Early Glitch & Neo-Suprematism
My earliest real collection of work had some pretty heavy thinking devoted to what I was calling “Neo-Suprematism” – which is a super pretentious concept, but I figured I could get away with it since I had such a ridiculous artist name. This was the theory I submitted in the gallery application to the Tippecanoe Arts Federation – take it with a grain of pop rocks.
“sgt_slaughtermelon” is an ironic avatar for a body of work that exists in an age when taking oneself seriously is the first sign of retrograde motion: the stagnancy of traditionalism. Matt Wallace’s works of geometric abstraction combined with pixel sorted “glitch art” aesthetics is at once both an aspiration towards the highest of geometric abstraction in the spirit of the Russian avant-garde of Malevich and a willing admission of ignorance and irony. This is a collection of shapes and relationships meant to express the most basic and idealistic abstractions of Suprematism, only operating within a milieu of the mid-stage “dissolution” conceptualization of the limitations of both objective and non-objective expression, bearing in mind at once the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche (re: his critique of metaphysics in general) and the anonymous author of ‘The Cloud of Unknowing.” This is art meant to at once inspire the adoration of the Pythagorean mysticism of geometry and the declaration of all metaphysics as “human, all too human.” A body of work that appreciates the infinite worlds of chaos in place of Malevich’s empty infinity but maintains his glorification of the square of all finite human grasping of the infinite embodied in us.
The work is self-described as Neo-Suprematism following some of the ideas of Malevich blended and recontextualized with the thought of Rosa Menkman, Michael Bettencourt, et al. The digital collages are sourced from original watercolors, crayon drawings, stains on countertops, NASA imagery – wherever interesting fodder for the algorithms can be found. The experiments are a combination of two modes of exploration: discovery and expression. The initial discovery is the source material warped through software using various methods and constants – the first time an image is sorted it is akin to looking at a new unmapped landscape. These novel arrangements are then pressed into the service of geometric abstraction; the geometry represents the objective and rational, mathematical, and the breaking and dissolution of that geometry is a metaphor for the limits of human epistemic endeavor. Malevich’s note that “planes reveal themselves” is always contradicted by the equally real limit of our ability to intuit them objectively. The role of thresholds between the rational and non-rational, pixel-selection, and chaos and order all play with the theme of the glory and failure of our attempt to understand the numinous. The titles of the pieces reflect fragmentary thoughts and references in the same way the works themselves suggest familiar abstract shapes and symbols but never quite cross over into an arrogant assertion.
What it means, in sum, is that I liked the idea of using glitches as a way to get away from the certainty that geometric compositions tacitly suggest. It’s a very postmodern sentiment to doubt what modernists were up to, and I thought glitch was a neat way to dip into the doubt that showed up in Malevich’s otherwise very weirdly confident geometric expressionism. I did a lot of the earliest work using butter.pics before I had a satisfying way of doing sorts in Processing on my own computer. One of the early ideas was that really, doing a “Nearest Neighbor” re-size in Photoshop preserved the pixels, so that I could do these huge gradients and pseudo-pixel art designs at massive resolutions. I still sometimes use that technique to have sharp edges, since resizing with bicubic methods creates ugly artifacts. You’ll notice that because of this theory there are *very* few non-broken pieces of geometry in these early compositions. There are lots of samples of gemstones and minerals worked into the designs – I’ve always considered it strange that people should find crystals beautiful. The most cynical part of me imagines that beauty is a biological thing, but why should there be any biological reason we find gemstones and crystal formations pretty? It speaks to the ethereal sense we have, I think.
The very first piece from this series was when I was learning how to make glitches for a seminar, and I stumbled across a weird sort of glitch in butter.pics method. The files that it generates are called unknown.png – which I also considered some kind of a sign or omen about “the unknown” and not just an error.
Current NFTs in the wild: only the original unknown.png – unlocked for the owner of the Proto-Slaughtermelon card.
Return to Code and Glitch
Eventually I managed to get Processing up and running again and explored Kim Asendorf’s ASDF program that you could use with a cp5 control panel in a version posted on github. I found that made it much more understandable, and I spent a considerable amount of time trying to reverse-engineer how they built the controls. For the next season, I spent a lot of time finding different freely available programs on github or openprocessing and figured out how they worked, how to add controls to them, and I built a few little sketches that were nothing more than free programs that now had controls, sliders, ways of using them without dipping into the code over and over to input/output and change the settings. I find that you can really make art much more easily this way – since you doesn’t try your patience experimenting with different settings. This includes some nPx sorters, some that sort horizontally or radially, some more advanced experimental sketches and just a few original programs (I’m still kind of a hack at programming). I genuinely feel this does *something* to set my work apart from other glitch artists. I’m not a brilliant coder like some of the real pioneers out there creating new actual glitches or generative systems or apps, but my work also looks a little different from what’s coming out of some of the (admittedly impressive) apps. Maybe that sounds elitist or pretentious, and it probably is a little bit, but it makes me feel better about my own glitch art to know that I at least tried to make it unique. I don’t use those effects all the time, but eventually I repackaged one of the better and more unique processing sketches and called it “Mother.”
One of the advantages to doing the art this way where I have more control over the code is resolution. Uploading art to most browser-based or app-based stuff has size limits. The GUI that came with the ASDF code has virtually no size limit – I still couldn’t figure out how they managed that, but I built in graphics buffers on some other programs and was able to apply effects whose only limit ended up being how many times the loop could run before the program thought it had crashed. I could make artwork at greater resolutions than 2160×2160, and the detail that comes through in the pixels is a treat to the trained eye – and produces better prints (I think).
Current NFT in the wild: none.
