“The exhibition presents pioneers from different generations, early 1950s until today, working in the field of generative art. On view will be, among others, plotter drawings, generative photography, sculptures, and NFTs from 25 international artists.”
Thanks to Anika Meier, Georg Bak, Margaret Murphy and everyone else who helped put on this AMAZING exhibition.
Anika Meier with me; Margaret Murphy next to Micro Arts MA1 Lines artwork; Margaret Murphy with me; Art sign by Joachim Bosse, WWWISDOM, 1; “kryptonite” sculpture by Claudia Hart.
Artists: Ai-Da Robot, Victor Acevedo, Vladimir Bonačić, Analivia Cordeiro, Pierre Cordier, Geoff Davis, Hans Dehlinger, Primavera de Filippi, Herbert W. Franke, Hein Gravenhorst, Ira Greenberg, Samia Halaby, Heinrich Heidersberger, Karl Martin Holzhäuser, Roger Humbert, Gottfried Jäger, Mario Klingemann, Zach Lieberman, LoVid, Kevin and Jennifer McCoy, Lee Mullican, Frieder Nake, Aaron Penne, Manuel Rossner, Marcel Schwittlick, Travess Smalley, Marina Zurkow.
This is our third exhibition in three years. There are 4 of our special cube videos, and a new 88 image grid of the 40 year history, starting with my code for MA1 in 1983 (BASIC screen shot) and ending with the new Spatial VR Micro Arts gallery.
Blackpool School of Arts is currently exhibiting Adrian Wilson’s 1980’s Quantel Paintbox manipulated photography, including two pieces from the 1988 Art & Computers show at Cleveland Gallery and a whole display of Quantel artefacts.
This is the first solo exhibition of Adrian’s pioneering digitally manipulated photography.
New questions (from Geoff Davis, Micro Arts Group):
Q: You are well known as a graffiti artist (unsigned, online with the plannedalism tag) adjusting signs by changing or adding letters etc.
For you, is graffiti – (anti) literature, text art or social intervention?
A: My father and two older brothers were graphic designers and I have tried unsuccessfully to avoid graphic design my whole life. A couple of business students from Manchester University interviewed me in 1988 and in their synopsis stated that I had three business disadvantages:
I had no long term goals, was not motivated by money and in fact had refused to work for clients who weren’t anti-apartheid.
My graffiti is text based and definitely has a message. Even if I write a pun on a tree stump “I fought the saw and the saw won” it is to highlight the loss of the tree. Ideally my graffiti inspires people to think but doesn’t tell them what to think.
Q: Were you inspired by activist street artists like UK’s Banksy, or visual artists like Goldie?
A: I have always expressed myself one way or another from building snow sculptures with my kids, to over 30 years creating t-shirts (my first one in 1987, was a play on the Manchester A to Z street guide, changed to read “A to CRED”!), to the galleries I opened and the graffiti I am well known for, it’s all just been a fun hobby. Some people love kicking a ball, or playing an instrument but my brain is just wired to come up with visual ideas.
Q: Early Quantel – you mentioned, ‘make my ideas a reality with only a small amount of skill’.
Does this apply to the graffiti, and is that connected to fun, and using early Quantel Paintbox ?
A: Definitely. We all love to ridicule high brow art by stating “I could have done that” but to me, if someone sees a piece of street art I did and thinks “That’s something cool I could have done”, I have done my job well.
I have never taken myself seriously or set out to be referred to as an artist. I come from a northern family where my dad used to say “you’ve got to learn to stand on your own two knees”. That may have been a throw away pun but I always felt that lack of confidence or value in what I did. As the youngest of three males in the house, I was always referred to as “little Adrian” which probably drove me to be someone to do things to get attention, either a joke or something visual.
My Paintbox work was pretty dark but that was just the politics and aesthetics of the time. Anti-Thatcherism, The Young Ones and The Face magazine were my aesthetic, and I probably still relate more to Rik than Vivian in the way I interact with the world. Most of the jokes are for my own entertainment and if other people enjoy them, great and if they don’t, it’s fine too.
Q: How do you feel abut Photography vs painterly arts, on the work / labour / skill level?
A: There is a ranking in the “art world” in what is considered legitimate or superior, with oil painting at the top of the pyramid and photography closer to the base. As a photographer with 35 years’ experience, it is obviously second nature to me now and, thanks to digital, certainly easier than when I went to college.
