VES3L Interview

“New World #177” by VES3L

Who are you?

My name is Vincent, but I go by VES3L. I’m a generative artist based in New York City, with a focus on long-form generative art. I have a software engineering background and a Master’s Degree in Computer Science, yet I spend many of my weekends attending art museums. VES3L is a hacker-culture adaptation of the word “vessel,” in this case a container that receives and contains inspiration and purpose. Oh, and the word sounds similar to my actual name.

When did you start making generative art?

I started making generative art in 2019 shortly before my master’s program. At the time, I was having difficulty connecting to other people about my passion for code. My friends came from non-technical backgrounds and I couldn’t really talk about why I enjoyed programming a compiler, writing software libraries, or practicing competitive coding problems. And to some extent, I was having an identity crisis as well. I’ve always been creative (I also have an English-Lit degree and was an avid essayist), so that part of me was still very much alive and yearning for an outlet.

I decided that killing two birds with one stone made the most sense and I delved into the more visual world of generative art and p5.js. My first project was Fractal Tree based and evolved into Seedlings—a collection I have yet to release. When I showed the initial outputs to my friends, they immediately got it—though they couldn’t understand the code, they were amazed that it created something beautifully incomprehensible in its visual complexity. I knew at that moment that genart would be a major part of my life, so I purposely took relevant courses (Computer Graphics, Computational Geometry, etc.) and began to attend museums more often looking for future inspiration.

What does generative art mean to you?

Generative art is the union of computational processes with aesthetic beauty. And for the work to be truly sublime (in terms of Schopenhauer’s use of the word) both elements should exist in equal measure. Schopenhauer described the sublime aesthetic as something not only beautiful, but also so grand and incomprehensible that it threatens a person’s notion of the self. I believe that genart can be sublime—it should make a person question their preconceptions of what qualifies as art, which was traditionally centered on the human as a creator.

“Intertwined #204” by VES3L

The way I approach this is, I want the viewer to believe (at least for a split second) that the work was made directly by a human…before the ultimate realization that it could have only been made with a machine. This acts as a kind of artistic Turing test. One way this can be accomplished is by adding computational precision and complexity while maintaining a degree of randomness to simulate human error and our desire for it. Equally important, the work should be beautiful, and we have art history as a reference point for that. Ultimately, generative art should be at least as beautiful as traditional art and should deserve a place alongside it in a gallery.

My aim is to embody these principles in even a single piece from a collection, and all of my work so far has been built from this philosophy. I also keep this in mind as a benchmark when collecting generative art, which motivated me to mint Zancan’s “Garden, Monoliths” before its meteoric rise.

How did you hear about FxHash?

My friend, who was involved with the NFT community before me, told me that the majority of the genart NFT discourse took place on Twitter. I wasn’t an active social media user before, but I understood that to get my work in front of my contemporaries, I needed to join. When I joined Twitter and discovered all of the excitement around the ArtBlocks platform, I thought that the next step would be to apply. Unfortunately, ArtBlocks applications weren’t open so all I could do was publish my work on Twitter with no means to monetize it.

But one day, as I was browsing through my feed, I saw a post about FxHash and decided to take a look. What I found was a non-curated genart platform on Tezos where anyone could drop. At first, I was a little cautious with my expectations (some things seem too good to be true) but soon thereafter SPACEFILLER, ge1doot, and Piter Pasma dropped. These were all artists whom I respect, and I knew then that FxHash was something special. I soon became an avid collector, and when looking for a place to drop my genesis collection, Intertwined, FxHash was naturally the first choice.

“Intertwined” by VES3L

What inspired the idea for your Genesis work “Intertwined”?

Intertwined was inspired by my desire to create a collection with complex shape overlap that would still be physically consistent. The idea came to me after admiring Anna Lucia’s Loom collection. I wondered, how can I make two or more paths entwine such that they overlap each other many times in an arbitrary ordering? What followed was an implementation of a maze building algorithm with multiple layers that acted more like space filling curves. I also played around with the thematic idea of simulating vines growing on buildings, but I decided to move in a more abstract embroidery-like direction while retaining influences from that foundation. The rectangular areas (what I call “windows”) containing representational glyphs (people, eyes, mouths) were added to break up the visual busyness of many intersecting paths, but also to refer to the original intention of simulating a building’s facade. Since Intertwined pieces start with an animation, the viewer witnesses the paths grow over and between the windows, reinforcing that the people within are connected, or “intertwined.”

As is often the case with my work, I start with some algorithmic idea, and meaning follows soon after a period of intense experimentation with the algorithm’s capabilities and self-reflection induced by pondering on the outputs.

How did you know when the work was ready for the site?

The point at which I think a collection is ready is when I have pushed the underlying algorithm to its creative limits—when I have lost control of the algorithm during experimentation and gained it back during final refinement. With Intertwined, I felt as if I covered all the creative ground I could have, between the path sizes, how the path’s overlap, the color and contrast of the color palettes, etc. while retaining a cohesive creative narrative.

Nevertheless, a part of me gets obsessive with making things just right when nearing a drop. Ultimately, a long-form generative artist has to be able to cede control—unlike a 1 of 1 artist, a long-form artist’s work is created without direct input through random processes. The way I counteract the anxiety this unpredictability causes is by generating thousands of test outputs shortly before dropping to convince myself that the RNG gods are with me and that the drop mints will be sufficiently similar to the tests.

“Intertwined #181” (rarest edition) by VES3L

How did you feel about the exceptionally positive reception the piece received on the primary and secondary market?

