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‘Mechanical Hand’ by Tyler Hobbs explores the realm of generative art

The American artist discusses his debut solo exhibition at Unit London, his practice that intersects the analogue and digital, and the role of NFTs in the digital future of art.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : May 18, 2023

Tyler Hobbs is among the leading artists practising generative art right now. With Mechanical Hand at Unit London, the American artist marks his debut solo exhibition, focusing on the blend of analogue and digital art production. Mechanical Hand places at the forefront an aspect of Hobbs' art that humanises the digital and juxtaposes it with imagery created by hand.

The 20 pieces on display include paintings, drawings, and select digital artworks by the digital artist through which he attempts to manifest imperfection and vulnerability within the digital process, often viewed as absolute and infallible. Hobbs creates these through algorithmic code, regular artistic instruments and plotters, which are robotic arms that he controls through computer systems. The exhibition also places Hobbs at a watershed moment in art history—influenced by the likes of Cy Twombly and Richard Diebenkorn, who integrated generative design techniques into their art, which was primarily created by hand.

This exhibition sets the tone for what will undoubtedly be a significant year for the artist, as this was only the first of two solo exhibitions scheduled for 2023. Unit London’s offering came before QQL: Analogs, which was displayed at Pace in New York from March 20 to April 22. QQL: Analogs focuses on work created through the QQL NFT algorithm, which Hobbs has had a hand in creating along with Dandelion West, another generative artist. These are meant to be complimentary exhibitions, that together shed light on the artist’s distinct approach to creating abstract art, and through that, present the range of his creative outlet.

Detail from User Space, 2022, graphite and charcoal on paper | Tyler Hobbs | STIRworld
Detail from User Space, 2022, graphite and charcoal on paper Image: Courtesy of Tyler Hobbs and Unit London

Hobbs, who hails from Austin, Texas, has had a creative journey that is increasingly becoming part and parcel of digital arts culture: he did not originally set out to pursue his craft but found a calling through the sheer creative talent that spurred him to return to his old passion. He explains, “I grew up drawing and painting from a young age. Even early on, I felt I had some ability as an artist, and I was fortunate enough to receive private instruction from several different teachers. My drawings and paintings were representational, often dealing with figures, still life and landscapes—very traditional themes. After high school, I wanted to go to an art school, but for pragmatic reasons, my dad encouraged me to study computer science. I had already taken several programming classes and excelled in them, so it was a natural choice.”

Flow Interpretation, 2022, colored pencil on paper |Tyler Hobbs | STIRworld
Flow Interpretation, 2022, coloured pencil on paper, Tyler Hobbs Image: Courtesy of Tyler Hobbs and Unit London

After graduating with a degree in computer science, Hobbs worked as a programmer for several years and found the work both stimulating and challenging. However, he never stopped thinking about art and continued to produce pieces in his spare time as a hobbyist. Eventually, he would resume his art studies and begin creating large volumes of drawings, with the intention of becoming a full-time artist. He shares, “Back in 2014, I had the idea to make programming a part of my artwork. This was my entry into the generative space. I was fascinated by it, and within three years I had created around 500 different generative art programs. I began selling my work, as well as writing and speaking about generative art. After years of working to establish myself as an artist, I was able to support myself full-time. Some of my more prominent works like the Fidenza series helped greatly, opening many doors and allowing me to take on exciting new projects.”

Fulfilling System 1, 2020, graphite on paper | Tyler Hobbs | STIRworld
Fulfilling System 1, 2020, graphite on paper Image: Courtesy of Tyler Hobbs and Unit London

Hobbs creates little distinction between generative digital artmaking and the more classical fine arts practices. He explains that he does not see them as being separate at all, and that generative art has long been a component of many artists’ practices, in one form or another, at least. Perhaps this is what makes his work at Unit London so fascinating: instead of attempting to reconcile two separate halves, the artist sees his mission here as one of exploration, of the interstices and the middle-ground between two entities that already overlap. “Today, there is particular attention being given to generative art,” he says, “and there are a lot of exciting new developments there.” He notes that traditional fine art establishments are now taking note and learning more about this new art form, and in the long term, he expects generative methodology to influence the practice of more artists, and to become a common component of art making in the times to come. Hobbs himself stands at the forefront of these practitioners, and Fidenza, as alluded to previously, has become one of the most sought-after NFT collections thus far, with its pieces being collected around the world.

Delicate Futures, 2022, watercolour on paper| Tyler Hobbs | STIRworld
Delicate Futures, 2022, watercolour on paper Image: Courtesy of Tyler Hobbs and Unit London

It should not come as any surprise then that Hobbs places great faith in the power of the NFT. “I believe that NFTs are the way that digital art will be collected moving forward. That much feels obvious to me at this point. Furthermore, I believe digital art will rise in prominence to at least rival, if not exceed, physical art. That means that before too long, the bulk of important art collection will happen via NFTs," he comments. It is unclear what exactly the artist’s scope is when he says ‘exceed’ but one can assume that this statement refers to far more than financial value alone. Artists such as Hobbs are able to express a great deal of intimacy and vulnerability through the digital process, in ways that may not be apparent immediately. It will be fascinating to see where the machine takes art production, but even more so, where humans find themselves situated within this fast-growing field.

Artist Portrait, 2022, photograph | Tyler Hobbs | STIRworld
Artist portrait, 2022, photograph Image: Courtesy of Tyler Hobbs and Unit London

When asked where he wishes to take his work in the foreseeable future, Hobbs expresses a desire to focus instead, on the here and now. He explains his motivations, saying, “I try not to think too many steps ahead. Each new art project is an experience of discovery for me. The one constant is that I enjoy learning and experimenting, so new techniques and challenges will surely play a role.”

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