artist’s statement + process

I am feeling blue.

Your mood seems dark.

She brightened up after we talked.

Their actions revealed their true colors.

Color is so entwined with our lives that we can hardly speak of one without invoking the other. We link color to emotions, to memories, to people and places, to movements and experiences. And yet color is subjective and highly sensitive to visual context. As Josef Albers noted, color is “the most relative medium in art.... color deceives continually.” This sensitivity, this deception, is an abstraction we experience almost universally.

I created Quantrian to explore our experience of color. Inspired by the artwork of modern art masters Piet Mondrian, Ellsworth Kelly, and many others, Quantrian uses the pure forms of square and line and circle to experiment with hue and shade. As an ode to Vera Molnár’s “machine imaginaire,” I first imagined a world of abstract geometric paintings where randomness replaced whim and intuition, then I created it. I designed and coded algorithms to explore my personal aesthetic, and gave it broad generative possibilities. Rather than using AI, I built my own artistic toolkit, relying on decades of visual design expertise as well as knowledge of over a dozen programming languages.

To be as unpredictable as possible, Quantrian algorithms base their decisions on volatile, moment-by-moment measurements of quantum energy fluctuations in a laboratory vacuum chamber. No system could predict the readings, and therefore no system could reproduce the same process and results. Like color, unpredictability is an abstraction we experience universally.

Not every Quantrian Series 1 image was preserved. By design, the system only rendered an image for ten seconds, after which it was erased forever — if I did not quickly catch and save it. Before saving an image, it had to represent some aspect of the exploration for which Quantrian was designed; it had to speak to me in the language I taught the system. Countless images were purposefully lost through this curation process. Many have simply vanished, unrecorded, because I did not move swiftly enough to save them. This impermanence, too, is an abstraction we experience universally.

In Series 2, I let the computer assign to me images at random from Series 1 to be cut and blended into new digital collages. I used this opportunity to reconceptualize the nature of Quantrian, preserving the underlying colors, randomness, and abstraction while exploring new relationships, all with an eye to the next generation of the algorithm.

In Series 3, I significantly revised the algorithm, adding a myriad of decision points for layering, rotation, blending, and more — as well as conversions from Cartesian to polar coordinates — to convert the sharpness of simple squares into the cornerless forms of pure circles.

Molnár said that “the machine, which is thought to be cold and inhuman, can help to realise what is most subjective, unattainable, and profound in a human being” — and to this I would add Agnes Martin's observation: "When you find out what you like, you’re really finding out about yourself." By fusing the contextuality of color with the surprise of randomness and the impermanence of fleeting opportunity, each Quantrian painting is a unique mirror of our profound human experience.

Tor de Vries


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