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Emergent paradigms: straddling arts and design practices with Tim Zarki

American artist Tim Zarki explores his shift from industrial design to 3D and generative arts practices.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Oct 13, 2021

In a world where the trajectories of art and design move yet closer, it is not atypical to see several professional designers dip their toes into the art world, and vice versa. Tim Zarki, who hails from Joshua Tree, California, is one such creative that has and continues to practice within a broad spectrum of design, ranging from industrial design to 3D visualisation, but also creates stunning static and dynamic 3D and generative art pieces.

Zarki’s take on a coral ring | Tim Zarki | STIRworld
Zarki’s take on a coral ring Image: Tim Zarki

The artist explores his formative years, telling STIR, “Early in my childhood, I developed a strong passion for drawing, which transitioned to an interest in creating digital art as a teenager. In an effort to turn these passions into a viable career path, I attended the University of Cincinnati to pursue a degree in industrial design and develop the skills needed to start my career in the industrial design industry. I felt industrial design was a good fit for me because it combined both drawing and 3D modelling skills, placing a lot of emphasis on craftsmanship, creative problem solving, and visual communication; all skills that I wanted to master.” There is a certain sentiment here, of gravitating towards the design field out of a perceived sense of necessity; one which many creatives the world over will no doubt identify with. However, this is by no means a suggestion that design is somehow inferior to art, and it is indeed often a mere matter of application that forms any distinction at all between the two.

Returning to Zarki, his desire to develop a pertinent design skillset saw him enter the workforce as a part of various agencies that developed products for clients across a wide swathe of industries such as furniture, consumer electronics and healthcare. However, the artist did not find this quite as creatively stimulating as he would have liked, and he says, “After my day job, I invested a massive amount of time getting back to my creative roots, learning new tools that I could use to improve my 3D rendering skills, animation skills, and 3D art skills broadly, while following whatever I felt most excited me about learning, in the moment.” Zarki found more inspiration in the realms of film and concept art than he did in the industrial design industry. The artist would spend countless painstaking hours watching tutorials and struggling through the early stages of developing the creative skill set that he is better known for these days. A part of this would also be dipping his toes into the world of code-driven, generative art. He was, in a sense, compelled to take up this test of rigor, and admits that despite finding purpose in his professional work, his internal compass was pointed towards more artistic pursuits.

01 min watch Tim Zarki’s ‘boids’ pieces | Tim Zarki | STIRworld
Tim Zarki’s ‘boids’ pieces Video: Tim Zarki

Returning, in a sense, to his more creative and explorative roots, Zarki began working at Oculus, which has since been renamed to ‘Facebook Reality Labs’, wherein he spent some time as the sole 3D visualisation specialist. He currently works there, and as he says, “talking with and working with these amazing individuals with diverse creative backgrounds shifted my perspective to my own goals.” Since joining, he has been focusing on doing industrial design projects for fun, as well as exploring the realms of generative design, creative programming, and real-time simulations. The artist’s generative pieces are captivating in an alien way; all swirls and patterns that shift and pulsate slowly and hypnotically. There is also a strong naturalistic sensibility to be found within the artist’s works, and he seems to possess a specific preoccupation for fungi.

A render of fungi by the artist | Tim Zarki | STIRworld
A render of fungi by the artist Image: Tim Zarki

Discussing his personal practice, Zarki says “Because I am not typically doing these projects for clients, I can play in the free space that exists for conceptual objects that don’t need to satisfy a real-world cost target or have sufficient demand by a particular audience of consumers, and can be more experimental and exploratory in nature. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I also deeply enjoy the creative challenges presented by generative design and procedural systems, wherein my goal becomes to conceive a system that produces a potentially infinite number of interesting results based on a set of input parameters, rather than hand-crafting a single object until I am satisfied with it. This requires two different mind-sets, one being that of the architect designing the system and understanding its inner workings, and the other being that of the creative director, understanding the way the system behaves when its parameters change in different ways, and choosing the most interesting or beautiful results from the potentially infinite variations that come out.” This greater desire to produce creative systems as opposed to specific pieces speaks to a sentiment many emerging generative artists seem to espouse. It is interesting to consider that Zarki, along with others such as himself, may in fact be pursuing a kind of meta-arts practice; often crafting intelligent instruments rather than “finished” pieces with definite beginnings and ends.

01 min watch More video renders by Zarki | Tim Zarki | STIRworld
More video renders by Zarki Video: Tim Zarki

Zarki does not, however, see himself as one who stands completely on the creative side of things. He says, “I feel that I have one foot in the industrial design community, and one foot seeking a new community of like-minded creative people who share my fascination for generative art and creative coding. Over the course of the pandemic, he admits to having become more insular as a creative, and hopes he can reverse this transition soon. Interestingly, at the same time, he does identify a certain uptick in the industrial design community, of designers who are increasingly moving towards using generative code-based techniques in their craft. It is an exciting, if precarious time for the creative fields in general and the world at large, and artists such as Zarki who straddle multiple disciplines, mixing and matching creative practices, will undoubtedly lead the way. The artist’s hopes for the future remain measured, and he tells STIR, “Right now the way many of these things are being applied within industrial design feels gimmicky, so there is clearly going to be a period of growing pains as we figure out how to leverage these tools in a way that is both pragmatic for solving real problems and appealing aesthetically. Simultaneously, the tools will evolve to become more user friendly and more useful as aides in professional design work.” It remains to be seen what will come of this interesting blend of creative cultures, but in the meantime, we have the growing oeuvres of practitioners such as Zarki to delve into, and to keep us busy.

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