Contents © 1998 ACM SIGGRAPH All Rights Reserved
Send your comments to
SIGGRAPH 98 Online.


Computer Art Spans Twenty-Five Years

Monday, July 20, 1998

by Michael E. Brubaker

They sit side by side, a contrast of media, styles, and attitudes. The simple triangles, stark black and white, produced on a pen plotter next to a wild swirling splash of reds, blues, and yellows generated from a laser printer. Yet they share a very important bond: the same artist, separated by just a few decades.

"Construction E5," by Joan Truckenbrod, 1975

And they're both part of the same exhibit, the 25th Anniversary Celebration of Pioneering Artists.

"We went back through the art catalogues and we chose people that had consistently participated in art shows and who are continuing to be practicing artists in the electronic arts," according to Joan Truckenbrod, Art Gallery chair.

Twenty-five artists have work on display at the exhibit, with more than sixty pieces on view.

"We looked at their work and we invited them to submit an old work that they did early on and to submit a current piece. We decided to show those in contrast or combination with one another, so the viewer could actually see the development of their work over a number of years," says Truckenbrod. "What we discovered is that then the show has a wonderful chronicling of history of the development of computer art through these pioneering artists."

"I think there's a perception that making images with computers started when the Mac came on the scene," comments Copper Giloth, one the featured artists. "In the particular exhibition here they'll see that there's work from the early sixties and seventies."

"Some of the early work used drawing devices, called pen plotters, to create line drawings and really work the expressiveness of a line drawing. Eventually we came to expand on that technology and that gradually developed into full color displays and high-resolution printers. We now have an extensive range of different kinds of work."

Some of that diversity can be seen in Truckenbrod's own work. Her early piece is the one made up of triangles. Her recent work hints at its polygonal ancestry, but is more organic and living than the early piece.

"Artists are always experimenters/creators. They don't really pay much attention to 'Do I have the latest technology?'" says Truckenbrod. "On the other hand, they intuitively look for new ways to express themselves, new tools, so they just sort of grab what's out there. So as the technology develops, the artists are on the forefront of grabbing that technology to use as their palette."

"Icecliff," by Darcy Gerbarg, 1990

"Computers typically like to do some things--repetitive things, rote things, analytical things-and, well, that what makes computers useful as a tool," says Darcy Gerbarg, another Artist Pioneer. "The technology may be interesting, but it's what you do with it that counts."

Husband and wife team Jeff and Colette Bangert have been collaborating for three decades. He codes, she paints.

"Large Landscape," by Colette and Charles Bangert, 1970

Jeff reflects on the changes over the last twenty-five years: "At the very beginning of SIGGRAPH, what you would see on the exhibition floor would be very expensive computers and not very many of them. These days what is around here is the mostly same kind of computers that anybody can buy for fifteen hundred bucks doing really interesting graphics. When we first started computer art, we went to the University of Kansas Computer Center. Now we can work in our home."

"The Rose's Own Garden: Its View," by Colette and Charles Bangert, 1997

When Colette is asked about how she sees computer art changing since she began, she comments "It's much better to be a computer artist these days. You can feel more proud about it than we could thirty years ago."