Fate / Mother / Akira Theme
During this stage one of the earliest transcendent themes came into formation. It’s centered around Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch, Akira, and Laurie Anderson’s “O, Superman” and “Big Science.” Not to spoil any of Bandersnatch – but one of the strangest secret endings/paths concerns the protagonist’s mother, and has “O, Superman” playing in the background. It’s very much about doom, death, and fate – not just of the individual but a larger apocalyptic outlook. In Bandersnatch that theme is tied together a little bit with an overall motif of fate, and an Akira poster on the wall in one of the pivotal scenes where the reality the show exists in is explained. The poster from AKIRA is the opening image of Neo-Tokyo exploding in a psychic meltdown. In “O, Superman” there’s this strange connection if you listen carefully where “mom” is tied to the hand of fate, the hand of power – “the hand that takes.” That hand is what exists once love is gone, once justice is gone, once force is gone – all that remains is the mystical hand – the electronic/electrochemical arms that feels like mom. You can see how this mirrors a society: love is the ideal way we treat eachother, but when that is gone we have recourse to justice, and when there seems to be no justice there is violence, and what happens when violence reaches its conclusion? What kind of a feeling is it to have this sense of doom and love it? To feel that fate is the invisible hand, that you want your mother’s arms to hold you even though it means death – even though it means embracing the psychic end of the world or at least your own little world. This has been a powerful theme – and I still come back to it sometimes and construct new pieces about the transcendent idea of mom, my own mother, doom, and just how cool AKIRA is. The music video for “O, Superman” is startlingly good for how old it is – and I recommend listening to that whole song all the way through several times and seeing what it brings up when you think about the end, and about your mother, and about the hand that takes.
Current NFT in the wild: none.
The cyberpunk theme came to fruition while I was working on Colin Budd’s github program to try to add different sorting methods and generative techniques and coding it all with a GUI and a graphics buffer. This is a theme I return to over and over, and the second major avatar for this project that came from Alexis Ziritt is an original cyberpunk artist character. There’s selections from the whole cyberpunk corpus, which I’ve always been a fan of – but which I really tried to get a handle on when creating a seminar video. The themes are dystopian, dealing with the concept that society may peak long before technology does. What I found really exciting, though, especially in the central figure of Gibson was that he dealt with so many other themes that people totally forgot about. He deals with AI and the singularity, with art and what art means in a world with computers, what religion has to do with technology, what it means to be a mind in a body and whether those are separable things that we can accomplish through tech. Lots of these themes come up again in Black Mirror, too – so this blends the cyberpunk themes in with the darker fate and reality themes. sgt_slaughtermelon became, for me, for a while, some kind of avatar of an artist who was creating the work: images that called to mind the Loa – godlike AI programs fragmented off of the Wintermute and Neuromancer primary programs. This dipped back into music, too, and synthwave and cyberpunk music has been undergoing its own renaissance with Bladerunner 2049, Ghost in the Shell, the outrageous development cycle of Cyberpunk 2077 that seems to be forever delayed at this point, but which has certainly generated a lot of incredible art.
Technique-wise, the Colin Budd program started allowing me to create totally different images that no one else was making at the time (maybe they were – but not in the exact way that I was). I had also always been fixated on the cover of Burning Chrome. Adrian Cain is probably my favorite artist who does work like this now, but it was the repeated patterns on this cover image have never lost my attention. I wanted to try to reverse-engineer that, and instead I came up with something to make circuit looking textures and patterns that were at once both a real human touch and surprised me with the results. Several different major series resulted from experimenting with Budd code and mixing and matching it with other programs, listening to the wave of new cyberpunk music.
Current NFT in the wild: There’s a handful of designs already floating around the NFT space that are from this general flavor, but not specifically in the loa series, some dip into the “wrecking” technique I cover in the next section and then go backwards into older glitch techniques. There is no strictly linear separation of techniques, and I like it that way.
jammers_deck grabbed by cryptostacey
a_satellite_with_a_memory – owned by bkbollinger
Wintermute, Neuromancer, the Loa
The style of manipulation that creates circuit-looking textures I was calling “wrecking” – just since it wasn’t really sorting or moving in any deliberate ways but just wrecking an image until it looked like something else. That style got combined with a new sketch I put together that took some simple image scrambling scripts and made it much faster, with more options and capable of rendering at gigantic resolutions – I didn’t get too gutsy with that title, but that program spits out images that look a little bit like Rob Ness compositions. The first pieces I made with a proper “wrecked” texture were “the_spirit_of_neuromancer” and the series “scenes_from_a_fictional_chinatown_1-5.” The wrecked circuits were used extensively in various combinations with other Processing sketches to create varios “loa” – abstract representations of the AI voodoo gods of Gibson’s trilogy. My friend Dead Agent used a few of those designs for his album “SGT_SLTR_MLN” which featured my art. I asked Dead Agent to make some music for an art installation that would end up falling by the wayside amidst a move and pandemic – but the EP he put out from our collaboration was some really fun industrial/electro/coldwave type stuff – main image on his site is kid_afrika.
Current pieces in the wild: None.
Databending & Audacity Aliens of Arecibo
When I was teaching about glitch art, for the sake of organization we talked about 4 different categories. Data moshing or manipulation – just screwing with the data directly. That’s more or less where most of the effects I use fit in: they are just different methods of screwing with the data – sometimes in unintended ways, but just manipulating the data. Data bending is a form of misalignment – it means encoding or decoding or even processing with the wrong kind of software or algorithm. There’s Circuit Bending or hardware failure – which is hard to capture in the wild, but you can now buy or engineer sort of custom analog gear that can simulate or create this kind of effect. In a way this is what a lot of CRT artists are doing with light painting and forcing analog artifacts. There’s also plain old Misregistration which is just corrupted files. That can be interesting, but it’s obviously unpredictable.
After I had gotten a handle on generating imagery with Processing and raw materials and it started to get a little predictable what would result, I wanted to be surprised again. I tried my hand for a while at something I used to teach that fit under the umbrella of Data Bending – using Audacity and audio algorithms on images in their raw data form. The results were unstable, often boring, and underwhelming – but when I managed to churn out a few interesting things I had this thought: it’s like working with aliens. It’s like working with something alien, at any rate – because it doesn’t do what a person would do if you were working with them.
