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In Conversation with Tyler Hobbs on Fidenza cover photo

INTERVIEW

In Conversation with Tyler Hobbs on Fidenza

by Jeff Davis

Jeff Davis: Hi Tyler, it’s great to chat with you. How did you first get into making art?
Tyler Hobbs: I grew up making it! I was fortunate enough to get to attend lessons after school with local artists, and I started taking painting seriously at a fairly young age. I was super into Van Gogh, and painted studies of several of his works. Landscapes, still lives, and portraits always attracted me, probably because that’s what I was seeing in books and museums. I wanted to go to college to study art, but I was persuaded by my dad to study computer science instead, for pragmatic reasons. Eventually I made a career out of making artwork, but ironically that may not have happened if I didn’t study computer science!
Tyler Hobbs_Return Zero [Blue]_2021.jpg
Tyler Hobbs, Return Zero [Blue], 2021.
JD: So there you go, art and computer science! When did you start combining the two?
TH: In my mid-20’s, I was working as a programmer at a startup. I was still making a lot of artwork on the side, and I was starting to feel like I wanted to take it more seriously, and really make it my passion. Some common advice for artists is to work with what you know, what’s around you. For me, that was programming. I started thinking about ways to integrate the two, and eventually had the idea of “what if I wrote a program that created a painting?”
At the time, I didn’t even know generative art was a thing. I actually created my first generative art using Matplotlib, which is a scientific graphing and charting library, and is actually pretty terrible for making art. Despite that, the work was so exciting to me that I switched to focusing on generative work exclusively. Eventually I learned about Processing, Casey Reas, and the whole generative art scene—and I’ve been enjoying it ever since.
Tyler Hobbs_One Hundred Billion Sparks_2018.jpg
Tyler Hobbs, One Hundred Billion Sparks, 2018.
JD: I think it’s interesting that you’ve brought your artistic practice full circle and still continue to paint and use traditional media in addition to working digitally.
TH: One of the interesting dynamics has been my oscillation between generative art and the more traditional world of painting and drawing. A lot of my aesthetics were already formed by those media when I started making generative work. In my mind, it’s been a tug of war between wanting to involve hand-drawn elements and bring in some “natural” inspirations, and on the other hand, wanting to push the programming and computer-based aesthetic as far as possible. Obviously, the computer opens up wild new possibilities, and it would be an utter waste not to explore those. At the same time, painting also holds a special place in my heart, and there are certain things you can’t express well without the ability to jump in and do it by hand. Over time, if you look at my work, I think you’ll see the relationship between those two aspects of my work evolve and (hopefully) become more harmonious. Fidenza certainly captures some of that, which I’m excited about.
Tyler Hobbs_Bouldin Creek Mural_2020_Austin TX.jpg
Tyler Hobbs, Bouldin Creek Mural, 2020. Installation view: Austin, TX.
JD: Any recent artistic accomplishments you’d like to share?
TH: I’m super proud of a mural I created recently. In physical dimensions, it’s the largest generative work I’ve ever created. The design itself was fully generative, but it was executed by hand and painted onto the side of a building. It was a huge technical challenge to actually get the work up onto the wall! Beyond that, it feels wonderful to see the work at scale, and to know that anybody is free to enjoy it as well. Every day, it can make the lives of thousands of people just a tiny bit brighter. Interestingly, the algorithm was a precursor to Fidenza! In general, I think the output from this program applies perfectly to murals, so hopefully it’s just the start of a series.
JD: So you’ve got gen art, you’ve got painting. What facilitated your journey into crypto art and NFTs?
TH: I started hearing about NFTs through random Twitter messages. To be honest, the value of it didn’t really click for me until I heard about Art Blocks. I think I saw Kjetil Golid mention something about his release, Archetype, and when I checked it out, I saw that it was an amazingly perfect fit for generative art. Nothing else could work like that. It’s a really unique challenge for the artist, too, because you have to strike that balance of variety and quality that is so difficult to nail with a generative program. On top of those merits, the community was amazing, with artists like Dmitri Cherniak putting out great work and educating others about how it could function. I think I applied for the curation list the very next day.
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Tyler Hobbs, Fidenza #0, 2021.
JD: Alright let’s talk about Fidenza! What was your inspiration for the project?
TH: Like most of my work, Fidenza evolved from earlier experimentations. It’s based around flow fields—a technique that I’ve been exploring in depth for a few years now. I love how they add an organic sense of unpredictability, while at the same time remaining extremely well-structured. That blend of order and chaos is something I’ve come to deeply appreciate about nature. When you carefully observe biological systems, like the growth of a forest, or geological formations, like a river valley carved through stone, you get a similar sensation. It’s wild, but there are rules. I also tend to develop my work intuitively through exploration, rather than setting an explicit end goal. It’s a discovery process. Fidenza is just what felt right and made me enjoy the work.
JD: What are your expectations for the project as the series is generated?
TH: Wow, there are so many interesting things that can happen. I gave the program as much free reign as possible while still meeting my standards for quality in 99% of the output. I’ve never pushed a program that far before. In all honesty, the output can still be extremely surprising to me, because of the way that the different features combine. For example, it operates at several different scales, from tiny shapes up to huge ones, and that can have a drastic effect on how the other features operate. Given the level of variety, I’m excited to see how the community responds. I think we’ll see quite a few gems that feel totally unique and distinct, and can be appreciated for their particular aesthetic.
Tyler Hobbs_Ectogenesis .0175_2019.jpg
Tyler Hobbs, Ectogenesis .0175, 2019.
JD: Anything else people should know to better understand your art?
TH: I hope that it can be enjoyed without knowing anything else at all! With that said, I do hope that generative art and other forms of programming-related artwork can help all of us to build a better digital environment for ourselves. It’s clear that our society will only go deeper into digital life. If the architects of that new world have a sense of play, excitement, and exploration, I think we will all end up in a better place. Perhaps this artwork and this community can serve as a small inspiration towards that end.
JD: That’s a great sentiment. What’s the best way for people to keep track of what you’re up to?
TH: I’m on both Twitter and Instagram under @tylerxhobbs. If you don’t do social media, I also send out an occasional newsletter that you can sign up for.
First published on 04 June 2021: In Conversation with Tyler Hobbs

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