SEE SPOT PAINT SERIES

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I am the master. My apprentices are robots. In my studio, Digit and Spot labor under my control. I am their teacher, as Andrea del Verrocchio taught Leonardo da Vinci during the Renaissance. 

 

In the 15th Century, mastery was well defined. The art of painting was clearly delineated. Today, painting is exhausted. Abstraction is decorative. I have taken apprentices in order to teach the next generation – to experimentally code what robots may someday be able to do on their own – and also to learn how to paint anew. I am the robots’ master, and also their apprentice.

Apprenticeship begins by introducing each of my students to traditional painting implements and materials. Holding a brush or an oil stick, the robot is guided through gestures that I improvise or program in advance. These gestures are inspired by my students’ motor control, and also reveal their mechanical limitations. Digit and Spot are imperfect extensions of my arms. When they transfer my aesthetic ideas onto canvas, those ideas are translated into the physical language of machines. The awkwardness of the translation is edifying. Through flawed execution, my mastery of painterly tradition is reinvigorated. 

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B70: Self Portrait 01 2021 / 46 x 82 inch / mixed media

Working in close contact with a robot gives the impression of an encounter with another mind; it seems that the robot has agency. This experience contradicts expectations about machines operating reliably and predictably. When a robot fails at a task repeatedly, a human observer may even feel a pang of empathy. That has been my experience with Digit and Spot. Paradoxically, they have taught me about humanity. 

Bringing robots into my studio, I expected to grapple with art history on a conceptual level. Even before Walter Benjamin published “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” in 1935, artists sought to reimagine painting in relation to the machine, to find a new purpose for oil on canvas. I assumed that making art with robots would bring new insight to old ideas about originality, creativity, and the artist’s hand. What I have discovered through practical experience is more profound, and the material evidence of that discovery permeates the art made with my apprentices.

 

Imperfections make robot art strangely original. The threat to human artists and their exhausted abstract gesticulations is to be found in the machines’ mistakes. Through their errors, robots promise to make art interesting again – interesting for people and perhaps one day for their fellow machines. 

SELECTED WORKS

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B22: Emperor / 52 x 52 inch / acrylic ground, oil sticks, quadruple robot

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B70: Madona and Child 2021 / 46 x 46 inch /acrylic ground, oil sticks, quadruple robot

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B70: Multiples/ 46 x 46 inch /acrylic ground, oil sticks, quadruple robot

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With B70 at Boston Dynamics, 2021

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B70: American Gothic 2021 / 46 x 46 inch / acrylic ground, oil sticks, quadruple robot

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B22: Self Portrait 02 2021 / 56 x 48 inch / acrylic ground, oil sticks, quadruple robot

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B22: Garden / 52 x 96 inch / acrylic ground, oil sticks, quadruple robot

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B22: Music Band / 52 x 94 inch / acrylic ground, oil sticks, quadruple robot

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B22: Flower Field / 52 x 52 inch / acrylic ground, oil sticks, quadruple robot

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B22: Four Mini Panels/ 5 x 5 inch / acrylic ground, oil sticks, quadruple robot

SEE SPOT MARCH SERIES

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B22: Sunrise March / 48 x 48 inch / Belgium linens, quadruple robot, acrylic, software

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B22: March in Gold / 48 x 48 inch / Belgium linens, quadruple robot, acrylic, software

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B22: Double / 48 x 48 inch / Belgium linens, quadruple robot, acrylic, software

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B22: March Series, closeup  /Belgium linens, quadruple robot, acrylic, software