It’s not exactly like AI though, because it really has no idea what it’s doing when it misapplies the audio filters. Interesting side-note, because of the Chinese Room thought experiment on AI, this is the entire reason I don’t really consider GAN art to be AI art. The thought experiment in a nutshell – if a person who did not speak Mandarin were confined to a room, and fed tiles of Mandarin characters through a mail slot and could only get food through the slot if they rearranged the tiles correctly, they could be making good sentences in Mandarin but never know it – because they were just trying to get food. No matter how complicated the Mandarin tile arrangements became, that person can’t read it – they just rearrange symbols until they are told they are successful. So GAN “art” can be pretty or cool, but it’s not really art anymore than the person in the Chinese Room could write literature. This ties back again to my earlier discussion of Gibson – in Mona Lisa Overdrive and Count Zero (spoilers) he deals with the phenomenon of an AI that is an actual artist. Meaning, it’s not just returning information, but understands and is somehow manufacturing semantically significant artwork. I think a lot of people don’t grasp that this is a major leap – this is the revolutionary thing about that AI, that it somehow escaped the Chinese Room dilemma.
So there is a series of which only a few have been posted here and there exploring alien intelligences. The best myth about alien intelligence I’ve come across is the crop circles message encoded in binary that reads:
Beware the bearers of FALSE gifts and their BROKEN PROMISES.
Much PAIN but still time.
BELIEVE. There is GOOD out there.
We oppose DECEPTION.
The closest thing I’ve found that sounds like this kind of chaotic AI that somehow stumbles into something aesthetically good also happens to be this black midi track called Arecibo. You can hardly watch and listen to that and not feel that an alien intelligence or an artificial intelligence can turn around at some point some kind of art that isn’t just surprising, but transcendent.
Current pieces in the wild: none.
Current NFT in the wild: none.
Encode Soul / Save Soul For Web (Legacy)
In the process of working on the Colin Budd program and a few others – there was one effect that eluded me. I have no idea what other artists are using to accomplish it, other artists like zouassi – but it’s like a pixel sort only it draws straight lines that fade into black at certain thresholds. At least, that’s what I think it’s doing. Since that’s what I thought it was doing – I managed after weeks to eventually get a version of that effect working. It’s terribly inefficient, takes a ton of processing power and prone to breaking and not working at all – but it works. The version I wrote only really works on smaller selections of pixels, and so when I had to pick and choose the parts of an image that I thought really summed up the identity of that image, it reminded me of constructs. Constructs are another William Gibson idea that moved seamlessly into Black Mirror. It is the attempt to read a person into code and store that person as a program. Not exactly that person, but a simulacrum. In Gibson it’s kind of a horror that turns into a dream, and in Black Mirror it’s kind of a dream that turns into a horror. If you don’t know what I mean by that, well, it’s a question of what it would be like to be a program that has none of the natural growth or personality or experience being that person. The Dixie Flatline construct asks Case to destroy him in Neuromancer, but by the end of The Sprawl (spoilers) it’s kind of the climax that Count Zero can become code forever. In Black Mirror, they go back and forth: in San Juniper it’s a good thing – to live forever as code exploring virtual worlds, but in White Christmas or basically any other Black Mirror episode with constructs it’s a terrifying endless torture of an existence that has none of the natural shut-offs that nature provides with death. There is a main series of encode_soul_mk_i-v and a later series called save_soul_for_web(legacy) – which is a joke about saving souls and saving for web (the legacy function in the Adobe suite). There may be more from this series in the future, but for now I felt like I really explored the effect in these two series.
Current pieces in the wild:
save_soul_for_web_legacy_01 was sold on Rarible to anon
Legendary Synthetic Artist: Lazlo Lissitsky
One of the major problems with my so-called “neo-suprematism” theory and the glitch textures was that really really complicated compositions get lost in the texture or get lost in the broken geometry. You can only do so much with the basics, and once you get beyond it they turn into mush when there’s not enough contrast or clear lines and shapes – but you can’t go back, because you’ve declared clarity arrogance. Not only that, but I had always been impressed by Ellen Lupton’s statement that one of the characteristics of modern design is that it uses computers to produce unexpected results. How could I solve the problem of complex compositions and create surprising designs? In mid-2019 I discovered a little program by Mykola Leonovych that was meant to simulate one of my earlier idols, Malevich. I had also been fascinated by the Bauhaus movement and later Swiss Modern design – but these did not fit neatly into the sgt_slaughtermelon canon of ideas and techniques. So instead of trying to bend slaughtermelon pieces to fit this desire, I created a synthetic artist – a program I called Lazlo Lissitsky. A combination of Lazlo Maholy-Nagy and El Lissitzsky. I studied their designs and their contemporaries and added a GUI to Leonovych’s program and started stacking case loop after case loop mixed with RNG mixed with new palette matrices and in general just really pushed the limit of what I’m capable of in terms of computer science. The result has been an evolving program that generates the kind of designs that El and Lazlo made, sometimes with their own palettes, and sometimes patterns a bit more like Swiss Modern designers – but all of it in a modernist milieu that I had declared too arrogant for sgt_slaughtermelon to be a part of (so now he wasn’t). This project gets revised and expanded and refined every few months – and the archives of his designs are one of the footholds that first got me into crypto art.
Once I had really developed the “wrecking” method, it freed me from one categorical rule I had had before. Prior to mastering wrecking, I didn’t like the idea of using any images that had recognizable figures or buildings or really anything that would take away from pure abstraction. I like abstract expressionism, not impressionism or making slightly abstract renderings of things. This is the influence of Malevich in me. Once I could essentially turn any image into totally abstract wrecked textures, I ran with some experiments using paintings by Raphael, Winterhalter, Brueghel, and others. I kept their colors but otherwise tried to turn their work into totally unrecognizable patterns of glitch. Usually I still ran an ASDF sort on them once they were done to simulate some depth or just because I liked how it looked. Semantically, this also added a layer – because it’s very much a statement on how the influence of the past gets destroyed and melted down and if we see it at all, we are only really seeing the flavors of the past. Does a normal public school education still teach us to love Raphael? Should it? If it doesn’t, does it make his work any less seminal? So there were a few series in the “fragments” theme, some with the proper name “fragments_of_a_” and some that just fit the style.
