When man and machine meet, they can make magnificent art. At least, that’s the concept behind Eric Anderson’s new exhibit entitled “Fantasy for Eleven Fingers.” The exhibit, which opened at the Rochester Art Center (RAC) on Oct. 5 (with a reception on Friday, Oct. 18), places traditional visual arts like painting alongside emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) models and 3D printing. The pairings propel Anderson’s hand-made multi-media works beyond “the preconceived limitations of new technologies as well as the artist’s understanding of their own capacities to create.”
Anderson’s exhibit is part of the RAC’s ROOTED program, a regional art series propping up artists who are awarded Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council (SEMAC) grants.
Anderson, who has an MFA in creative writing, borrowed the title for his exhibit from a piece of short fiction by Ben Fountain that focuses on seemingly inhuman music played by an eleven-fingered pianist. Like that impossible music, Anderson says his art explores what happens when an eleventh “electronic finger” is added to the artist’s “flawed” hand.
The melding of man’s hand and machine-generated inspiration in Anderson’s works create some eerie images. One painting, "Momentary Wonder if More Briefly Now,” includes a ghostly figure against a dark background that looks like its head is moving so whiplash-fast that you can see its present and past face all in one glance.
Growing up on a military base in Virginia, Anderson says he had to entertain himself. After discovering a love of comic books, he found that the commissary had a limited selection (and he lacked the budget for more). So he started to create his own. These self-created comics were some of his first steps into the art realm.
Technology was something that entered Anderson’s life by “serendipity.” “It's not something that I thought I would pursue or include in my work, but something about the creative possibilities of emerging technologies, especially outside of their intended uses, has inspired me to dig deeper and explore how it can be used as a tool for creating new forms of art,” he says.
Anderson’s preparation for his exhibit has included experimentation with encaustics, ink sketches, algorithm-generated videos, and oil paint. He says he’s been asking questions like, “Why paint the representation of something?” and “Why obscure or resist representation?”
His interactions with technologies like visual encryption and surveillance software have helped him find new directions for his work. “A large part of working on this exhibit has felt like a form of translation as I take these small, AI-generated images and then attempt to paint them on a much larger scale, allowing for accidents and reinterpretation,” Anderson says.
Beside mastering his brushstrokes and color layering, Anderson has also had to teach himself programming languages and has generated custom data sets to train the AI that produced visual prompts for his works. “To build one data set, I handpicked 22,000 paintings from contemporary and historical painters,” he says. “That alone took two hours of searching and cataloguing images a day for two months.”
Anderson will be returning to his exhibit at the RAC after a trip to Paris, where he’ll install an interactive work for the Nuit Blanche art festival, so count yourself lucky you can save some travel money and see his “Fantasy for Eleven Fingers” here in town until Feb. 8.