Andreas Feininger was my biggest influence and he was all about scale and composition. Most of the photographic skills such as a knowledge of chemicals, lens behaviour or film types is about as useful as an A to Z Street Map nowadays. I think it is fantastic that a billion pictures a day are taken and uploaded somewhere because photography has always been about capturing a moment, whereas painting is about conveying an idea.
The biggest skill in photography and one for which it will be a long time before it is automated is a button which creates a good composition and that is really where the skill of a photographer is.
Lighting used to be important but not as much now with HDR, lateral range and photoshop. I have developed painting skills through practice but I can still only replicate something, not come up with new figurative ideas purely from my imagination. I greatly admire those who can paint and sculpt but in the same way I admire those who can sing or score a goal. There is no jealousy, just an appreciation for the different skills they have.
Q: Photography is famously technical, how does that connect for you with new digital outlets like NFTs, crypto art etc.?
A: It used to be technical but I am not sure I am even a photographer any more. Thanks to film and prints, my collection survived for 30 years in my mum’s attic and can still be enjoyed today. If I had stored my images on one of Quantel’s 8 inch floppies it would be unreadable, or the VHS would be fuzzy.
It saddens me to know that all I do now when I take a ‘photo’ is rearrange lots of 0s and 1s on an SD card. There is no definitive standard way it should look, in the way that when I scanned my Quantel slides I could look at a piece of film and try to match it. Of course we have social media and the cloud, so theoretically everything is stored for eternity but yes, because we all now accept something that doesn’t actually exist is a photograph, it is not too far a stretch to take a traditional certificate of authenticity and make a non existent version of that too.
Crypto is no different from touchless transactions such as Apple Pay as a method of digital transaction but the idea it is somehow safer or more democratic, is ridiculous. There is absolutely no link between the numbers and letters making up the blockchain ID to any individual, so if it is hacked, or stolen, or the company hosting your wallet stops paying for hosting fees, or you forget your login details, or there is a solar magnetic storm, you’re screwed. Once you provide ID and bank details to set up a digital wallet, it is linked to the same big banks and government tax department that your regular credit card is. History shows us that once something catches on and starts to make money, big business takes over and governments start regulating. Bitcoin is a digital casino and NFTs are digital tulip bulbs.
Q: Any new plans or ideas?
A: Honestly, like the business analysis said, I don’t plan that far ahead. Thankfully my kids are all grown up and I rent my apartment, so I haven’t got too many responsibilities and my health is good so at 58, I appreciate that fact more than any other.
My next big plan is actually graffiti within the digital world. I have some pieces in NY on roofs which are really only visible on Google Earth and the next plan is to use the lines of the crosswalks to create words and phrases that can only be read on Google Maps.
Taking it a step further, I have found a glitch in the system which enables me to change certain details of Google Maps, so I have few ideas up my sleeve. The old graffiti writers referred to painting the subway trains as ‘bomb the system’ and to me the oppressive ‘system’ now is not the city’s bureaucrats, it is the companies who control the digiverse and will be creating the metaverse. It will also be much cheaper than buying paint!
Q: How is NY after UK/London. An artist friend went to NY in 1996 and became a successful designer. He said it was safer/better than London. Any comments?
A: I stayed in Manchester rather than move to London to further my career and do love New York but it is just a bigger, expensive version of everywhere else. There are people who are successful because they are talented, or good looking, or well connected, or were at the right place at the right time. That is the same in Manchester or Manhattan. It is an honest city because it is just like the movies show it is – a giant money making machine full of people who didn’t fit in somewhere else, trying to survive in a place lacking in compassion for the individual. The good thing moving to NY is that one is expected to fail, so there is no shame in going back home after it has no further use for you. If you feel you want the challenge, try it but if you don’t, just visit for a holiday.
I can also lie in some Manchester nursing home bed and tell some nurse spoon feeding me rice pudding that “I once was famous for changing the names of the streets in the metaverse of New York” and she would pat me on the head, give me a sedative and say “Of course you did Mr Wilson”, then look on the metaverse and find it was true. Getting a twofer of free drugs and annoying a smart ass teenager is a near death goal of mine.
