Black Crystal

by William Latham

Etching on paper

65 x 80 cm

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This is another rare FormSynth etching from William’s time as a “Henry Moore Scholar” at the Royal College of Art, when he was heavily influenced by the time he spent at the Natural History Museum observing museum exhibits of natural forms and reading about Darwinian evolution. It shows the evolution of a cone that is subjected to a number of incremental rule-based "shape changing" steps using simple sculptural modifications designed by William known as "Beak", "Bulge", "Scoop" and "Stretch" and other rules. These individual rules harnessed the conceptual idea of a single sculptural action being performed on an imaginary form by the artist such as “taking a scoop out of the form” or “squeezing the form so it bulged out at a particular point”. For example, with the Beak operator the artist imagines a beak-like form being pinched and pulled from the form (which might be, for example, on a cone or another evolved form). The effect of this single action is imagined by the artist and then drawn by the artist adjacent to the ‘parent’ form and then connected by a single arrow showing it’s evolutionary path and so on. The number and order of sculptural modifications could be in many 100s, in effect using the artist’s own mind as a 3D drawing device, so to speak.

In the FormSynth drawings, even though the individual sculptural operators are quite simple, when used cumulatively in different ordering, visually rich and varied forms emerge as new generations are spawned. This etching shows an evolutionary tree of forms derived from a cone with one major "black crystal" mutation, showing multiple simultaneous evolutionary steps dominating the image. All of William’s work from this period reflects his fascination with evolutionary systems and the idea of a new alternative evolutionary system to nature driven by the artist. No traditional Western pictorial composition is used, with the process of evolutionary drawing only stopping only when there is no more space on the sheet to fill. The FormSynth drawings were to form a blueprint for the subsequent Mutator software Art, where the computer drives the evolution together in partnership with the” artist as Gardner”. Here with FormSynth created in a low tech art studio at the Royal College of Art, the artist must rely on their own resources and own drawing ability.
About William Latham

William Latham is well known as an early pioneer of Generative Art through his Mutator Evolutionary Art created at IBM in the late eighties and early nineties. His work, which shows strange organic, often serpentine, forms, is produced using his “alternative evolutionary software system” (developed with Stephen Todd and team), which Latham uses to pick and breed 3D forms freed from the limits of the human imagination.

His work was widely shown in museums and touring shows in UK, Germany, Australia and Japan at that time. Latham’s work is focused on using evolutionary processes to create art centred on the idea of “Artist as Gardener,” an idea which originated from his time as Henry Moore Scholar at the Royal College of Art in the early eighties where he created his FormSynth drawings and etchings which were to become a blueprint for his later Mutator work. On leaving IBM in the mid-nineties he set up a studio in Soho and moved into working in Rave Music where his organic art had built up a big following in the emerging Rave and Cyberculture scene. After three years he and his team of around 70 people then moved into developing games working with Warner Bros and Universal Studios, in 2002 they created the hit game The Thing based on the John Carpenter movie which used his organic style.

In 2007 he moved away from entertainment and become a Professor in Computer Art at Goldsmiths where he restarted his creative collaboration with IBM mathematician and programmer Stephen Todd. They resurrected and extended their old Mutator code and pushed the technology into VR creating highly novel organic immersive experiences for the public. The VR work has been shown in many touring exhibitions in China, Japan, Peru, Belgium and UK. Mutator VR uses his core evolutionary ideas but also shows strong influence from Rave and interactivity from games. Recently he has worked on his Fantasy Virus Mutator series and more recently again has been working in B+W on his Infinity Mirror series of images that can be described as “Computer Gothic”, influenced by Durer’s engravings on the one hand and electron microscopy on the other.

Latham’s work is in the permanent art collections of The Pompidou Centre Paris, The V&A, The Gulbenkian Foundation and The Henry Moore Institute.

Black Crystal