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AND THE ALGORITHMIC REVOLUTION
has been creating algorithmic works for more than twenty years. The
Algorithmic Revolution currently showing at the ZKM in Karlsruhe
includes several examples of his earlier work.
Procedures employed in the Pearl Park Scriptures are similar
to those used for his earlier work in the Algorithmic Revolution.
algorithms, code and the algorist often evoke wrinkled
foreheads and blank stares. Here
an algorithm may be best understood as a detailed step-by-step
procedure for carrying out a task such as a musical score for singing. The code for singing would be the
musical notation. For the
algorithms discussed here, the code would be written in a
compatible computer language. All
computer programs such as word processors and spreadsheets are algorithms.
An algorist is an artist who includes his own original
algorithms in the process of creating art.
What was revolutionary for algorists was the ability to use
a computer for complex algorithms that required extremely extensive
Roman, both as an artist and a theoretician, held a
consuming interest in the deeper implications of this revolution as it
unfolded. In 1988, at the
First International Symposium on Electronic Art at Utrecht, he presented a
seminal paper identifying the analogues between algorithmic
form-generators in the arts and biological processes.
Its subtitle, Software as Genotype, spells out the key
analogy: the artist's algorithm, similar to biological genotype, contains
the code for generating the artwork. Roman wrote that these algorithms
brought us a generative procedure that has “opened a new frontier in the
Looking back on
the last quarter of the 20th Century we can see clearly the
revolution that has occurred. A
number of artists became intensely committed to developing algorithmic
procedures that embodied their own individual artistic style. Working
separately, these algorists, through their own coded procedures, achieved
unique individual styles with a full body of mature work during that
period. Among them was Roman
For both technical and aesthetic reasons algorists like Manfred Mohr,
Jean Pierre Hebert and Hans Dehlinger had settled on pen and ink drawing with
pen plotters. Designed for
architects and engineers, these drawing machines, are now being replaced
with ink jet and laser printers. A
few algorists, including Roman, preferring to draw with ink pens, continue
to employ pen plotters. The drawing arm of these machines presents an
uncanny resemblance to the artists’ hand.
Roman, whose first machines were equipped with 14 pen stalls, wrote
his code to manage a palette of 14 drawing pens.
In 1987, with an interactive routine for mounting paint brushes on
the plotter’s drawing arm, he created the world's first code driven
brush paintings. While he
continues to employ occasional brush strokes, he has concentrated, in this
series, on the refinement of
coded pen and ink drawing. Following
years of trial and error, Roman’s Pearl Park Scriptures present
superb refinements in algorithmic drawing techniques.
Creating “art” via algorithmic procedure.
Basic to Roman’s approach to algorithmic art is his belief that a
“score” for drawing compares to musical scores, architectural plans
and choreography. These various codes, when successful, reflect the unique
aesthetic preferences of those who create them.
He knew, from years of experience that he needed to bridge the gap
between the rational, cold, unfeeling nature of the code and the
aesthetically satisfying visual forms he wanted to generate. He understood
that a form-generating procedure for his art could not succeed without
careful attention to the interaction between the media and the coded
procedure. This required
knowledge and aesthetic understanding of paper, ink, pen, plotter, and
The code had to be written with an understanding of how the drawing
machine handled code, the way pen points responded to various paper
surfaces and the way ink-pens responded to drawing arm speeds. All
converged in creating the aesthetic qualities of the finished work – and
the code itself had to be integrated with the working solutions.
Since the early
1980’s Roman has been consumed (when not frustrated) with code
adjustments for the relationship between his algorithmic form generators
and the technology of ink viscosities, pen points, and paper surfaces.
Since 1949, as an artist, he has always been committed to the
aesthetic quality of visual phenomena related to texture, surface and
color. He could not conceive
of form separated from its material manifestation.
The Pearl Park Scriptures, 2004-2005.
every morning, before breakfast, Roman takes a brisk walk around Pearl
Park near his lakeside home in Minneapolis.
During these morning walks his meditations range widely and have a
deep impact on the studio work he undertakes each day.
The Pearl Park Scriptures, influenced by these morning
walks, embody his studio work for the past year (2004-2005).
Their format is based on decorated pages of medieval illuminated
Some pages, enhanced with a touch of gold leaf, evoke the precious
quality of sacred texts.
work presents a colorful drawing accompanied with lines of glyphs that
read from left to right. An “alphabet” of glyphs was generated for each text in this exhibition.
Some works present
“non-rational” glyphs arranged like a language without any
Others present glyphs coded with specific texts from sources such
as Darwin, Genesis, Lao Tsu, and the Apache Indians of North America.
The choice of Scriptures has been guided by an effort to bridge
both time and culture - to find meaning from diverse cultural approaches
to spirituality and learning.
Roman’s own spiritual journeys have guided his choice of scriptures. This has even included confrontation with texts that have no rational meaning as in some forms of Zen meditation and in the “non-sense” of the Dada and Neo-dada artists of the 20th Century. The works in this show that present glyphs arranged without any rational meaning shed light on those experiences.
in all of Roman’s work the drawings remain entirely non-representational
and are chosen primarily for their visual form.
For these works Roman has concentrated on forms that are lean with
complementary colors and a memorable structure.
The relationship of form and text flows from the artist’s
perception of evocative qualities present in the visual form.
For example, in Scripture “N”, the green and blue form has
life-like qualities that complement the Darwin text.
of the drawings were created with hundreds of barely visible pen strokes.
The drawing pen must retain even distribution and precision for many hours
Just as the sculptor’s chisel leaves its mark on the stone, so
these pen strokes leave their mark on the paper. These fields of soft pen
strokes exceed what can be achieved with the human hand - their precision
and even distribution reveal the inner beauty of the artist’s
They also reveal a patient artist who must often discard many hours
of work due to pen failure.
Pearl Park Scriptures summarize Roman’s involvement with code for
well over 20 years.
They represent the convergence of experimentation with new visual
form, coded meanings and the human ability to communicate.
may also lead us to ponder the codes we use daily – not only our
language but also our gestures and even our dress codes.
Leaping beyond these concrete aspects of living, they faintly echo
the coded processes of genes that shape life itself. By doing so they
become icons illuminating the mysterious nature of self, earth and cosmos.
Alice Wagstaff, PhD,