Q: Previously you mentioned NFTs of old work (could also be for new). Have you made any progress with this?
A: I sprayed “POST NO NFTS” , a twist on POST NO BILLS for fun and made an NFT of that. I also made an NFT of me deleting the video of the NFT the people made by burning a Banksy and another NFT of my friend the art critic Jerry Saltz, so you can see the angle I am taking. My next one will be a Schrödinger’s NFT, whereby I will either burn or frame a MAGA poster that someone gave me from Trump’s election night party in 2016.
Despite the flippancy and supposed dismissiveness, I do feel some gratitude to the concept of NFTs because without the hype, my Paintbox work would still be in my mum’s attic and I wouldn’t be the very proud and excited owner of a working Paintbox.
I met with one of the creators of cryptopunks and told him that I felt like he was like Mick Jagger, making a fortune commercializing and popularizing the work of unappreciated blues guitarists, with the side effect being that those guitarists become appreciated for being the originators. I feel that the NFT craze has been fantastic for the light it has also shone on the history of digital art, of which we should be proud to have played a part.
I have had approaches to sell my Paintbox work as NFTs but I haven’t found the right people yet. Ultimately, NFTs are like any other piece of art, they only have value if someone notable says why they are valuable. We are told that the Mona Lisa is the best piece of art in the world, so it is. Yet, we all know the shenanigans, hype and ultimately embarrassment of paying $450 million for the now discredited Salvator Mundi in the belief that it was a newly discovered Leonardo. Apparently the Beeple NFT that sold for $69 million has dropped in value by 75% but the person who bought it made a fortune because the purchase was his way of getting publicity for his cryptocurrency, which went up 2,000 percent because of the sale.
In theory, I created one of, if not the first digital meme when I swapped Captain Kirk’s head for mine on the Paintbox in 1987 and sent it out as a postcard with an ironic caption. With the right hype and people behind it, in theory, it could be worth millions. It’s just a funny postcard but once someone important realizes its place in history, it will become a valuable funny postcard.
I have been invited to put on a solo show at Blackpool School of Art’s art gallery from January 10th to February 18th 2022. To to me, that is the best full circle this story could have taken. I plan to take a Paintbox to the college to show the students what the Quantel people showed me 35 years ago. How cool is that?
Adrian Wilson is a famous photographer and artist, and also a popular graffiti artist. We initially discussed his Quantel Paintbox work, which is recently revived. He gave me the artist’s statement below, and I followed up with some questions. There are some links through the text. In our Timeline – Early computer art – 1975 – “Quantel (British company) – created a digital framestore, which for the first time enabled TV broadcasters to combine two live videos into one digital moving image.”
This statement- November 2021
More photos at bottom of page and in the interview.
Quantel was selling their revolutionary $250,000 Paintbox like hot cakes since its launch in 1981 but the tiny number of creatives who could get access to learn how to operate this rarified piece of broadcast TV equipment was a problem, which is why they donated two to share between 6 art colleges in 1986. I was in my final year as a photography student [Adrian Wilson studied HND Design (photography) from 19845-1986 at Blackpool and The Fylde College] when the Paintbox arrived with much fanfare but it was quickly and rightly dismissed for its low resolution. Students who were shooting on 10″ x 8″ film were never going to be interested in a machine which output at less than 500 lines TV screen resolution
I had no idea at the time that I was likely the first photographer in the world who was trained on and specialized in creative photographic manipulation using a digital paint system – what we now generically refer to as ‘Photoshop’. I was simply drawn to the Paintbox because I had visual ideas that I didn’t have the skill to draw as illustrations, or create in a camera or darkroom. In 1986, most photographic retouching was still done by hand and though digital companies such as Scitex were starting to emerge, their operators were retouching for print clients, not creating original pieces as artists.
There were definitely many artists who used the Paintbox and some of them (such as Sidney Nolan on the BBC Painting With Light programme) used photographs as elements of their digital artwork but all I did was computer manipulated still photography – from taking the photograph, to digitally altering it to get the final result.
Photographer Glen Wexler described how he “was quick to embrace digital image editing starting in 1987, with access to the first Quantel Paintbox in North America…very high-end stuff.” but I think he was referring to Quantel’s new high resolution Graphic Paintbox, which used one of my images on the brochure cover.
