The Engineer’s Perspective
It is paradoxical that in an attempt to simplify his art, Seidler ended up developing a technique that is both complex and demanding. Historically he can be seen as falling into the same trap as Seurat, Pissarro and other Pointillists. The demands of Matricism are similar to the demands of Pointillism which so restricted the output of that movement in painting. As mentioned above, Seidler’s output of Matrix paintings was only a few pieces per year. Frustrated with the extreme demands of the form, in the late 1990s he essentially abandoned the approach.
In 1999 however, in collaboration with myself and other technologists, Seidler was able to exploit the systematic nature of Matricism and developed new painting tools which have permitted this new language of art expression to survive and evolve as technology has presented new possibilities.
In order to understand how technology has been used to aid in the production of Matrix paintings, it is appropriate to give a concrete example of the creation of a Matrix painting as Seidler has done it by hand. The first stage is painting a grayscale under painting. This is the brightness design. Seidler does this alla prima, with no drawn sketches to begin with. He simply conceives of and paints with oil on canvas using ordinary brushes. Figure 11A shows a completed under painting. This grayscale image is typically done with relatively thin paints and provides little in the way of texture. The under painting is usually created with no obvious restriction on value.
A red and blue color matrix with the two hues and 15 values.
Next he creates a wavelength design. Often this is a series of lines, each in a principle hue. The choice of three principle hues is typical but not universal. These lines are drawn on the under painting. Having selected the hues as part of the wavelength design, Seidler selects the number and range of values. Once both hues and values have been selected, the paints can be mixed to create the color matrix. An example of a two color 15 value matrix is shown in Figure 10. Seidler will then pick a line in the wavelength design of a particular hue and start applying dots of paint with his palette knife along the line. Along that line the dots will typically be the same size and spacing and will always be the same hue. The value of the hue for each dot of paint is selected by Seidler to be as close as possible to the value (graylevel of the under painting in the location of that dot. This process is repeated for each line in the wavelength design until the painting is complete.
The manual process so easily described in the above two paragraphs requires an enormous amount of painstaking labor that is taxing physically as well as mentally. As he works along each wavelength design line, the artist must keep the dot size and spacing consistent. This is done by progressing along the line with each dot placed one after another. This requires that all of the paint values of the particular hue to be available. The artist must judge the value of the grayscale on the under painting and find the appropriate matching color value. Unlike painting with a brush, where mistakes are easily painted over, this process is very unforgiving. The thick dots of paint are difficult to remove once applied to the canvas, so each dot must have its value carefully selected and must be accurately placed. When tens to hundreds of thousands of dots must be applied to finish a Matrix painting, the manual and mental effort can be overwhelming.
Seidler applying dots of paint, one at a time with a pallet knife.
The salvation of this approach is that it is structured so that the choices that the artist makes: principle hues, number of color levels, dot size(s, and dot spacing(s can be applied to his designs in an algorithmic manner. This has allowed Technology to be invented that enables the creation of original Matrix oil paintings. The advantage that this technology was intended for was to reduce the time to produce a Matrix painting. In this it has been very successful. The time to produce a Matrix painting of moderate complexity has been reduced from weeks to days. However, the technology has also provided new opportunities for Matricism to evolve as we will explain in a later section.
The technology used to produce Matrix paintings includes digital imaging, image processing, lots of programming, and a 21st Century paint brush. The process starts just as it always did with Seidler creating the brightness design by painting a grayscale under painting. The under painting is then digitized and stored in a Tagged Image Format (TIF file in a grayscale mode. Normally there are 256 levels of gray in such an image file. The artist selects the number of levels that he/she would like to use. Let us say that the artist chooses 11 levels. The image is processed to have only 11 gray levels instead of 256. One way to do this is with the ‘Posterize’ function in Adobe PhotoShop. The processed TIF file is made up of pixels which represent spatial points of the image. Each pixel has one of 11 different gray levels. Figure 12 shows an example of a digital image shown before (A and after (B the gray levels have been reduced to a small number.
Figure 12 (A) Digitized image of a grayscale under painting with 256 gray levels. (B) is the same image except there are now only 9 gray levels.
Next the artist creates the wavelength design. In this case we will consider a wavelength design with 3 principle hues (red, purple, gray that is made up of lines. There will be multiple red lines, purple lines, and gray lines. Instead of drawing lines on the under painting, this can be done in a computer drawing program. Each hue gets its own TIF file made up of lines. Shown in Figure 13 is a wavelength (color design of blue spiral lines.
Wavelength design in blue spiral lines Detail of assigned dots along blue line. Note the value of each dot is adjusted to match the grayscale of the under painting (brightness design.
Very first test of the above pattern.
The artist selects dot size, dot spacing, and several other parameters that affect the placement of dots along the lines drawn in the wavelength design. These selections can be different for each hue or even for lines individually. Based on these inputs, dot positions are determined along the lines of the wavelength design. Figure 14 shows the result of a particular dot size and dot spacing along the blue lines. Note that the computer has adjusted the value of the blue dots to correspond to the grayscale value of the brightness design for the location of each dot. The blue dots assigned along the blue lines. At the same time for each dot the gray level of the brightness design is determined in the position of that dot. The end result of this process are files which contain the size, position, hue, and value for each dot that will make up the painting.
The data for the dots is arranged into different groups with dots of a particular paint color (hue and value) and within these groups into dots of the same size. Data in this grouping is what is used to create the Matrix paintings.
The Matrix Painting Tool (MPT) is a large scale XYZ positioning robot with the ability to deposit paint on a canvas with control of the size and shape of the deposited paint. The paint delivery mechanism is a paint filled cartridge that is pneumatically driven to extrude oil paint out of a tip. In these images you can see how individual colors are loaded and delivered.
