Category Archives: Artists

Exploration of the Digital Mark – The 1960s


Nam June PaikRandom Access, 1963

Exploration of the Digital Mark – The 1960s

My artist research this semester has formed a unique hypertext landscape of its own.

I’ve been bouncing from Cubists to emerging new media, video artists to conceptual masterminds, paying special attention to weavers of divergent approaches, challenging spatial perspective and narrative through content. If they crush time, penetrate space, appropriate visual culture or otherwise shake that crazy old-and-new-media snow globe, I’m tracking them down.

As a result, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Christiane Paul’s Digital Art, a survey of new media method, methodology and artists within (and through) varied technologies. There are several books in this series and Internet Art is next on my list. 

I was already familiar with many of the referenced featured artists, thanks to electronic arts classes I’d taken at UNM, as well as independent research, but Digital Art does an excellent job contextualizing the work and presenting additional artists I was eager to learn about–especially in the proto-digital and early digital fields.

Since the Cascade has the ability to occupy a liminal space between object and non-object, digital and traditional, I found the digital pioneers of the 60s quite relevant.

Artists like Charles Csuri, Vera Molnar and John Whitney were engaging with the method AND methodology of new media, investigating the capacity of programming (and physical hardware), while maintaining an embrace of the aesthetic unique to computer art. In Visual Digital Culture: Surface Play and Spectacle in New Media Genres, Andrew Darley also traces the development of visual conceptual art through electronic channels, noting that over time, the commercial (and even, to some extent, the fine art impulse) of digital output became obsessed with mimicry and illusionism, such that the average viewer values highly polished, ultra real digital environments over work that engages the rawness of digital material in its own right. The earliest computer artists experimented with the mathematical and almost minimal nature of the digital mark without enslaving those marks to precision imitation of painting or photography. Of course they did not possess the appropriate tools to create 3D, rendered reality, and their marks are definitely influenced by painterly traditions, but experimentation with the computer as both tool and medium was of primary importance. Marks were allowed to be themselves, referencing painting, diagrams, maps and even sculpture–yet still inherently their own thing. 

I won’t go over all of the artists and projects from the 1960s–but I am sharing a few here that piqued my interest . Nam June Paik heads this article with Random Access, a proto-digital project that allowed users to use a hand-held device to read strips of magnetic tape pasted to the wall (those lines are reel-to-reel sound bits). While he chose the sound snippets, they are positioned chaotically and the user can listen to each audio moment in whatever order they choose. Diligent audience-activators can also create their own compositions from the fragments! Random Access calls to mind other proto-digital projects like Nagy’s kinetic sculptures and Cage’s remixed, found sound. This kind of work is inherently digital, steeped in technology and the natural participatory nature of later computer art. Because of this, I’ll be revisiting Paik’s work this semester.


A. Michael Noll – Gaussian Quadratic (1962-5)

Though technically not a visual artist, Michael Noll was a key investigator of digital visual production and works like Gaussian Quadratic engaged the potential intellectual (and artistic) diversity of the computer-art medium.

The still above is actually part of an animation of moving geometric relationships. I was struck by its aesthetic connection to Paik’s work, though Noll experimented with a number of different output formats. He put the possibility of computer animation on the map and his work is part of the MOMA and DAM collections.

He worked at Bell Laboratories during his investigatory stage–like Claude Shannon, inventor of information theory. The Bell Labs produced a lot of hybrid science-art collaborations!

John Whitney – Catalog (1961)

John WhitneyPermutations (1966)

John Whitney, like Noll, works beyond the visual arts as a scientist, inventor, commercial animator and programmer and he’s considered one of the pioneers of digital animation. The opening sequence of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo? That’s him.

Catalog (1961) was intended to showcase the variety of transitional processes possible in computer animation, behaving as both archive and performance. The nature of this piece, like other digital work from the 60s, embraces the unique aesthetic of digital in its own right, developing a sense of movement, information space and virtuality that extends our understanding of data relationships. Catalog is essentially visual math, with transformations made possible by the fluid, dynamic nature of binary code.

I can’t help but find aesthetic and investigatory parallels to Marcel Duchamp‘s Anemic Cinema (1926):

Best of all, Whitney’s animation computer was built int he 1950s, reclaimed from a WWII anti-aircraft gun detector. The 12-foot machine only produced black and white imaging and color was added using filmic processes later.


CsuriHummingbird (67)


Charles Csuri – Sinescape (67)

Charles Csuri was also influential in the investigation of computer-generated visual transformations. In this case, his plotter drawings reference the hand, while acknowledging the characteristics of digital repetition and malleability. Sinescape almost defies classification, behaving as both a Chinese ink painting and as an oddly mutated mathematical space, which prevents the viewer from nailing down an understandable horizon.

This ambiguous distinction of mark fascinates me and I found the Csuri Project (above) worth hours of investigation.

Hummingbird behaves as an unfinished mandala, transforming a familiar wire frame illustration into a tight, patterned expression of movement and unity. The hummingbird loses its individuality–even its identification, in multiplicity, becoming an entirely new unit of visual information. There’s an added bonus here that relates to my work, which is not evident in the image above. Csuri then screenprinted Hummingbird onto Plexiglas. From digital to printmaking… that’s my kinda guy.


Vera Molnar – No title, 1968, plotter drawing.


Vera MolnarInterruptions, 1968/69, open series, plotter drawing, 28.5 x 28.5 cm.


Vera Molnar 9 Gelbe Quadrate – 9 Carrés Jaunes, Öl auf Leinwand, 41 x 41 cm , 1968.

