Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

ART IN THE VIRTUAL WORLD - Feature and Video by Alexi K

Below: Improvised Abstract Compositions / TiltBrush VR program.

At the end of 2018, I was kindly invited by global engineering firm ARUP, to try out their VR apparatus, located at their UK headquarters in Dorridge, outside Birmingham.

After arriving, I was given a brief demonstration, reassured that the equipment was completely intuitive, and then donned the ungainly goggles and handset combo to try it out.

After a few tentative steps walking on the surface of Mars ( it reminded me of Worcestershire, albeit minus the people, trees, oxygen and fly-tippers ), and then a look round a megastructure currently being built somewhere in Asia ( top secret ), I was instructed on how to use the art program Tilt Brush, and asked to see what I would come up with.

I made a few brush strokes in the sky, trying to get my bearings.

My very immediate reaction was a downbeat one: 'This is it. It's GAME OVER for all traditional art. We may as well pack up and go back to regular jobs... if there are any left that haven't been replaced by robots.' The immersive nature of the virtual environment made me also think about people simply not leaving the house to interact with the real world.

Slightly disorientated by my inability to organise the paint brush strokes in front of me, I then asked Derek, the chap who had originally extended the invitation, if it was possible to keep all the brush strokes restricted to the same plane in space, like a page in a sketchbook. It was his response that made me realise I had not understood what I was dealing with:

'You can't keep the strokes in the same plane. The rotation of your arm in your shoulder socket means that the strokes create a kind of dome shape in the air.'

At that moment, I could feel my brain reconfigure itself around this new paradigm: In the future, art can have a spacial quality that never existed before. It will be unhindered by Earthly materials, or the laws of physics.

Once I realised this, I made some gestures based on a few minimalist art pieces that I had been experimenting on in the studio, so in the VR version, I created a hanging 'curtain' of glowing dots in a vague grid formation. I followed that with a few deftly-placed downwards and diagonal paint-strokes in front.

In the video you can see how one handset is used to select options on the other handset. You will also see me forget where the 'dots' option is, as I rotate the selector vainly looking for the correct button. In the end, I locate it, and after creating a couple of satisfactory compositions, I downed tools and stuck my head up in between the various paint strokes, all of which had remained suspended in the air above me.

I was rather pleased with my first go, especially as I have a natural aversion to gadgetry and have never played a video game in my life. And like my first foray into electronic art two decades ago, I adapted immediately and felt comfortable with the new medium.

Several things occurred to me: Firstly, that abstract artists will benefit greatly from these new tools. On the website that accompanies the software, there were plenty of user examples of finely-crafted 3D renderings such as everyday scenes, or renditions of famous artworks ( Van Gogh's self-portrait, for instance ). And, as in the case of real world art, you could see how comfortable it is to fall back on easily-recognizable subject matter. For the abstract artist, there are no such limitations ( other than the usual ones of aesthetic maturity and skill, achieved over time  ). Indeed, in this new world, audiences will not only appreciate what the artist is trying to say, but how he said it, as body movements and choreography could become part of the composition like Tai-Chi or other martial arts. Form, control and presence will be admired as part of the over-all finished piece.
Sound elements and haptic suits may be added to the experience, but I like to think that much of the art of the new era will still be contemplative and not rely on expense, bigness or show-boating.

With a price tag of several thousand pounds for the equipment, it's immediately clear that it'll be a few years before this medium becomes part of an artist's repertoire. At the moment it will really only be available to colleges or businesses, or well-off dilettantes.

Finally, there is the question of owning a virtual piece of art. Is it like buying a license? Will upgrades be sent out at regular intervals? Will it have a definite shelf-life, when the legacy equipment becomes obsolete and the file unreadable? Will its transient nature affect its cost? Who will enjoy it? Will everyone have built-in viewing apparatus with a universal operating system, or will some people have a different proprietary software, and therefore not be able to see certain artworks? Will it be ubiquitous, or exclusive? For the 1%, or the 99%?

 Crucially, will the artist lose, or gain? Only time will tell.

Below: Improvised Abstract Compositions / TiltBrush VR program.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019




Above: Photo courtesy of Moxy Downtown.

