INTERVIEW

GROWTH/DECAY

An interview with procedural artist, Michael Kozlowski

May 16, 2021

Have you always aspired to create art, or did you discover your calling later in life?

I was very lucky to have parents that actively encouraged my creativity. I think I drew, painted, built, or sculpted just about every day until I became formally cognizant. Childhood was absolutely the most inspired and creatively productive period of my life. My mom still has boxes and boxes of my drawings. But during that time, I can’t remember actually wanting to be an artist. I saw myself as the stereotypical astronaut or archaeologist. Later, after an unconventional young adulthood and some misguided years spent between high school and college, the idea started to form. I think by the time I went back to school and had a solid direction, I realized that I would only ever be happy pursuing a creative profession. Since then, my interest in becoming an independent artist has increased exponentially. The rise of NFTs has shortened a long-term pipedream into something that seems almost immediately attainable.

 

 

Did you study art as a student or are you self-taught?

A bit of both. After taking many art and art history classes throughout my education, the eventual degree I earned was in new media art. The program was housed in a film school, so there was more emphasis on the entertainment industry, narrative, and theory than on traditional studio art practice. The major exposed me to augmented and virtual reality, which I quickly became obsessed with. It became evident that if I wanted to pursue a career in those industries (which at the time became my primary goal), I would have to learn some foundational computer science. So I took engineering classes and learned as much as could about 3D graphics, stereoscopy, and rendering in my free time. I have worked for mixed reality companies as a software developer and designer since graduating. Being constantly exposed to emerging technologies over the last several years has influenced my artwork greatly, and many themes I explore originate from an intense curiosity in the cross-product of analog and digital technologies. It is a strange time we live in, constantly with one foot in the virtual and the other in the real. Most of us are able to remember a time before 3D media, the internet, and virtuality, but can also easily imagine what the future might bring. I hope my artwork is representative of that.

What artist or artists informed your development? And what artists do you look to now for inspiration?

I grew up in Montana and turn-of-the-century Western American Art will always make me miss home. I think seeing so much of it growing up definitely influenced my love for landscape painting and the outdoors in general. Besides Western Art, I have loved Impressionism and the work of its founders for as long as I can remember. As Perennial indicates, I am actively experimenting with Impressionism and its translation to digital and procedural art. 

Beyond these more foundational influences, several artists have acutely affected my development and continuously serve as major inspirations. A huge protagonist in my journey as an artist is Refik Anadol. Seeing his artwork for the first time several years ago prompted me to pursue computational artwork as a hobby and eventually a career. I was lucky to attend his lectures and showings when I was a student and we have kept in touch since. I will always consider him a mentor and a huge inspiration. I am also indebted to Lauren McCarthy, Zach Lieberman, Ben Fry, and Casey Reas, who empowered and inspired a generation of artists and creative coders, myself included. I learned how to program with the software they created, which led to everything I do now. Lastly, I wouldn’t be writing this without James Jean, whose work I have loved and followed for the last decade.

 

 

Tell us about your process. Do you begin with an image or a concept? 

I almost always start with a general concept. As I said before, I think my approach has been influenced quite heavily by my experience working for technology companies the last few years, largely in an R&D capacity. Simultaneously, speculative design was a technique we used all the time when I was in school, so that comes into play as well. These two backgrounds create an analytical basis of my artistic process. I tend to think more about the context surrounding the discrete objects at the center of the composition than those objects themselves. I think about what could be, rather than what is, and speculate visually on how future technology will eventually enable the techniques and qualities that I depict on screen. I also try very hard to use modern-day technology to get us as close to those depictions as I can. I think of a problem or impossibility and use currently available software and hardware to bring those things into existence, whether that existence is virtual or physical. An example of this is my most recent work, in which the buyers of the digital work also receive autostereoscopic, pseudo-holographic displays that allow for the experience of the artwork in 3D without glasses or other hardware. I think there is something inherently unnatural about displaying 3D digital artwork on a 2D screen, and I have been seeking to remedy that. So in this case, the presentation and context of the artwork matters just as much, if not more, than the artwork itself.

 

 

What informs your work? As a visual artist, are you inspired by music, film, science, literature or other art forms? 

I think the biggest influence of my work thus far has been exposure to augmented reality hardware and software. I have been very lucky the last few years to use AR devices almost daily, and anyone who has tried a Hololens, Magic Leap, Quest, or similar, knows the almost instantaneous sense of wonder that usually accompanies using a mixed reality device. Inspiration and imagination is very easily gained. For better or worse, my saturated experience with mixed reality technology has changed how I see the world and my thoughts on our future. It has made me wish that I could change and manipulate physical objects and environments as I can a digital scene. I try to spend a lot of time outdoors (which is also a major influence on my work) and still cannot escape the daydreams of a more surreal, digitized reality. Perennial itself started as one of these daydreams. We were in a very rural part of Washington looking for morel mushrooms a few weeks ago. I was alone for a bit and was admiring the silence and color of the forest and wished I could see everything painted all at once, in course, colorful brushstrokes. Filters like this are not possible now but will be in a few years. I hope that these capabilities will serve less as a distraction and more as a way to accent and develop our understanding of the natural beauty that surrounds us.  

Beyond the potential of new technologies, I am extremely influenced by the work of other visual and musical artists. We live in an enviable time, where access to the talent of others has never been easier. I am constantly inspired by what I see and what I hear.

 

 

What do you enjoy most about the work you do? 

Most of my work is made on (and in collaboration with) a computer. For those unfamiliar with procedural art, it is synonymous with generative art, or the process of creating an autonomous system that is solely responsible for an output without the author’s intervention. In my case, the output is visual. I create these systems by writing code. I give the computer instructions about what I want to happen, and depending on how well I wrote those instructions, the computer will try to perform them. Oftentimes the best things happen when my instructions are not entirely correct or when something gets lost in translation between us. That is why I think of my artistic relationship with a computer as more of a collaboration than a dictation. I think these accidents are the most joyful moments I have while actively creating artwork. I am alone when I make my artwork, so when these surprises occur, I usually feel a strange kinship with the software and hardware that I am using. 

Beyond these instances, I love sharing my creations with others, especially on the occasions that I can see their reactions and ask them questions. If I can make artwork and objects that impart a fraction of the wonder and enjoyment I get while making them, I feel successful. It is borderline impossible, but the prospect of creating something that is truly novel and beautiful is so exciting to me, a practice that I am sure will remain a lifelong goal.

 

 

What made you choose to drop with LGND? 

It was a very easy decision, to the point where I hesitate to even call it a choice. The roster of artists on LGND are some of the most influential in the world and it is a huge honor to be mentioned in the same sentences. Some of them I have been fans of for years, and it is surreal to know some of them now. I am proud to be part of a platform that is so focused on the art, the artist, and introducing NFTs to their audiences. Beyond this, I am very excited to be featured on a platform that uses a DPoS blockchain. I hope the current rise in popularity of PoS and DPoS continues.

 

 

How do you think NFTs will change the future for artists?

Alluding to some of my other responses in this editorial, NFTs have created a path for me to make a living making artwork. This has been a goal of mine for a long time. I think there will be many artists that have a similar experience. The technology will empower artists with another major avenue for financial stability, which will result in more artists and more artwork being created. I think this is a wonderful thing. NFTs will also replace some of the practices (good and bad) of physical object production used widely today. Printing will decline, as will distribution and transportation of physical goods. As a digitally native artist, I am also very happy to see an increased legitimacy being granted to the medium, which is an obvious byproduct of NFTs. In general, I think that the technology will be a defining one, and will have a very positive effect on the art industry, collectors, and most importantly, artists.