I was always in awe of people like William Latham and probably yourself [Geoff Davis], who were more purists, and I think that age old conflict between the techies looking down on artists who didn’t understand the inner workings and the artists looking down on techies for not being creative was in full effect. It still is a rare thing for a human brain to be able to be both ordered and disordered, a creative tech, such as Alvy Ray Smith. I just enjoyed that I finally had an easy to use tool that could make my ideas a reality and I hoped that if the idea was good enough, the low resolution wouldn’t even be noticed. Someone once pointed out that nobody notices the frame around a Picasso painting, the cracks in the varnish of a Rembrandt, or the misalignment on a Warhol screen print for one good reason: The art is amazing.
I do understand that many people who commissioned or bought my work only did so because it was a new gimmick and being the first was a blessing for that but also a curse because I spent 4 years explaining the Paintbox’s features to hundreds of potential clients. Between the Paintbox at Blackpool and being offered free use of Quantel’s machines at Newbury, I was unique in having the luxury of free time to explore ideas on a machine that cost 300 pounds an hour to rent.
My work was more creatively than commercially driven, which is why I sometimes used a 24 bit true colour computer to make a black and white image if it was the right thing to do. In fact one of the pieces I had in the 1988 Art & Computers Show at Cleveland Gallery [see 1988 on Timeline] was B&W and the other was a combination of Paintbox and colour copier. I did try and be part of the Computer Arts community but it wasn’t easy before the internet and being based in Manchester.
I remember giving a talk at Camberwell art college [now part of UAL, and home of the Creative Computing Institute CCI] with other digital artists but I can find nothing about the event online. By 1990, cheaper tech meant that the Paintbox was becoming obsolete and I didn’t want to learn a new system after 4 years of struggle to make money as a digital photographer. I coincidentally gave up pretty much exactly when Photoshop 1.0 was launched, Adobe playing a big part in Quantel’s downfall with their new desktop software and legal victories breaking their lucrative monopoly. I moved into photography full time and my work sat in a box in my mum’s attic for the next 30 years but fortunately for me, it wasn’t as degrading VHS tapes, but stable Kodachrome slides and Cibachrome prints.
With the explosion of NFTs at the beginning of the year, a friend mentioned that people are looking for early digital work and that has set off a crazy 6 months in which I not only was told that I was probably the first to do what I did but I have been lucky enough to buy one of only 13 working Paintboxes left in the world – sold on eBay, 30 minutes from where I live!
I was invited to go on the last original Paintbox known to exist, which is being restored by Mark Nias. Amazingly, I was the first creative (Mark says he is just a tech!) to use it since it was decommissioned in 1995 but it was amazing how quickly it all came back.
As it is the 40th anniversary of the Quantel Paintbox launch, I have been trying to spread the word about this game changing but largely unknown piece of art history. From weather maps to pop videos, the Paintbox look was on everyone’s TV every day but like Google’s search engine, it was a big part of our lives but nobody actually physically saw it. I helped my friend, design guru Steve Heller, write this article and am doing others, such as this interview, to give the Paintbox the recognition it deserves.
What was cool was how a former Paintbox operator for MTV explained that American Paintbox graphics were so bad for the first few years because the US broadcast unions would only allow technicians to use them, not designers!
As my own Paintbox is working again, I have an open free invitation for any former Paintbox operator to visit my studio in NY and spend some time on it. I have also teamed up with Mark in Manchester and Matthias Paeper, who owns a Paintbox in Germany to offer the machines to post production houses who want to create that authentic retro look on the machine that actually created it.
This 10th SPARKS session welcomes the presentation of artworks and projects that represent the continuum of image making and that reveal the essential ways that digital tools have moved it forward. Thus, we are looking for artists, theorists, researchers and practitioners of any image making practice to present and talk about works that range from fully digital, to a hybrid of digital and traditional practice that illustrate the growth of image making since the onset of widely available digital tools. The work or aesthetics may be about the medium or they might simply tell a story or illustrate concepts.
We are interested in a range of approaches including those from the past and those from the bleeding edge, using out of the box or homespun tools. Still images of any kind are welcome as our ultimate goal is to not only establish how digital methods are essential to image making, but also to highlight and perhaps remind us that the single image is still powerful and still important now, more than ever.