Vera Molnar, like Csuri, also worked with plotter drawings in the 1960s, investigating the unlimited potential for building, mutating, changing and outputting patterns and shapes. She applies a painterly sense of consciousness to the seemingly sterile personality of electronic production, marrying divergent mediums through concept and formal approach.

She says of her work, “I develop a picture by means of a series of small probing steps, altering the dimensions, the proportions and number of elements, their density and their form, one by one in a systematic way in order to guess what kind of formal modification challenges the change in the perception of my picture: perception being the basis of aesthetic reaction.” (from

I’m attracted to her compositional and conceptual sensibilities–and the line present in her plotter drawings and Noll’s animations remind me of the lines I use in my artifact drawings. There is a relationship between the digital mark and the hand that I find present in her work (and the works of others shared here) that neither denies the inherent qualities of computerization, nor turns completely away from the traditional.

I’ll be sharing more contemporary digital and new media artists I’m researching soon!

Here are more plotter drawings from the 1960s, including some of Vera’s:
Additional Resources:

Richard Diebenkorn and Agnes Martin: Negative Space–Synthesis of Method and Regional Influence

Richard Diebenkorn, "Untitled" (1951). Oil on Canvas.

Richard Diebenkorn, “Untitled” (1951). Oil on Canvas.


Agnes Martin. “Untitled” (1954). Oil on board.

Comparative Analysis, September, 2013.

Richard Diebenkorn and Agnes Martin:

Negative Space—Synthesis of Method and Regional Influence

The vitality of negative space features prominently in the work of Richard Diebenkorn and Agnes Martin—and the art of generating negative space seems paradoxical, impossible. Yet the sensitivity required to develop direct passages of breathing room is pronounced in their late Modernist works, whose monolithic, active, expressive structures celebrate the void and command presence. The striking suggestion of scale and space is still vibrantly relevant, reminding the 21st century museum-goer that there are points of visual punctuation, invitations to enter space that mutate landscape and morph biology in pure abstraction. By analyzing Diebenkorn’s Untitled (1951) and Martin’s Untitled (1954), we gain insight into a sense of space-place that draws on regional influence, exerting a balance of precision and looseness rooted in Modernist sensibilities. By focusing on their use of negative space and its relationship to the geography of New Mexico, formal and interpretive analyses reveal the essential nature of these developmental pieces. Similarities allow a valuable understanding of the relationship between artist, influence and method. We can see how pivot point development allowed each to paint works in the same decade, in connected locations, which explored spatial placement as part of a total experience and approach—opening doors for future progress.

Descending into the half-dimmed main gallery at the University of New Mexico Art Museum, viewers are confronted by a wall of large-scale works, looming heavily on the right. The viewer is consumed by a dominating oil on canvas: Diebenkorn’s Untitled (1951), whose bold, essential shapes demand attention. The vertical 55” x 35” piece is fiercely illuminated, accentuating its high-contrast, sizzling desert palette and the massive, wavy-edged geometrics whose blurred silhouettes create movement across the two-dimensional surface. The painting is imposing, monolithic, with a sense of breadth implied by the force of its heavily saturated negative spaces. Instantly recognizable as Abstract Expressionist, its passages exist as loosely defined, off-kilter moments and shaded, almost three-dimensional environmental divisions.

THIS IS AN EXCERPT of the paper. To read the entire essay, please download a fancy PDF version from my Papers page. 


Diebenkorn in New Mexico

plate 44

Untitled, 1951
Oil on canvas, 55 x 35 in.
University of New Mexico Art Museum, Albuquerque
Gift of the artist


In doing research for my Comparative Analysis paper, I’ve run across a few nice galleries of Richard Diebenkorn’s work that I thought I would share. I’ve found it interesting that Diebenkorn has lived in several of the same places I have, and been exposed to a number of areas I’ve also visited, with regional influence bleeding into his sophisticated works. He attended graduate school at UNM in the early 1950s and did a series of paintings that blended his Bay Area sensibilities with New Mexico visual language.

Here’s a nice little collection: Diebenkorn Gallery at New York University

Just thought I’d share.


Neon Paintings by Kong Lingnan

I ran across this artist on the Asian Contemporary Arts Consortium Facebook page and thought I’d share here, as I’ll be documenting exhibitions, artists and events I encounter as part of my semester’s progress.

Kong Lingnan is another Taoist artist looking to express aspects of the religious philosophy through an interpretive painting technique which mimics the look of neon signage. She’s specifically investigating and illustrating a single story from the Chuang-Tzu (Zhuangzi), one of the three primary texts of Taoism, which itself analyzes the objective state of the world. The story itself questions the very definition of objectivity and she tackles a personal interpretation of the tale with a visual vocabulary rooted in commercial materials (like neon).

I tend to avoid direct illustration when I’m processing or investigating even the more direct Taoist stories, but I find it interesting that she blends this very commercial aesthetic (the “tacky” neon, as the article intimates) with the sparse, negative landscape environs of Chinese painting, which itself typically expresses aspects of Taoist, Buddhist or Confucian philosophy in its composition, depending on the painter.

Any time I run across an artist actively engaged in an investigation of Taoist texts and subtexts, I take a look and save them to consider how different methods function (and whether or not they’re successful at conveying concept). I realize the article is a year old, but that’s the nature of the internet, after all. Information gets stirred up and recirculated to the benefit of all.

Sharin’ the resources.

Full article on Kong Lingnan: The Creator’s Project


The Asian Contemporary Arts Consortium on Facebook