Another major series and theme that followed on this was reviving the aphophatic (i.e. the idea of the unknown, the negative approach to purer knowledge) motif and isolation therapy. I made a few short series of works that explored darkness and these fragments to explore the idea of the unknown and what it meant to have flashes of inspiration that nevertheless only point in the direction of a more true darkness. There are folders and archives of work named after Ps. Dionysius, or the infinity and isolation therapy jokes (which I loved) from I Heart Huckabees – in general, with a few exceptions, the approach to wrecked textures mixed with geometry branched into two major series dealing with the unknown and with history, and I suppose also space and cosmic themes.
SalmonMatte Studios and Me
The previous explorations in “wrecking” opened up new avenues for collaboration, too. A lot of work was put together from working with people in a collective called The Convergence. What had changed on a fundamental level was my willingness to take something that was a finished product that someone else had made, and use techniques that were transformative enough that I felt it was a new thing I was making and not just a spin off of their work. This is when one of my collaborations, the work with Salmon Matte Studios was done. I took an acrylic pour image they sent me called “Iris” and wrecked it, masked it in geometry, sorted and added a border – and renamed it “technological_iris_1-4” because now it looked more like circuitry than acrylics. In a lot of ways this was the boom and success of my instagram account. It had grown slowly before then, but after “technological_iris” it started seeing reaches in the thousands. I believe a part of what made the series such a success was that I finally had enough confidence in an original technique that I dispensed with pixel sorting for that series (besides the border). It was something that no one else was doing, and SalmonMatte’s color choices and textures lent themselves so well to the re-purposing process that our collaborations have become a staple of my output. The second series I made with SalmonMatte ended up being the major project with The Psychedelic Porn Crumpets, and since then I’ve sold a few here and there as NFTs. I don’t intend to stop making those as long as the results are delightful and my collaborator enjoys making them too.
There’s also a few smaller series of this same style that I did with other sources – usually of my own crafting. I like them for different reasons, but I will maintain forever (probably) that SalmonMatte has that magic something when it comes to their color choices.
Maps and Fantasies
SalmonMatte’s talent at picking just the right palette was part of an inspiration to experiment a lot more with gradient mapping. I had used it in the past for photo restoration, but being able to get a gradient map just right was the key to inventing your own compelling pieces. In my early work I really liked the idea of trying to find the colors in the wild – gemstones, landscapes, paint – but now I was finally committing to dispensing with authentic colors and embracing expressionistic color. Adobe has a handful of gradient maps built in, and I used those a couple times, but overall I wanted to have my own palettes and moods that weren’t manufactured by someone else. This became one of the things that unifies series around a theme, even thought the content within the series might change a lot. Using particular maps that are named after series, such as the “legba” map or the “sunlight_water” map – I started saving huge collections of gradient maps that would be the earmark of a particular series that is otherwise just a collage of my own glitch work and found textures. In a sense, I think just making a really good gradient map is an artform in itself. I think artists like maalavidaa and dorianlegret have mastered this technique. This also was one of the last leaps to take towards collages I felt good about – if I could remap the colors then I didn’t feel strange about using pictures I’d taken of rocks or papers or clouds or puddles or whatever I’d found and making something that felt like art rather than just photography. There’s a growing number of “official” maps too – like the later Lisa Frank Prime gradient map, or the Jareddd Scott maps, or any one of my favorite mapped series like “the_current_cultural_fantasy_is_pretty_dark” or “chelsea.” Once in a while I’ll add a new piece to these series if I find something that works really well with some of those maps on it.
One of my favorite examples is this series I called “the_current_cultural_fantasy_is_pretty_dark” which was made when Joker came out. I wrote a short blurb about the movie – but I wanted to find a palette that wasn’t taken from the movie but *felt* how the movie felt. Some kind of strange combination of dark and off-kilter with exhilarating. So I found a map I liked for a JOKER image that I posted crops of with each piece, and developed a bunch of collages that used the map to unify them.
Datamoshing & First Steps
Another of the glitch seminar topics was datamoshing. It means manipulating the data – but I always felt that was misleading because a lot of “datamoshing” techniques are really just controlled corruption and misregistration rather than manipulating directly. You delete keyframes in the AVI data to ruin video carefully, and I finally broke down and got the plugin for After Effects that makes it relatively simple (although even then it has some significant bugs). You’re dealing with corrupted files that have been re-encoded, essentially, and there’s even phone apps that do this now – so it’s feeling more domesticated all the time. I have a few experiments – notably the Tokyo Rose video I started working on, but I have some experiments using motion and video to create artifacts and moshed textures. I called my first experiments with that “every_first_step_you_take_will_eventually_make_you_cringe_” because I’d been embarrassed by earlier things I’d done in the past, and I was trying something new again. I still love this series, but I only occasionally return to experimenting with mosh textures because it’s not exactly an effect that I came up with – so while it looks great I think (and my most critically well-appraised piece from my first exhibit) I like to experiment with my own textures more often.
img_brush & Vaguely Remembered Vacations
There was an effect I had been chasing for a long time that was native to MS Paint and Solitaire or glitched Windows UI – this kind of drag repeat pattern. I’d seen 8glitchorbit use it to great effect (I’m not sure if they’re using an app or what) – but it’s as simple as an image that doesn’t get refreshed as it’s dragged around. That sounds super easy until your goal is to code it – and if you’re an utter amateur like myself, it took a while and several false starts to get something working. I spent a lot of hours tinkering with Processing trying to get something that did what I wanted.
When I finally got something that worked, I’m pretty sure I shared the demo screen capture of working-title “img_brush” with half my friends (most of whom were confused why I was so excited). The earliest experiments with this effect were split between trying glitch techniques with the result, and something closer to Fragments series. This collection of experiments is called “vaguely_remembered_vacations” – because I tried the effect with so many scenes and objects that would have previously been outside the scope of what I considered acceptable source material. Some fo those sources were seasides, or pottery, or landscapes or whatever that would have just been too recognizable to fit into an expressionistic mindset.
