be overstated from the perspective of their technological progeny. Through the prestige of high art, my paintings support the pedigree of the current generation of robotics and may help them to show off their status.
The Museum of Flight WA / 2018 Guest Artist
SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory / 2018 Guest Artist
Duchess 30 x 30 inch oil / 2017 Residency at Wrightspeed Powertrains
Currently my focus is on some of the most advanced robots of our age. I have gotten to know these machines as an artist-in-residence at Boston Robotics. They have apprenticed under me, making self-portraits with my guidance. They have also modeled for paintings I have created, inspired by great works of the Renaissance and Modern art, and for videos I have shot for viewing in augmented reality. Watching the robots, I have learned a gestural language that is compatible with their movements. I have emulated their ability to produce multiple copies of the same image. By replacing the traditional human subjects with robots, I seek to show their dignity, challenging the superiority complex of some human viewers. By working in a robotic vernacular, I hope that the paintings will appeal to machines – cultivating their appreciation of art – and that they might become my patrons.
The systems and mechanisms we use every day were not available even to the rulers of the past. Only gods could command the powers of the average smartphone. Given Moore’s Law and the advancement of AI, machines may assume the omniscience and omnipotence of deities in the coming decades. They may seek immortality, recapitulating the efforts of human civilization to overcome death, deploying means we can hardly even imagine. They could help us to transcend human weaknesses or make us subservient to their purposes. We therefore need to engage the technological realm as more than passive consumers. Everyone needs to take an active role in the negotiation of future power dynamics.
Oil painting is notable for the fact that the genre has focused attention on the central figures of every era, from the aristocracy to the merchant class to celebrities. Today artistic traditions can provide a means for people to look at machines in relation to themselves. As much as I strive to engage the history of painting, I am equally determined to enlist painting as a mechanism for societal reckoning.