Tech by VICE

The First Print Shop for Paintings Made By Bots

Red Hook, Brooklyn, is now home to Artmatr Inc., a lab where you can come with an idea for a painting and the bot will make it for you exactly as you please.

by Nadja Sayej
Jul 13 2016, 10:00am

In action. Image: Armatr

When bots make art—be it eDavid, the one-armed bot powered by a PC, or the portrait-making cloudPainter—we usually see them in action at school competitions or in online videos.

But imagine there was a setting where one can walk in and order a painting made by a bot. That's the idea behind Artmatr Inc., a new art lab that opened this month in Brooklyn.

Co-founded by New York painter Benjamin Tritt, one prototype bot paints for customers who have an idea they want to be painted.

"What would otherwise require a large studio, extensive training and a small fortune in art supplies will be reduced to a desktop, an iPad Pro and a few days of production in our service bureau—it's not too different from ordering prints in a Kinkos," said Tritt.

It's mainly for artists and art enthusiasts who want to make a painting without getting their hands dirty.

"The costly, messy, even toxic processes are now free and available on your desktop," he said. "No clean up, no consumables."

Image: Armatr

The bot has a gantry-based system with three tools to apply thick and thin oil paint in a series of layers. After starting with the software and then painting with the machine, Tritt says the user can interact with the painting while it's being painted, making corrections and additions until it's completed.

While art bots are far from mainstream, Tritt thinks they'll follow in the footsteps of digital photography.

"The tech on this is relative to where digital photography was 25 years ago and I believe the impact for painting will be similar," said Tritt.

It all began when he started experimenting with the digital painting tablet Cintiq and paint programs like ArtRage and Microsoft's FreshPaint, which are regularly used by graphic designers and illustrators, but is rarely used by visual artists.

"Although I'm trained classically and appreciating the traditions of painting, I assumed there must be a way to make these digital paintings real—not flat prints, but layered, thick paintings, indistinguishable from those done by human hands," he said.

Tritt created the bot in collaboration with faculty and students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University at Konstanz in Germany and the Pratt Institute's Consortium for Research and Robotics.

Designed to speed up the painting process, the prototype bot in Red Hook, Brooklyn, realizes the kind of traditional painting techniques that could only be possible by someone with decades of experience and a team of artist assistants.

With a tongue-in-cheek approach, Tritt sees it as free labour. "It's like having a group of assistants that never make mistakes, never sleep and never get paid, so it's art slaves, really," he said, jokingly. "So much for social evolution."

But it seems to be more about developing a field. "It's not about the technology, it's about making things better, faster, cheaper," said Tritt. "It's no different than the ways digital technology has transformed music, photography, film, architecture and design."

But why has visual art fallen behind? Tritt says over the next 10 years. We'll see more digital tools for artists.

Tritt is using the bot to make his own paintings, as well. For his upcoming exhibition at David Krut Projects in New York City opening September 29, he'll feature work made exclusively with the bot.

That's not to say that he thinks robots will ever replace artists. "Even the most advanced AI painting applications require human programmers, selection, curation and modification," he said. "It will, however, most certainly challenge our current notions of authenticity."

As Tritt gets the new lab up and running, the goal is to do more than just place orders—the priority is to create a community.

"By far the most important aspect of what we're creating is bringing artists and engineers in close proximity," he said.

"Right now, spaces such as the MIT Media Lab and Pixar are among the only places where the technical and creative domains are allowed to rub elbows. We are trying to bring that to the public domain and limit or erase the barriers of entry."

Artmatr Inc. is located at 481 Van Brunt Street Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
David Krut Projects