AI & Art : the first crucial works are out

Ronan Barrot and Robbie Barrat: beyond speculation, the first relevant collaboration between AI and Contemporary painting

in brief

Following the traces of Vera MOLNAR, Manfred MOHR or more recently Mario KLINGEMAN, the 19-year-old artist Robbie BARRAT is currently at the spearhead of the artistic research exploring the interaction between humans and machines.

For his debut exhibition curated by Avant Galerie Vossen in Paris, Robbie BARRAT collaborated with renown French painter Ronan BARROT.

One letter but 26 years apart, initially reluctant to enter a world of pixels and mathematics, Ronan BARROT agreed to paint more than 500 skulls, within similar frameworks, on identical size canvasses, working with diverse materials, colors and layers. He actually has been painting skulls for a long time, especially by using the remainder of paint after finishing other works. Robbie BARRAT then trained an Artificial Intelligence based on the painter’s samples: the algorithms, also known as Generative Adversarial Networks (GAN), built their own understanding on what a “skull painting” should be and not be, and were able to generate endless skulls on demand -there is even a neologism for this process: GANism.

The two artists decided upon a limited number of works -around 100- based purely on aesthetic criteria. They created diptychs or triptychs consisting of both traditional skull paintings on canvas, as well as computer-generated skulls printed on UV-resistant Plexiglas in contrast.

Sometimes, Ronan BARROT intervened upon the computer-generated skulls, as he wanted the human hand to execute the last gesture within the dialogue. In certain works, Artificial Intelligence served as additional inspiration for BARROT’s paintings.

Entering the exhibition space, we are immersed in skulls, skulls everywhere. As a digital counterpart to the paintings, a cutting-edge computer is present, connected to a CRT screen, relentlessly generating additional, ephemeral skulls, questioning the actual purpose of such still-lifes when they are effortlessly generated by machines, with no emotional capacities. Entering the second room, another installation permits the viewer to generate a temporary “personal skull’ and to watch it, before it disappears for eternity 10 seconds later.

Vanitas have been an eternal source of inspiration for painters, as they often trigger introspective and metaphysical reflections both for the artist and for the viewer.

Similarily, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not a new field with some research dating back to the 1940s. However, its concrete applications are rapidly expanding in our world, and so is the interest of the art world towards this computer science field. In October 2018, a AI-generated piece created by the collective OBVIOUS, and extensively based on Robbie BARRAT’S research and algorithms, was sold at Christie’s for the significant amount of $432,000.

Transcending second-market speculation, going beyond the first-degree applications of new technologies and processes, expanding past the frontiers of “Art Numérique”, BARRAT and BARROT invited us to witness a unprecedented synergy where only emotions prevail.

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