I began my Metagraph series of digital drawings in 1999 while living and working in a small studio on Avenue A in Manhattan’s East Village. During this time, I supported myself as a freelance designer and coder. The works in this book were created using the same tools I used in my day job: vector-based graphics software, a drawing tablet and stylus, and a Mac. These are the same tools that I employ in my studio daily today.
Vector-based graphics describe images with code, as opposed to bitmap graphics, such as JPEGs, which define images as a grid of pixels. When enlarged past a specific size, bitmaps become “pixelated.” Vector graphics, however, are resolution-independent, allowing them to be scaled to any size with perfect clarity. For this reason, corporate logos are created as vector art, allowing them to work equally well on letterhead or a billboard.
The name that I gave to this body of work in 1999, Metagraphs, is based on the idea that the actual artwork is the code that describes the image, not its physical manifestation. This code is thus a meta-representation of the image, a Metagraph.
The compositions in Metagraphs: Augmented Reality Art were digitally drawn two decades ago through the Surrealist practice of automatic drawing, a method in which the artist suppresses conscious control, allowing the unconscious mind to take over.
All the drawings in were composed in the five years between 1999 and 2004. Twenty years later, in 2021, I began animating and mixing audio to accompany these works. As each animation was completed, I minted it as an audiovisual NFT on the blockchain.
An NFT, or non-fungible token, is a unique digital identifier to certify ownership and authenticity. The blockchain is a synchronized database that is publicly accessible, containing records or blocks that are securely linked together. Minting publishes NFTs on the blockchain, allowing them to be bought, sold, and traded.
Unlike the many critics of NFTs, I see them as ushering in an entirely new chapter in contemporary art. In my opinion, one of the most notable characteristics of NFTs that is commonly overlooked is that they deliver royalties to artists automatically upon the resale of their work.
For instance, a private collector purchased Mesmertron, one of the works in this book, as an audiovisual NFT in April 2021. It was sold by this collector in December 2021 to the Art on Internet Foundation (AOI). This “secondary market” sale awarded me a 10% royalty without outside intervention. Every transaction is recorded on the blockchain, creating an automatic mechanism for documenting provenance, which is an artwork’s ownership history.
In 2022, I produced Kneeling Icon (the work on the cover of this book) as a large-scale digital monoprint on vinyl. A digital monoprint is a one-of-a-kind print created from digital artwork. The 6×8-foot piece was first exhibited in Techspressionism: Digital and Beyond, a group exhibition I curated in the Summer of 2022 for the Southampton Arts Center in Southampton, New York. This show was the first large-scale group show of Techspressionist artwork.
Techspressionism is a term I coined in 2011 as the title of a solo exhibition. Since then, it has become an international movement of artists working with technology. Over the past three years, over 65,000 Instagram posts have been published by artists worldwide using the hashtag #techspressionism.
Techspressionism is defined in Wikipedia as “an artistic approach in which technology is utilized as a means to express emotional experience.”
Press play on the video above to view the animated AR (augmented reality) component to this artwork.
Kneeling Icon was my first augmented reality artwork. Augmented reality, or AR for short, is an interactive experience that combines real-world and computer-generated content. When viewed with an AR smartphone app, the piece appears to animate directly on the gallery wall or, in this book’s case, the page it resides upon. Kneeling Icon, particularly its AR component, caught the eye of New York art consultant and curator Betty Levin.
Levin subsequently included the piece in Art Now 2023, an exhibition she curated with the Hearst Corporation. Art Now opened at Manhattan’s Hearst Tower in November 2022, where my piece was installed opposite a large sculpture by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. In January 2023, Kneeling Icon was purchased by the Hearst Corporation, and the large-scale physical work is now permanently installed in the conference center in Hearst Tower. The positive reaction to this work inspired me to develop an augmented-reality book.
The number 23 figures prominently in this body of work; 23 drawings are included in this book, and each corresponding animation is 23 seconds long. Starting with Transcape, the sixth audiovisual NFT in this series, these works were minted on the 23rd day of each month.
Numerology has been an aspect of my artistic practice for many years and I incorporate personally significant numbers into my work in various ways. For instance, I often employ the numbers 23 and 71 (the day and year of my birth) when performing mathematical transformations in my digital artwork.
The number 23 is also personally significant because it is a birthdate I share with my daughter, Aya. I was born on December 23, 1971 and Aya on June 23, 2014. Amazingly, Aya was born on 6/23 at exactly 6:23 p.m. She selected Plasmatic as this book’s 23rd and final drawing to be animated, and her voice is captured in the work’s audio track. Plasmatic was minted as an NFT on Aya’s ninth birthday, June 23, 2023.
While organizing the materials for Metagraphs: Augmented Reality Art , I decided to preface each of the 23 drawings with a haiku. These haiku draw from my life experiences and many contain personal references specific to the time periods in which each piece was created.
Writing these haiku provided me with a form of catharsis, allowing me to process many of the emotions, events, and experiences of the past 20 years of my life into poetic “time capsules.”
Metagraphs: Augmented Reality Art is an artistic bridge between the past and the present. Augmented reality has allowed me to connect my digital drawings of two decades ago with their audiovisual counterparts on the blockchain.
It is interesting to consider how much of today’s technology-fueled art is not wholly novel, but part of a continuum that I call Techspressionism.