Unrelenting Physical Aggression (Action Painting) from mantissa on Vimeo.

A clever project summoning way more patience and coding skill than I could muster is Jeremy Rotsztain’s Action Painting series. I’ve written about Thongchai Chanyathitikul’s Realflow pieces before and covered how abstract expressionism is to some degree at odds with CGI: the industrial vs. the ephemeral, the gesture vs. the algorithm and so on. It’s a rich space to investigate and I’m sure there are others like Rotsztain and Chanyathitikul who are exploring it. That said, I think Rotsztain’s work is more than a moving action painting. Clearly there’s a lot of humour in the themes he’s extrapolating from popular cinema. He’s chosen explosions, gunfights, punches, kicks and car chases as his palette. The machismo is pure, unadulterated and uninterrupted. It’s an exercise in immersion - the result is like a macho overdose and is therefore a little funny to boot. The disconnect between the aesthetics of the painting and the source material is clear. That disconnect only enhances the humour. The artist’s act itself is part of the work: in studiously compiling and reliving hundreds of violent moments from decades of iconic macho films, Rotsztain is enacting a ironic Warholian act of pop-culture worship at the temple of mainstream Hollywood entertainment. Whether he likes it or not.

All good, but this is not quite all the work has to say. Thankfully, I think Rotsztain begins to do more than simply riff on themes that have been around since the fifties. The interesting thing about this project is the degree of automation involved in the latest installment, shown below.

Revving Motors, Spinning Wheels (Action Painting) from mantissa on Vimeo.

He’s kindly provided a clip that illuminates the process. It goes beyond the use of computing technology to simply aid a human-centric process. In this painting, Rotsztain does not laboriously isolate the key moments by hand, he selects clips and (I presume) relies on the computer to track the movement intelligently. I guess it uses camera tracking and motion detection to isolate and roto the elements that move the most. This development means the work becomes more about duration, light, rhythm and movement, returning it instantly to a cinegraphic analog of action painting in it’s most formal sense. Except this time Pollock is a computer. Which is nice, because Pollock was all about the ‘authentic’ and 'pure’ connection between man, paint and canvas.

So now, the question is: could a computer create something as authentically human as Jackson Pollock? Here’s where the friction between Pollock’s action painting and Rotsztain’s computer-aided action painting begins to ignite something more: was action painting actually a less 'human’ and 'authentic’ genre than it was given credit for? Is it where we might see the first computer-generated masterpiece?

At least that’s what an amateur art critic might ask.