In the summer of 2017, I was contacted by Kim Edwards, an art director at New York architects STONEHILL TAYLOR. She was interested in using my Polygraph Nudes artwork in a new hotel called MOXY DOWNTOWN, that was being built in Manhattan. For the next few months we went back and forth, but ultimately word came back from the owners that perhaps the art was tonally not in sync with the vibe of the hotel. We tried various tweaks, but the artwork was from a specific time ( they were produced purely during an experimental phase about six or seven years earlier ), and anything that came after it seemed to lack the same spirit. 

When I went to visit Kim in October of that year, I noticed that her design scrapbook included some of my experimental mosaic patterns lifted from this blog, alongside some jpegs of pixelly old-school 'space invader' characters that she'd sourced from elsewhere. Composed entirely of squares, the two different designs looked good together and this greatly excited me because it was an intriguing indication of the direction Kim was going in. ( Continued... )

Below: The DATASTREAM ARABESQUE artworks were also featured in the Birmingham Design Fest's 'Best of Birmingham' exhibition at Allemuir House, curated by Gensler Birmingham. 

It's an interesting process, going back and forth between drawings, paintings and digital. Ways of thinking that evolved uniquely to my painting method, found their way into my digital art process, and vice-versa, and I so was very pleased that these more contemporaneous works had caught Kim's eye.

Below: A visualisation by art director Kim Edwards. The MOXY brand of hotels is about creating a stylish environment for sophisticated millennials 'at affordable prices'. Kim's mood boards indicated to me that I should expect a Scandinavian / Japanese amalgam of natural stone and wood colours, interspersed with cool artworks from a wide range of artists, myself included.

Originally, the process of creating the mosaic designs involved editing, revising and re-composing until each piece balanced correctly - exactly the same method as my paintings. The only difference is that with digital, you can produce dozens of permutations in the same amount of time that it would take to do one painting. 

Below: DATASTREAM ARABESQUES at MOXY DOWNTOWN by Alexi K, photo courtesy of Kim Edwards.

Entitled DATASTREAM ARABESQUES, the artwork was intended to evoke the flow of  information through the matrix of technology that now envelopes our lives. 

Below: DATASTREAM ARABESQUES at MOXY DOWNTOWN by Alexi K, photo courtesy of Kim Edwards.

What's particularly satisfying is that despite the technology and output methods that characterize digital art, its creation was, for me, a completely authentic process of inspiration and abstraction, which luckily received no notes or requests for tweaks from the owners of the hotel. The designs stayed exactly how I had originally made them, before I had even thought about any possible commercial application. I look forward to staying at MOXY DOWNTOWN later this year and seeing the finished project for myself.

Thanks to Kim Edwards and Stonehill Taylor, and also to MOXY HOTELS.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

I, VOYAGER ( revisited )

It still amuses me to see where my paintings travel to. As you can imagine, I rarely get to go back and examine the back-catalogue. In fact, I don't even look up at paintings that are on the studio wall right now, because I'm too involved with the latest set of questions posed by the current piece. 

When I do get to see work from a previous collection however, I'm intrigued by the compositional decisions made. Viewed with fresh eyeballs, these visitations from the past can often provide me with solutions to current painting problems. In this instance, I remember how useful it was to divide this up into five columns ( instead of my usual three ), and also how those blocks of cadmium red were useful for providing the barely-contained explosive energy of the piece.

Below: ASTYANAX, currently residing in Brixton, London. Acrylic on canvas.
76cm x 101cm.


Saturday, 1 December 2018


As with all of my postcards, I don't have any preconceived idea of what I'm actually going to draw - they are all just spontaneous, off-the-cuff compositions. When they then start to go wrong, I try and rescue them, with mixed results.

Experimental Postcards ( Rejected ): Ink and acrylic ( blue ) on watercolour postcards.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

UNTITLED WORK IN PROGRESS 28 / 11 / 2018 ( A )


My painted work has always had a tactile quality to it, so much so that I regard it as a 'subtext' to the main composition. In other words, in each painting there are two pieces of art to read: The coloured shapes as seen from directly in front, and then the different gradients and grooves that you read from the side, or in a strong, angled source of light.