Acidwave, Rift Patterns Lisa Frank Prime
After my collaboration with SalmonMatte Studios had been licensed by The Psychedelic Porn Crumpets, I had one thing that I think is essential to new artists: confidence. This was success – having some art on an album cover of a fairly major band. This was an affirmation that I had made something really well. Once I had the confidence that my sensibilities were not just in a bubble, I wanted to experiment again – and doing compositions that were wilder and more free came naturally from that – a lot of the earliest experiments being created while I acquainted myself with the Crumpets discography and returned to weirder sounds like Tobacco and Dan Deacon. That also meant breaking some rules I’d held for a long time – no random strokes, no patterns created deliberately (and not with glitches or code), I had avoided any irregular geometry (no custom pen-drawn shapes) the list goes on, they weren’t “real” rules obviously, just implicit rules in the work that suddenly evaporated.
I did a lot of initial experiments in contrasting organic or mineral textures with black and white generated ones – I called them “Rift Patterns” – but basically just experiments with After Effects and shape repeaters. I tried making some artwork with checker patterns like I’ve seen in “acidwave” and kind of post-vaporwave or late vaporwave style art – acidwinzip is probably one of my favorite artists in that space. The fastest way I could think of to make super high-res checkers was After Effects, and so I did – but then why not start rotating the squares or scaling them or changing their position to make more complex patterns?
Thus a new style was born – and the crazy chaotic colors twigged my friend ethereal_zephyr to comment that it was like a Lisa Frank design in monochrome. Now that I had an avatar character that was closer to full-on fantasy, it was only a short leap to have a Lisa Frank character that was a riff on the Superman Prime theme from DC comics. That is – an alternate universe version that was more of an anti-hero (interesting fact: the real Lisa Frank is pretty reclusive and impossible to find pictures of). The general lore of the thing is that sgt_slaughtermelon studied under Lisa Frank Prime at her atelier school in this universe and learned these techniques from her (which, in reality, were the result of commercial success). So I took the idea and ran with it, and then created several gradient maps that mirrored Lisa Frank designs pretty closely, and the results were spectacular. “LFP” became a trading card – but more than anything it just became my own internal byword for wild designs with irregular geometry, strokes, spatial suggestions, and complex OP ART style patterns. I was combining them in mind-bending ways, and sometimes using the official LFP gradient map, sometimes dropping other ones in. It’s still something I consider a living series – although I don’t always use the standard title “the_#th_lesson_lisa_frank_prime_taught_me.” There’s also a trading card floating around that unlocks a link to “the official Lisa Frank Prime gradient map.” I hope that’s fun for someone.
Departures and Rule-Breaking
As always, what happens once you figure out how to make something new that you like is that you start to create rules in your head about how to make that thing. I do anyways. So after LFP had seen some success – meaning I liked what I was making with it an awful lot, I decided to try breaking some of the LFP rules. New palettes, patterns that were in color and not just monochrome, experimenting with comps that weren’t as free-flowing, weren’t necessarily tied together by strokes, and didn’t insist on going out of frame. There are a lot of these that have never been seen by anyone, but they’re all generally blocked under “departures” or cross-pollinated LFP designs. It was right around when I was accumulating enough departures to make a proper series out of it that I was introduced into cryptoart and everything went off the rails and back on new rails.
Departures are really how I categorize anything that doesn’t follow naturally from my work in glitch art and isn’t generative or simple collage.
$BASED Fun & Cryptoart
I owe my entire involvement in the crypto-art scene to the introduction by Mr. Bones from the $BASED art collective and my friend jrdsctt’s help. In short, Bones dragged me into minting my first piece on Rarible.com by just telling me I should, that he was starting a collective, and here’s a little ETH to pay for my first token mint. All the vocabulary from this section will be confusing to outsiders – but essentially you can mark files and art on the blockchain and trade/sell ownership of these marked files (Non-Fungible-Tokens). It’s been a booming space for artists to join the cryptocurrency world and a chance for crypto to generate something of cultural value. My very first toe-dip into this pool, sponsored by Bones, was bought immediately. It was a departure from the LFP series of which I minted 10 tokens, and Blue Kirby owns them all last time I checked.
Concerning $BASED and the art collective – it’s a little more slippery to understand than just crypto art. I may be speaking out of turn (but then again, BASED is a permissionless environment) but BASED isn’t just an elastic supply currency or a sort of crowd-sourced VC alternative for de-fi: but it asks one central question that most crypto projects aren’t asking. BASED is a way to address the problem that all these cryptocurrencies and small market cap tokens have: you can’t generate culture around get-rich-quick schemes (ruggable or not). If all everyone talks about is number, and whether number go up – cryptocurrency is just one more ponzi scheme or mid-level marketing or even just an honest but very boring business arranged around currency alternatives and mechanisms. BASED experiments and tries to make money – but ultimately the goal is to create a cultural project. This is why the art collective and the aesthetics of BASED is so significant. You can’t simply tell people “go make art so that we have a thing” because top-down cultural movements don’t work. They’re garbage. BASED deliberately tries not to tell people how to be BASED or what it means to be BASED or what to do to contribute because the community itself has to be goal-setting and creative. This is where you get some of their best and most enduring memes – “if you know you know” and “if it’s based, do it.” Note: the anons from Rope use some of these same types of slogans – they’re about “vibing” and “trusting the plan” – it’s a similar concept, they just have less aesthetic skin in the game so far (which is what makes their collaboration with BASED falling through such a tragedy). Outsiders see what’s going on and kind of want to co-opt it a bit, and so they’ll try to figure out something cool that they can use for their project, but really – BASED is kind of just cool for the sake of being cool. Incidentally, my sentiments I had been working on here were shared almost exactly by the host of the FTX podcast.
