How generative NFT artist Tyler Hobbs’ shows in London and New York explore the relationship between humans and machines

How generative NFT artist Tyler Hobbs’ shows in London and New York explore the relationship between humans and machines

Tyler Hobbs is a leading generative artist. He works methodically, with a straightforward, systematic approach to creating works of art through processes, procedures and algorithms. Hobbs can write code to develop programs that generate works of art, knowing that the program will lead to a distinct creation. Or he may succumb to the chance. “Random plays a big role. I try to find a balance between order and disorder or between structure and chaos, explains the Austin-based visual artist. “I want to give the programs the freedom and the opportunity to surprise me and escape the limitations of my imagination. Chance is the ingredient that creates that possibility.”

Celebrated for his “Fidenza” NFT series, Hobbs is in London to present the first of two major solo exhibitions this spring at Unit London (March 7 to April 6) and Pace Gallery in New York (March 30 to 22 April).

“Mechanical Hand” at Unit London marks his first UK show. It contains recent paintings on canvas and drawings on paper that explore the imaginative possibilities of what can happen with the exchange of ideas between man and machine. “Many of the works are more intimate, for example subtle graphite or watercolor on paper,” he explains of the selection at the exhibition. “Overall, I was interested in exploring the spectrum of how an artist might integrate the computer or robotics into their practice or take a more mechanical approach by working with the hand. I was also interested in using the hand where a machine might fit more naturally or reverse.”

Meanwhile, at Pace, “QQL: Analogs”—the gallery’s first show dedicated to an individual artist’s web3 project to coincide with NFT.NYC 2023—will feature paintings based on Hobbs’ experiments with the new QQL NFT algorithm, an expansive , long-form generative algorithm created in collaboration with NFT art collector Dandelion Wist.

The Pace exhibition celebrates the algorithm and the transformation of ideas from digital to physical. “A key feature of QQL is that it allows the collector to become a curator and a kind of co-creator, what we like to call the ‘parametric artist,'” he explains. “The raw outputs of the algorithm must be curated and selected to be part of the final set of 999.” Hobbs selected 12 new QQL exits—each painted on a 4-by-5-foot wooden panel, with some created robotically and others using robotic and manual processes.

Hobbs admits that his fascination lies in how these processes transform the digital work and play with how a viewer sees and engages with the art. “I’m also interested in how traditional painters, who we don’t usually think of as generative, have used systematic, almost algorithmic rules to help them construct a series of paintings or a signature style. In many ways the show is not a new method of developing a set of paintings, just a more concrete and explicit method.”

Earlier in his career, Hobbs worked within a more traditional art form, with pencil, pen, paint and often drawing large figures rather than abstraction, which seems a far cry from his current work. It was only in 2014 that he started experimenting with programming. I am interested to know what attracted Hobbs to the medium.

After studying computer science in college and working as a programmer, Hobbs wanted to integrate programming into his artwork. “Writing code had reshaped how I saw the world and established the mental models I used to organize my thoughts and solve problems. It was such an important part of my life that my artwork felt incomplete without it, he says.

“Finally, I got the idea to write a program that created a painting. The results were fascinating, the ideas felt fresh, and there was a huge opportunity for exploration.” Hobbs learned about generative art, the scene, and the tools he needed to work within this space. He says he is glad he had taken the first steps alone. “This helped me establish my own particular approach and aesthetic.”

Cy Twombly and Agnes Martin have been major artistic influences, and I’m interested to know what it is about these two that has left such an imprint. There is a solid emotional connection and a fascination with their creative processes. “I especially appreciate the systematic elements that can be found in their work,” says Hobbs, explaining that Martin often explored variations on a familiar theme “as if he were seeing multiple outputs from the same algorithm.” And although Twombly works more gestalt, Hobbs finds moments where he lets the pattern take over. “Sequences of repeated, looping scrawl to me speak of a program, manually executed. The hand introduces randomness,” he says. “With both of these artists, even their most stripped-down work says something important about humanity.”

For the London exhibition, Hobbs effectively manages both the machine and human processes, and I want to know how these two spaces coexist. He replies: “In terms of their ‘standard aesthetic’, these two are quite different. Computers like to make things perfect, with smooth lines, even spacing and even coverage. When we work by hand, it’s the opposite – everything is subtly distorted and imperfect. I tried to use a systematic, procedural approach in both areas because I felt it best showcased the unique fingerprint of each.” Using the hand to execute the colder, digital, algorithmic designs also helped make the machine-made more accessible and emotional connected to man.

Hobbs has worked with messy media, airbrush and charcoal, tools that cannot be fully controlled and leave little room for elements of surprise, which seem the opposite of the clinical neatness of algorithms. “In my purely algorithmic work, I have to work to create the messiness or the surprise. One of the wonderful things about these media is how much they do for you and give you. As an artist, you have to give something up. They are risky and do things you might not want or expect. But they give back in richness, complexity and variety.”

Then there is the humble pencil, which is so heavy in the London show. Hobbs believes it is a critical tool for removing distractions from the key elements of some of his work. “I like how clearly the pencil shows its marks and how easily it brings texture to the surface. It’s an incredibly subtle and sensitive medium. It allows a lot of the process to come through in the finished work, and as you pointed out, the process is a key component of the performance . In some works it is almost the only element.”

I’m curious if working at the slower pace of physical creation has formed a more intimate relationship between him and his latest work. “I think so,” he says. “It generates an intense feeling for me while working on the artwork, and there is a special connection when I see it. That said, purely digital work has its own advantages: what you can create there is less strictly bounded by reality.”

Similarly, for someone accustomed to showing and selling their work in the digital sphere, the work changes when displayed in the physical space, communicating with the building, the human viewer and perhaps even the more expansive city: London or New York? He replies: “It is difficult to overestimate how great an effect the physical space has on the work. Spaces are wonderful tools for putting us in a certain mood and mindset. A good gallery space can help the viewer slow down, open their mind and observe carefully. It allows certain work to be successful that might never be appreciated on, say, an Instagram feed.”

He also likes the idea of ​​the gallery visitor’s ability to interact more intimately and in his own way with a work of art: walk around, go up to and absorb all the details. The technology is not quite there to provide the same visceral experience for pure digital art. Ultimately, Hobbs’ ease of movement between the physical and digital spaces, the interchangeability between the two, reflects our lives. I am keen to know his thoughts on the role of art, if any. “I don’t think that art should always engage with topical issues, but I wanted to make art that felt like it was from ‘this time’ and was made using the tools of that time.

– Our lives are very much divided between the digital and the physical. We spend most of our waking hours engaging in digital environments, but at the end of the day we still exist in physical bodies, and our strongest experiences still come from our physical senses. It feels important for art to span that divide as well if it is to express something about the reality we live in now.”

See the collaboration of the haute couture designer Iris van Herpen and Rolls-Royce, artist Peter Doighis exquisite London Courtault show, Soheila Sokhanvari’s contemporary exhibition “Rebel Rebel” at the Barbican, and the works of artists Nikita Gale for Frieze, Almudena Romero and Émeric Lhuisset in Paris picture.

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