In the current series, I'm going to experiment with not only the depth, but the surface textures, like brickwork or peeling paint.

Below: Untitled acrylic-on-canvas ( extreme closeup ), with ruler to show scale. Full size: 80cm x 80cm.

UNTITLED WORK IN PROGRESS 28 / 11 / 2018 ( B )

This is actually a recycled canvas, that friends from the kids charity across the corridor gave me. It originally had graffiti spray paint on, which I then covered over with System 3 acrylic white. This has been on the back-burner because for some reason, I could barely get the masking tape to stick to it, no matter how much paint I piled onto it. Whether that was because the spray paint affected it, I have no idea. So it's been a bit of a battle with this one, and will remain the 'back-up' composition while the new series of paintings gets underway. 

Aside from that, it appears to be trying to evolve into something akin to my 'Mood Flag' paintings that I was doing years ago, and it'll be interesting to see if this progresses that style away from the original idea.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018


Beginning a series of smaller, experimental artworks on watercolour postcards.

Thursday, 25 October 2018


Alleviating Terminal Boredom

Despite having enormous fun photographing the abstract structures of a quiet terminal back in 2012 ( see the results here ), I'd forgotten how annoying Zurich Airport actually is. It's probably the most badly sign-posted airport I've ever experienced. The simple act of transferring from one departure lounge to another is reduced to an MC Escher-esque conundrum as you follow signs to your departure gate, only for them to completely disappear as you get near them, and reappear when you get further away.

This was because the Swiss seem incapable of following the principle of A-B-C, and instead hide B in a downstairs annex where you would normally expect to find X, Y or Z.

A foreshadowing of this breakdown of reality could be found before we even boarded the plane to Zurich. 

Firstly, upon arrival at Athens Airport, the occupants of the long queue at the Swiss check-in desk - myself included - were perturbed to find ourselves in the proximity of a piece of unattended luggage. I went to find an official - a lady at the Swissair desk ten yards away - who so clearly pretended to make an urgent phonecall that it was like witnessing someone in a provincial amateur dramatics group phoning in a bomb-scare. After that, it was as if all Swissair staff at Athens were phoning-in their performances. I tried to round up a total of three Athens Airport staff and nobody was interested. A security-looking guy just shrugged, and actually said, 'it's not my problem'. 

It got to the point where I could imagine a terrorist group - replete with Carlos The Jackal sunglasses, sexy loafers and blocks of semtex - entering the terminal, scouting the area, taking measurements, plotting the focus of the shockwave, going for coffee and croissants, then returning to have another discussion about the blast radius, and finally climbing into a truck labelled 'fertilizer bomb' that had been double-parked for three hours outside, blocking in a police car.

Eventually an official came along who looked at the luggage, made a comment into his walkie-talkie, and then proceeded to stand next to it for the next forty minutes, occasionally looking at his watch and raising the odd eyebrow. Perhaps he was glad to get out of the office and stretch his legs.

These pictures are of the advertising screen at the Swissair departure lounge in Athens. A constant loop of superb glitching, I stood mesmerized at first, until I had to make a public fool of myself by standing there for several minutes photographing the screen while everyone else was queuing to board. The joke's on them, really. You already have your seat number - why stand there for twenty minutes, slowly shuffling forward like a zombie, when you can be entertained at Swissair's expense by highlighting their malfunctioning corporate showreel?

They tried to get in one last laugh, though. Dying of thirst by the time we landed at Zurich, I went through my pockets and found enough remaining coins for two bottles of water. I approached the lady at the counter only to be told that she couldn't accept them because they were euros, and the Swiss currency is franks. 'Since when?!' I screamed, and was about to phone-in a bombscare of my own when she took pity on me, and accepted the euros, with the caveat that I was effectively paying above the labelled price for the drinks. I didn't care and was immediately charmed by Jeffrey's ( yes, that was her name ) generosity.

Please enjoy these beautifully disintegrated photos, courtesy of Swissair. No filters, these were all naturally glitched on location.

Photos: Alexi K, September 2018