Not to bring up Nietzsche again, but this is kind of how the Gay Science works – value creation is meant to be fun and creative – the concept only got perverted in readings of The Will to Power (collated by his fascist sister) and abused and projected back onto the Gay Science in ways I think it shouldn’t have. I don’t even think this has to mean totally subjective value, but it definitely means something completely new in a space like de-fi and crypto where what’s good and beautiful and true and exciting and worthwhile is all up for grabs because everything feels so open and free.
So I have made a few pieces inspired by the $BASED community and how their currencies work (plural: there’s $based, $moonbased, and now $rural). I have some memes floating around I made for them too (which is actually more lucrative than the artwork so far) – but I’m more proud of the artwork that came from their carefully cultivated mood. These were also an important precursor to Sega_Sibyl because doing $based designs meant adopting their aesthetic from based.money that had colors I hadn’t used, shapes I considered a little too silly before, and patterns that I never would have considered had I not been trying to make something that fit that world.
“based_always_goes_up” which is a misquote of Bones’ mantra “based only goes up.” If you read the above you know what it means, I suppose.
Coping Algorithms & The Chillbois
I was having a rough go of things for a while, so I tried just returning to some of what brought me pleasure in the earliest work. Letting the algorithms do their thing and taking it as it comes. I tried some new Processing sketches off github that (thankfully) pretty well worked out of the box. I changed a few things like save format and saving size and so on, but volfegan has some amazing sketches that generate really interesting textures I haven’t seen all over yet. So I experimented a little here and there with just letting the thing run and maybe throwing it into a circle and letting that be that. I wasn’t interested in arrogance or humility or any of the epistemological stuff – this was just letting a program make something chill. So I called them chill. Chillbois. “chill” has since become kind of my own byword for throwing any of volfegan’s scripts into the mix when making a new piece. I experimented a little with making animated versions, but the investment of time didn’t get returned, and I honestly prefer static work in most cases.
Prophecies of the Sega Sibyl
After getting onto Twitter once I discovered it’s where literally everyone in crypto hangs out – I found out it was like starting over again in terms of social capital. That’s okay, because early days can be fun. Some of my projects with the $based community generated inquiries from other defi projects that wanted cool meme-able graphics. A lot of these projects wanted to offer their token as payment, but honestly that’s kind of a losing game in terms of time investment – at least so far it is. I had a frog ask me about creating some 90’s themed graphics for their project, and I thought to myself: “well, I’ve been avoiding the 90s nostalgia so far – why not?” For someone who was alive through it to see what was hot in the 90’s become stale and flat and boring, and to see people saying things are “great” that were hideous when they were popular is a strange experience. Also, some of the recent graphics movements and trends have been sort of ironic: as in, “I don’t really like this obviously but here’s a look.” I’ve always struggled with irony like that because even if something is silly I want to be all-in on it being something I actually like. So my mission was this: try to find a look that absolutely recalls the 90s, but doesn’t do so in an ironic way.
I did a lot of research and combed through archives of Neo-Memphis style, but I wanted to make stuff a little less stilted than I think that style allows. Some of my favorite artists working in this kind of are would be warakami_vaporwave and Eric Weidner and Mariah Birsak and even graphicwave80 (although these styles dip in and out of 80s/90s and aren’t as strict). To jump start the project I came up with a lore piece, imagining for myself a console that sgt_slaughtermelon would have salvaged from the dimension where he studied under Lisa Frank Prime and went to college with Jareddd Scott – the Sega Sibyl.
I actually undertook making an image of the console as a project where I created huge hi-res versions of textures that I could play with later just to put them in a little piece of the console image. In other words, I allowed the console’s manifestation to also be the creative driving force behind developing the textures and patterns and vocabulary of a new style. I’m still developing the style – it’s a really new feeling for me to be making things like this, and I couldn’t have even started if I hadn’t made the $based_world_beckons designs first or the PSYOPS shirt with Cameron Lee. Those two experiences gave me the freedom and confidence to make a series that is incredibly heavy on design and almost dispenses with any sort of glitch technique at all, and is only really collage work in the sense that I’m using similar collage techniques with my own generated 90’s inspired textures. The project that started the whole endeavor asked for more and more generic “a e s t h e t i c” things, and while I don’t mind that stuff at all, I had really gotten pretty far down the rabbit hole of meta-modern 90s designs. Incidentally, this series led to one of my first sales on KnownOrigin to David Moore himself.
One artist I admire and spend a lot of time annoying online is Jarid Scott, or jrdsctt. In my opinion he’s one of the artists who has done the most with the ASDF pixel sorting script and turned it into something like the equivalent of brush strokes in digital format – that is, he’s really fine-tuned how to use that tool to the point that paying attention to each individual sort he uses and how he masks them into his compositions is rewarding.
Because we’ve spent some virtual time online talking, I realized that he looks a bit like one of my old roommates, and it spawned a joke where I deliberately mis-spelled his name Jareddd and attributed the mis-spelling to fictional other dimensional counterpart: sgt_slaughtermelon’s roommate at Paleo-Memphis University (see Sega Sibyl for the explanation of why I wouldn’t want to work in the Neo-Memphis style) where they studied under Lisa Frank Prime. I realize this is getting pretty far afield at this point, but I think that’s a part of the fun of virtual worlds and creating your own lore – just how far can you take it?
We had had a few collaborations in the past, but I felt they were underwhelming because I was too protective of my own style and didn’t experiment enough. So we shared some work, and I developed some Jareddd Scott official gradient maps to pack with a trading card, and then jumped into his work with those maps and re-composed them with new shapes and strokes to highlight the vibrant color explorations. Those collaborations are on Makersplace right now, and are using their new system that automatically divides proceeds from artwork where collaborators agree upon a percentage they each earn. I’m hoping that the Jareddd “Triple D” Scott project will set a template for experimenting with other people again in new ways – and I’ve already done so once with KatetheCursed in a piece on Known Origin that uses her CRT light-painting sources in a similar way – even thought that one fits more neatly into my glitch collection since it maintains pure abstraction.