A painting is produced one by depositing one paint color (hue and value) at a time. Paint cartridges are loaded one at a time and the machine parameters are adjusted to achieve a particular dot size and texture. Once adjusted, all dots of a particular size and texture are deposited sequentially until all dots of that color are applied. This typically proceeds through all of the values of one hue before another hue is applied. The order of paint application can make a difference particularly with closely spaced or overlapping dots.
It is tempting to think of the MPT as a large scale plotter or ink jet printer. However, it is distinctly different from a printer or plotter because it creates three dimensional structures of paint where printers and plotters create two dimensional images. This ability to deposit paint with control of the texture is what makes the MPT a 21st century paint brush rather than a reproduction machine. While it is possible that this technology will eventually be used to reproduce art, Seidler is adamant about never creating copies of any work. He has stated are two many possibilities to explore to bother with creating more than one of any Matrix painting.
While the MPT was created simply to mimic Seidler’s hand done Matrix technique, the use of the technology immediately created new options. The first realization was that the creation of a Matrix painting no longer required the under painting to be directly used. A hand done piece required the wavelength design to be placed directly over the brightness design so that both the location and the value of each dot could be determined. The new technology allows that determination to be done in virtual space on a computer. The data produced by the process captures the position, hue, value, and size of each dot, so the MPT can place each dot and create a Matrix painting without the under painting beneath the dots of paint. This has allowed a single brightness design (grayscale under painting to be used in multiple Matrix paintings with different wavelength designs.
This possibility also created some new opportunities and problems. With wavelength designs that do not completely cover the brightness design, the lack of the under painting beneath the dots was an element Seidler had not dealt with before. In some cases it led to an undesirable loss of definition of the brightness design. To deal with this change, the wavelength design was expanded to include a concept Seidler calls "negative space" which refers to relatively large areas of space not covered by the wavelength design. This was accomplished by defining a uniform background set of lines that allowed dots to fill this negative space. In the first paintings done on the MPT these negative space dots were kept grayscale to reflect the unseen under painting. Later, Seidler adopted the negative space into the wavelength design using it as a background hue other than gray to fill in the negative space.
The first painting completed by the Matrix Painting Tool.
The absence of the under painting also provided a new freedom. The canvas can be painted with yet another design. The principle restriction is that the design is executed in paint with little texture so as not to negatively impact the significant texture of the dots of the wavelength design. So far the independent design of the under painting has been restricted to very simple designs of a principle hue. But this hue filling in the regions between the dots, can strongly affect the overall tone of the composition. Seidler has a tendency to use dark backgrounds even in his under paintings, but he has begun to explore lighter tones and even bright colors for backgrounds of Matrix paintings.
The other significant development that the MPT enabled is new paint textures. The original plan was to have the MPT deposit a dollop of paint that the artist would manually "smash" with a palette knife. However, Seidler immediately became enamored with the variety of dots that were deposited directly by the tool. By changing the amount of paint deposited and the tip height above the canvas, various shapes including spikes, little "Taj Mahals", Hershey’s Kisses, and pancakes. A fat Hershey’s Kiss shape is a favorite of Seidler and several paintings have been done with this texture exclusively. There are many more opportunities for unique paint texture effects that are being explored.
Another more subtle effect of the technology is a new method of creating abstract wavelength designs that Seidler is now using to create some stunning landscapes. The artist selects a uniform set of lines that cover the composition and a size and spacing for all of the dots. Instead of assigning different hues to different lines, the artist selects a number of hues and a ratio of the hues with respect to one another. For example the artist might select purple and yellow as his hues and pre-determine that 70% of the dots will be purple and 30% will be yellow. As the program places the dots along the lines, it selects in a pseudo random manner (weighted to achieve the 70/30 split) between the purple and yellow dots. In addition, the artist may choose to add some randomness to the placement of the dots to avoid the regularity of the dot spacing.
There has been some discussion that paintings done in this manner do not involve the merging of designs. We beg to differ. Simply because the wavelength design is abstract and pseudo random nature does not change the fact that it is this design and not the under painting that selects the hue, size, and position of each dot.
The precision of the MPT is another new capability that the technology brings. It can be used to create uniformity and alignment effects that are impossible to create by hand. Seidler has generally avoided exploiting this feature. We believe that this choice is at least partially in reaction to the ire of anti-technology reactionaries. The complaint that Matricism, when realized with technological tools, is "computer generated" art is to be expected, but we believe is misguided criticism. The artist is in control of the composition. He paints the brightness designs and draws the rudiments of the wavelength design. He selects the color matrix that is the hues and values. He selects the size, spacing, and placement of the dots. The computer and robotics simply reduce some of the labor involved. To those who say that it is not original art because technology is making its realization easier, we suggest that there must have been similar complaints when commercial oil paints became available. It may have been said that a "real" artist mixes his own paints. It is an interesting historical note that the innovation of premixed oil paints in tubes was a factor that allowed the Impressionists to take painting outside where they were able to capture the transient effects of light and atmosphere.
The introduction of power tools to stone sculpture has been accepted for some time now. Few people begrudge a modern sculptor using power tools to save time instead of using a hammer and chisel. The MPT is simply the first power tool for oil painters.
We believe that real art is created by the heart and mind. The question of the importance of Craftsmanship in art is an interesting one, especially with regard to the technical innovations of Matricism. If one believes that craftsmanship is not important, then why bother about what the artist uses as a tool? If you believe that craftsmanship is important, then why deny the artist a superior paint brush?
Dr. John Randall