Computer Art Image of the Month - March 2011

March 2011

Combating static art

4^24, Kinetic Painting by Paul Brown, 2008 Dimensions variable
Created using Processing:
Reproduced with permission
Copyright the artist

For more than a hundred years a certain type of artist has worked to overcome what they see as one of the limitations of traditional art - that is its intrinsically static quality.

Artworks that can move have the great advantage of establishing an immediate and dynamic relationship between the work and the spectator. Integral to this relationship is the concept of time, thus making it a doubly seductive encounter for the viewer.

Computer art by its nature is especially well placed to deliver this and this month we are considering an animated work by one of the second generation pioneers in the world of computer arts - Paul Brown. Termed a Kinetic Painting by Paul, 4^24 continues his over 40-year interest in art and technology.

Kinetic art as a movement derives from the European avant-garde in the first decades of the 20th century, from a fascination with modern science and technology alongside the Constructivist interest in exploiting the particular material properties of the object and its spatial presence. Early kinetic artists, including Naum Gabo and László Moholy-Nagy, viewed movement itself as an exciting new medium for art creation.

Thus the advent of kinetic art represents a fundamental shift in art history - art as a process of transformation, involving the viewer, which cannot be fully understood without the concept of duration. In choosing to describe works like this one as kinetic painting, Paul Brown acknowledges his roots and also pays homage to the American-French artist Frank Malina, who first used the term to describe his electro-mechanical works in the mid-1950s.

Many computer art pioneers in Britain commenced their undergraduate career working in kinetics. In the late 1960s a number of leading art schools, particularly those located in regional polytechnics - including Liverpool where Paul studied - had strong a undergraduate presence in kinetics with workshops devoted to light, sound and electronic systems.

Paul was one of those who proceeded to study at the Slade School of Art (part of University College London), joining the postgraduate school’s pioneering computing curriculum set up by systems artist Malcolm Hughes in the mid-1970s.

The students on this course used procedural or rule-based systems to create work and were pioneers in the field of computational and generative coding. There Paul became interested in the field of artificial life and artificial intelligence and much of his recent work uses artificial life agents - deterministic and probabilistic cellular automata, to ‘drive’ the action.

These are interests he has continued to develop by his attachment to various organisations over the years, working with scientists at the Centre for Intelligent Systems Research, Deakin University, Australia and the Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics, School of Informatics, University of Sussex. Paul is a member of BCS and has chaired the Specialist Group - the Computer Arts Society - twice in the past decade.

Paul is a firm believer in the use of computation in his artworks, not only as an ‘engine’ but also to ensure that the long term behavioural aspect is both interesting and non-repetitive. Further, because some of his computations emerge from game-like processes, he often includes elements of play in order to capture and sustain the viewer’s attention.

4^24 was written using Processing which creates a java application. The animation is based on a cellular automaton that uses ‘best neighbour’ relationships. As Paul explains, ‘It is not possible for all of the cells to achieve best neighbour status simultaneously so the work constantly reconfigures itself in an attempt to find an impossible perfection.’

This provides a method for traversing very large sets: the work consists of 4^24 individual images (or 281,474,976,710,656 in total) and the animation provides a real-time method for exploring a finite subset of this set. As the work is computed in real-time the pattern and design will never repeat itself.

4^24 is ideally displayed on a wall-hung plasma screen where its properties of hypnotic movement combined with vibrant colours combine to great effect and seem to mesmerise the viewer. Paul tells us that the colours ‘were selected to introduce a dynamic ambiguity between the vertical/horizontal and diagonal aspects of the composition.’

We feel we could watch the wonderfully fluid animated transitions between shapes for hours, lapsing into an almost trace-like state. Our brain attempting to find ‘serendipitous and ‘meaningful’ associations in what is merely ‘well dressed noise’.’

The appearance of 4^24 constantly alters and thus constantly challenges our perceptions. The result is a conception of reality as a process of becoming and not as an absolute and unchanging system (such as static art might be). Paul further explains, ‘Rather than being constructed or designed, these works evolve. I look forward to a future where computational processes will make artworks autonomously without the need for humans.’

Catherine Mason is the author of A Computer in the Art Room: the origins of British computer arts 1950-80, published in 2008. A still of 4^24 was used as the illustrated binding of this book.

For more information on the computer arts including our events programme please see the specialist group website: More about this month’s artist:

Comments (4)

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  • 1
    Alex wrote on 2nd Mar 2011

    Wow. That is impressive. Kudos to the artist, it deserves no small amount of congratulations!

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  • 2
    kaz sharvesh wrote on 2nd Mar 2011

    It's nasty to the eyes, high-contrast colour pollution!
    Isn't that disguised version of a screensaver renamed as non-static art?

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  • 3
    Saravana wrote on 3rd Mar 2011

    Wow, for the java programing, but really i dont like it to call an art!!

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  • 4
    Michael Spalter wrote on 3rd Apr 2011

    Paul Brown= Brilliant!


    Michael Spalter, USA

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