Now that there’s a pretty considerable body of techniques of making glitches, combining Processing generated glitch textures, my own wrecks, regular collage, sometimes mapped sometimes not – I’ve taken to calling works that fit into this late category “mature glitches” because they pick and choose and sample any number of techniques I developed over the last 4 or 5 years. Sometimes a whole series is a “mature glitch” series, but it will be grouped under the gradient map used for it. Mixing and matching different techniques still surprises me and shows the potential of being an endless permutation of compositions, colors, and textures. Each new major series and movement and experiment will usually funnel some new thing into this category. I generally consider the beginning of my “mature” glitch style to come between developing “wrecked” textures and img_brush materials. That doesn’t mean they all incorporate those, but they theoretically could.
This is one project that came about that wouldn’t have existed as it is had I not been in cryptoart. Generally speaking, I prefer static mediums. I do a lot of video and motion graphics work that is, well, work. I also struggle with the utility of artwork that moves – because I like to imagine my art being printed and adorning walls or clothing or as stickers on well-worn notebooks. I feel that video work has such limited use by comparison, but it’s all the rage in cryptoart. I suppose anytime you have a medium where there’s such potential for novel expressions: an NFT itself can’t really be printed (although the artwork in it can) – and so it lends itself to having more of an objet d’art sort of final product (thanks DFW for teaching me that term).
So the first real motion design-piece (which still generates neat stills, I think) was an attempt to make a style based on the Andy Warhol Amiga designs. After coding Lazlo, I knew it could be done – and done by me with much less modding of other people’s code than I usually do. So I sat down when I finally had the nerve to do so, and started writing a script to generate patterns like the ones you see in this early GraphiCraft V27 image. This also, you’ll notice, draws on an Andy Warhol style in his print work: thresholds. Andy used thresholds for his screen prints – and it’s a coincidence that using thresholds in imaging software yields similar results. So when I jumped into trying to create the series, I knew I wanted patterns that were surprising combined with thresholds, and all of it in a very bright and vibrant and non-mapped sort of way. That is, no palettes that I chose – only colors that the Processing sketch called “cyborg_warhol” generated.
Can you imagine if Warhol hadn’t been shot or in frail health, and if he had really lived well-into the digital art world? I like to imagine that in the world where Jareddd and LFP exist, there’s a version of Warhol that adopted transhumanism as an ideal, and used a sketch like mine to allow him to screen print with living video textures like the ones in the cyborg_warhol_factory_print series. I was doing the whole thing as kind of a lark (the way any good project starts) and my friend Tom “Lucky Charm” Okina and ethereal_zephyr sat in the stream while I worked out the first render from this series. They helped me decide how much to sell for etc. – and that same day one of my favorite CRT artists, Sarah Zucker, bought the first factory_print. I was thrilled, and I want to carry the series on. It’s still in its infancy as a developed style, and each piece takes a long time to make compared to some of my other techniques. I may get an artists rendering of cyborg_warhol one day and then use that as a trading card, or just use this GIF here that I love, and pack the program into the trading card.
I did another series based on the concept of cyborg_warhol as art cards for Paras.id – a cross-reference with an interesting part of Warhol’s career from when he was working with Basquiat. Basquiat did what he does, and Warhol did stencil paints of corporate logos. It always seemed like a strange total appropriation to me – almost a return to form to his Brillo boxes, but this time just huge logos that he made into art.
Keeping with my mandate of total abstraction, I took logos that don’t really have real world object references and made cards of the cyborg_warhol patterns as those logos. Some are still for sale on Paras, I believe. Even though they’re simple, just “brand_riffs,” seeing just how much the output of that sketch can make something mundane and corporate into something interesting was fun. Most everything I have on Paras is there because it was fun to make, less because I consider it the highest of art/
An awful lot of my good ideas actually come from projects that ask for things I haven’t done before. I had an artist (I’ll talk more about this in Projects once that’s done) ask for some of my 90’s revival sega_sibyl type design work – only the references were a lot more neon and lightplay than my series had been. I figured “why not?” and just ran with trying some new things. I never did any glow in my early work because I came from a design background where every lazy designer and their brother just added a photoshop layerstyle to something to make it glow for a client, and it was awful. To be fair – glow effects have come a long way since then – but it’s a bit like eating way too much of something and throwing up, even once it’s good again you just can’t do it. It’s probably been long enough, and the exploration of 80’s retro for bitbasel.miami that I made kind of whetted my appetite for doing some glowing designs again.
To that end – I created an alternate character (not the musician, but reminiscent of them) named Jesse Cathode. Bruce Sterling has a fun story called “Mozart in Mirrorshades” where Mozart ends up a timetraveler and has to broker deals with the managers of time portals. Jesse Cathode is a bit like that – someone from the distant future that travels back to the 90s nightclub scene and pays to stay on the wrong side of the time portal (to the mysterious “time authority”) by paying them with black market designs and artifacts. The first small series of explorations I made are just called jesse_cathode_artifact – and I’m trying an experimental game where I offer them as bounties for finding collectors for other series. Is that wise? I don’t know – but it’s fun.
Scarlet Dream Sequence
The scarlet_dream sequence is a collection I started when I wanted to do much more palette restricted designs using some of the intuitive composition style I developed with Jesse Cathode and sega_sibyl. When I was around college age, there was a streak of design in the music I like that used red and black and white. The White Stripes are an obvious influence, but also Interpol and The Strokes delved into the palette – and these bands were really shaping my emotional life at the time. Particularly poignant for me was the strange lines from Interpol, all three colors – all very abstract:
White Goddess, red Goddess
Black temptress of the sea, you treat me right
Black Goddess, red Goddess
White temptress of the sea, you treat me right
So as I had this palette in my head, I used to imagine that I could only dream in those colors. I don’t know why exactly, but it became something of an obsession. Some of the doodles from classes that I scanned still exist. I took to calling them triptychs, doing three at a time, choosing random letters and numbers (the 45 was a reference to the random track Brimful of Asha that stuck with me for some reason).
