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AI, Spaceships, and Keith Richards: A Sitdown with Anne Spalter (Part 3)

CohentheWriter chats with the Digital Art Pioneer

The following is the condensed and lightly-edited transcription of a conversation between Anne Spalter and Max Cohen (@cohenthewriter) recorded in September 2022. This is part 3 of 3. Read part 2 here, and read part 1 here.

Max: With all these different mediums at your disposal and different tools, do you find there’s one — whether AI or not — that allows you to express those images in the purest, most distilled version?

Anne: I really love drawing just as a way of working. I like the speed of it. Fluid. I feel like I’m better at it than some kinds of painting. So if I could just do one thing, I guess it would be drawing. But I like combining them.

What I just installed for Spring Break Art Show in New York, I did AI compositions, and then I drew them or painted them, and that was a really fun way to work because the compositions I wouldn’t have come up with on my own. Some of them were very complex or super weird. I was excited by them, I would have been excited if I had come up with them on my own, but I think they came to the next level because I was able to draw them or paint them. So it was a palette beyond what could be created by a computer printer, even one with 12 colors because there’s just so many more colors when you’re painting. And marks and gestures and drawing, it’s a lot more dimensional. It’s a best-of-all-worlds kind of thing.

Goddess Bacchanal (2022), by Anne Spalter from Spring Break Art Show; Acrylic and UltraChrome ink on canvas 60×36 in.

Max: I love the idea of art moving across the digital/physical schism.

Anne: Yeah, I love the phygital. That’s what we’re doing.

Max: That’s the word! Just the idea of taking your cerebral, physical desires for artwork and uploading them into an AI, which then creates an output, which you’re then turning back into a product of the physical world. It’s just something I think about all the time, the transfer of knowledge across the screen.

Anne: And I ultimately really do like the physical art world. It’s nice to hang something on the wall and see it as well as have it.

Max: Jumping off of the physical art world, I wrote about the Metaverse not too long ago, and the Metaverse as a concept seems to be the place where crypto art is evolving into, or at least evolving in confluence with, just in terms of the ability to — so many more artists who are not able to be in New York or not able to to put a show together, or would not have the physical resources to put an installation or exhibition together, can now do those things with comparatively low barrier to entry. And I’m wondering if you’ve thought about the Metaverse, or have experience with it, or envision using a Metaverse environment for your pieces?

Anne: I am not wild about VR…I have an Oculus, but there’s just something about it that — I don’t like being closed off from the rest of the world. I find the navigation weird. It makes me kind of queasy. There’s definitely upsides though. I do like the idea of people being location-independent, being able to meet up with each other. There just seems to be things that just have not been worked out about it. It still feels really low-resolution to me, for example. I like AR better because it includes everything and seems higher resolution, but I think the potential is huge. That’s another thing that, every few years it seems like it’s going to be terrific, but then it’s never quite there.

Max: We’re always just on the verge of it becoming a thing.

Anne: I agree, but I have seen good things. And I saw a VR piece by Laurie Anderson that made me want to sort of reconsider the whole idea of making VR artwork because I thought it was so good. I mean I think it will all happen. I don’t know if Zuckerberg is gonna make it happen, laughs, but I think it will happen.

Max: Zuckerberg will make something happen, that’s for sure.

I’m thinking about the Metaverse, but also about your embracing of new technologies in general throughout your career. And you’ve embraced web3 and crypto art for quite some time. You’re in the Genesis Collection of the Museum!

I do want to ask you about the piece we have there, Escaping Horse (below), specifically, because I have an odd fascination with this piece. I was wondering if you have any insight on how that piece itself came together, especially because it seems so different from a lot of your other work: It has all the man-made structures but there’s some…thing… — before I embarrass myself further by describing your art piece, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

Still from Escaping Horse (2020), by Anne Spalter, in collection of Museum of Crypto Art

Anne: I had a graphite drawing, a pencil drawing I used with Styletransfer. Oh okay! So! I made a futuristic city — and I’m trying to remember exactly how I made the city. I think I used NightCafe, which is another thing that I use all the time. Actually, that’s what I used to make all the Spaceships! And I used Text2img for the spaceships, but I don’t think NightCafe had Txt2img when I was doing this.

So I was using whatever they had at the time. It was just combining images. So I was making these cities of the future: It was combinations of different futuristic things, and it was photographic. And then I used Styletransfer with my own drawings, hand drawings, and Escaping Horse is actually a pencil drawing mixed with another drawing that had pencil drawing and pastel, so it’s like a combination of multiple Styletransfers just for the city. And then I did video overlays with the horse and the fire and the windmills. So it had a whole bunch of steps to it.

Max: Yeah there’s certainly a density to it, I appreciate you walking me through that. I’ve just been curious.

Anne: I don’t remember exactly. There were five or six different things that it went through.

Max: But that’s one thing I do love about digital art! I have no knowledge of any process whatsoever, which means there’s always a kind of mystery in digital art that isn’t there if I go to, say, MOMA and look at paintings, and I think, Okay, I understand the process here in theory. But I come across a piece of digital art, pretty much any kind, and I really have no idea how it came to fruition. The screen preserves the mystery of its creation.

Anne: I think that’s a great point. And when I give talks, I try to give a kind of behind-the-scenes of installations or the process behind the piece because it can be completely erased. The process. And then you don’t know how it was put together.

Max: Are there emerging technologies or processes that particularly excite you, or that you think are going to start making a real impact in the crypto art world or digital art world in general?

Anne: I would say I’m still really working with the different Txt2Image AI things as they come out and the cool things that people are doing with them. So I don’t know if there’s new things beyond the things you already know about: the inpainting, the outpainting, the colorization, just the AI stuff. But there’s so many great AI things. I’m looking forward to more video.

Max: Video AI output?

Anne: Yes, video AI output, video between different frames.

Max: It must be exciting, as someone who’s been in digital art for multiple decades that the sci-fi-esque future is something that is now not only accessible, but accessible in your browser.

Apparition (2019), by Anne Spalter; Pastel Drawing with composition created with artificial intelligence, 20 x 20 inches.

Anne: Totally! I feel like I’m living in the future completely.

People should jump in and play with stuff. I love that the crypto art world has brought so many people who didn’t think they were artists or could ever make a living doing something visual into this space. So I think that’s really exciting, and I encourage people to get involved.

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