In one of my classes we were meant to learn to use Flash (back when it was Macromedia Flash) and make an animation. I kept the palette and made a strange looping animation with menus called Triptogram. The unnamed character falls through a manhole and falls forever through different patterns set to music until you click the black hole and they fall back out of the sun to the street, walk towards the hole again. Since flash doesn’t really work very well anymore, and this may be my only chance to share this odd project – here’s some stills from it.
So took some of the ink and spatter experiments from that era that I had scanned at 1500 DPI as TIFF files (thank goodness for archival foresight) and used them to make some new designs. It’s meant to be kind of a tribute to my past self, and an exploration of an idea that was very intimate and inter-laced with a still-maturing personality. So far there are two completed cycles.
After the dream sequences, I wanted to explore other interests I had – but in an only semi-personal way. I find that usually my best technique explorations accompany theme explorations and personal introspection. That is – I started on the concept of Brother Melon – some kind of monk character that was also technically savvy – and the method began to present itself as I followed the themes. The themes of the Brother Melon phase of my actual life mixed with fantasy weighs heavily on the interplay of light and dark – of glowing luminescent concepts shrouded in darkness, inaccessible. I spent a lot of the last decade reading philosophy, theology, mysticism and wisdom literature. In sum: I’m not strictly a skeptic about what we can know, but I certainly don’t think it’s orderly or presents itself in common-sense ways. At the same time, rationalism and empiricism have their own kind of internal consistency – and so having orderly blocky textures isn’t just a sort of reference to technology, but it’s also an analogy for how some kinds of knowledge work.
I explored some new textures using a Processing script I found called vector drift – and I combined that with my own image-brushed patterns, taking those and making them stark black and white textures after the fact. Why? Because the theme for these is the darkness with bone-white pixels sticking out from it, black unknowable things with light and color erupting from it. Strokes of vibrant color weaving through the much more difficult black and white of actual knowledge. To make the black and white for the central shapes, I didn’t want to use old textures, so I found some ink and some paper, used some kind of wet drawing techniques to get acceptably whispy designs that I could make glow. This is the whole mood: glowing whispy light, contained and wrapped in black. The main series then became meditations on thoughts I found beautiful. Leaves from notebooks.
The technique of making the backgrounds was so satisfying though, I experimented a little more with drawing out some lines, making some bare bits of structure to connect pixels and patterns – and those became the symbols of the little fleeting bits of wisdom, questions, thoughts, the sorts of things relegated to the margins of my books – of books in museums in the margins. The references in there are oblique q.v. (quo vadis) and (cf. confer) bits to refer the viewer to the texts that I was musing on while constructing the pixel arrangements.
The avatar is just a photoshop of Bonaventure (who is the third leaf quote) combined with some other Franciscan painting and Freddie Mercury’s sunglasses from an oil painting of him. I like the feeling of combining them into a character that is only semi-serious, since this subject matter is actually closer to my heart than most of my work.
Moniac Mod Archives
As Lazlo Lissitsky picked up on Opensea, I randomly came in touch with a childhood friend that goes by Tartaria Archivist now and does data engineering. We started to collaborate on refactoring and making revisions to Lazlo and brainstorming about other projects we could try. He volunteered to help me sort out some bugs and quality-of-life changes with the Lazlo code in exchange for a small cut of the sales, but we both wanted something that would feel more like a real collaboration. Eventually we came up with something we could both contribute equally on – making “Mod” designs that look reasonably authentic to the period. Over the course of doing art I’ve tried to sort of dip a toe into all sorts of kind of modern art styles and movements. Mod is really more of a fad that defies strict definition, but basically the simple circle logo and the concept of bold simple designs lead eventually to entire trends of modifications of Swiss Modern in the 60’s- late 80’s. I think it’s interesting that Swiss Modern, at least in my mind, hits kind of a wall where the more wavy and flowing designs that came later don’t quite fit into the earlier paradigm. Mod is a nice kind of transitional concept going from Swiss Modern into whatever came next, but even more interesting was the historical moment it fit into.
I make no secret of my love of The Invisibles – and basically any theme that gets touched on in Grant Morrison’s magnum opus is a theme I like to conjure when I can – and King Mob had an alter ego of the spy Gideon Stargrave somewhere in there that bridged the Mod and Psychedelic scenes. I liked the idea of a spy and some intrigue being involved. I’ve also always been fascinated by the alternative history speculations about what could have happened if analog computers had become a real phenomenon. Soviets had built some analog hydraulic computers, and there was an economics computer that also functioned using water called the Moniac that was designed right around the same couple of decades that fit the Mod scene. It’s huge reach, but if you don’t think about it too much – you can imagine one of these analogue computers being used to somehow start doing encryption instead of economics – spycraft – and then in turn having a soviet spy make their way into that world trying to crack the computer with the excuse of using it to make mod designs.
In sum: it explains why there would be generative art that was dated to that time period. It was done with a hijacked analog computer. This was also a part of the programming challenge – I knew that Processing can do neat stuff kind of like Photoshop layers with images and blending modes, and Tartaria Archivist worked with me to add a huge library of paper and paint textures that position as a part of the algorithm and make finished-looking pieces instead of being taken into post the way I would if I just wanted to fake them being old. This also fits the narrative where we can imagine that they are archives, numbered also via the program, and that MI6 caught this spy and archived all these prints – a kind of fictional source of origin.
As the program goes on we’ve been working hard on finding code that makes Mod-appropriate designs via algorithm. It’s easy to make things that look too complex for the style, and easy to make things that are so simple they feel worthless – it’s finding that perfect zen-like in-between that is difficult. A lot of what went into this was figured out by Tartaria Archivist using complex math that I couldn’t have figured out on my own – but both of us came up with line patterns and methods in such a way that it doesn’t feel like either one of us was “Robin” in this work – I like to call it “The Double Batman Triumph.” We put this project on Hic Et Nunc because it felt like the right moment in the space to experiment there, and simple designs for cheap don’t work very well when gas is high. Gas has been lower recently, but now that the series is established on the Tezos chain we’re both reluctant to experiment with minting any elsewhere.