I am amazed to say the least. Intertwined sold out in under 5 minutes and is even featured on the skillfully curated http://fxtender.art as one of the “icons” of FxHash. In passing, I still see mentions of the collection on the FxHash Discord server in a similar vein. The Intertwined secondary market has also done well and just recently picked up again. The response to Intertwined proved to me that my work would be valuable to others (an anxiety I struggled with prior).

And regardless of market performance, receiving so much appreciation from dedicated fans has been more than amazing for me. My ultimate goal is to produce quality work that does something unique within the context of genart and helps (if even a little bit) legitimize it as a serious medium— viewers appreciating and discussing what I create is an automatic win in my book.

Your recent work “New World” is stunning and made entirely in p5.js. Did this work start with planning or did you just dive into the coding process?

Thank you for the kind words! For New World, the creative process started with the algorithm. The origin of New World actually goes quite far back. I first implemented the foundational algorithm, called Dual Contouring, in a Computational Geometry course. Back then I did it in 3D and with the Unity game engine. Because I had really enjoyed writing the algorithm, my intention was to rewrite it for 2D in JavaScript and see if I could make a novel long-form collection with it.

Dual Contouring, like its better-known sibling algorithm Marching Squares, is often used to generate procedural terrain. But the cliff-like aesthetic for New World actually came from a bug I introduced the first day of implementing the algorithm. During the process of filling in land areas, I totally ignored selecting the correct ordering of the area’s vertices. What happened was that the renderer would attempt to fill all the vertices from top-to-bottom left-to-right without considering where a shape ends or begins. This process created the distinct triangular shading of the cliff faces. In the words of painter Bob Ross, it was a “happy accident.” Generative art tends to be “emergent,” insofar that unexpected results arise.

“New World #13” by VES3L

After experimenting a bit more with the code, I decided to retain the shadow bug, draw the contours (the outlines on the land), and fill the land green, thereby forming the basis for New World’s aesthetic. All the other ideas and features, including perspectives, distortions, masks, and gradients were added thereafter with the intention of evoking surrealistic cliff motifs.

What was the goal or message with “New World”?

Shortly after I started working on New World, the invasion of Ukraine began. This news hit me particularly hard and greatly slowed down my creative productivity. Then, suddenly, working on New World became a way to cope and channel the weight of these emotions into something productive and beneficial.

The editions with perspective distortions were added to mirror the way I saw the world change. The red gradient “mists” editions were intended to be “blood” red. The perspective distortions, and what some have remarked on as the work’s surreal quality, was directly influenced by the war. I realized that a new world can arise from a process of destruction (war) or creation (art). In a more optimistic direction, I later added the green and blue gradients to reference the RGB color system, from which every color on a digital display is formed—the bedrock of generative art.

Like many other Tezos artists, I made the decision to use the collection as a vehicle for tangible good and donated 5% of the primary sale proceeds to Ukrainian humanitarian aid funds.

Why did you choose a Dutch auction format for the minting of “New World”?

Let me preface this by saying this is not financial advice. Dutch Auctions (DA) are a tool to help artists maximize the sales volume of a collection. By effectively creating a range of prices within a collection, the collection will find its optimal price point for all interested collectors. The higher initial prices will attract collectors who are willing to pay more to increase the likelihood of successfully collecting. As the price drops, the collection becomes more accessible to a broader range of collectors. The likelihood of the collection completely minting therefore also increases with a Dutch Auction. Given that I don’t drop that often (as compared to some other FxHash artists) it was important for me to price the collection correctly.

In addition, FxHash tends to have flipping (buying only to speculatively sell soon after). The lower the price point the less risk the flippers take on, increasing the likelihood of them collecting. Don’t get me wrong, a healthy secondary market needs some degree of flipping, but if there are more flippers than there are long-term holders then supply exceeds demand and hurts the secondary market for everyone. So, the Dutch Auction allowed me to list with a higher starting price, thereby selling more editions to dedicated collectors who would prefer to keep them for the long-term.

“New World #179” (rarest) by VES3L

What do you have planned for the future?

Firstly, I want to release a spinoff collection of New World variants that didn’t make it into the original New World. This will likely be airdropped to New World holders and raffled off. I haven’t yet finalized these plans—follow me on Twitter

@VES3L for updates.

Then I have several other long-form collections I was working on prior to New World that I’m hoping to still release…if I don’t get distracted and start hacking away on a new project before then. Tempest and Seedlings would likely be next. If you’d like to see some of the preliminary work from these collections, check out my site: http://ves3l.com.

I would also love to get more into the physical side of genart, whether it be prints or plotting. I have an Axidraw Plotter which I have used only lightly. I think Seedlings would be a perfect fit for a plottable collection. My collections also support arbitrarily high resolutions, so printing in large formats would be awesome as well.

Honestly, the future is so exciting. There is so much inspiration, so many algorithms to write, so much experimenting to do.

Is there anyone you’d want to shoutout?

I’d like to give a shout-out to FxHash and all the amazing artists and collectors on it. The development of the platform is quite an accomplishment, and I’m pretty bullish for its future relevance for long-form generative art. To anyone who hasn’t seen the wonderful work dropping on FxHash, take a look at http://fxtender.art for curated lists of top-notch collections and just spend an evening browsing the platform. I guarantee you; you’ll find something that absolutely amazes you.

I also want to give a shoutout to those that give me feedback on my work, especially during the testing process—you play an important part in helping me decide which directions to take a collection into.

And a final shoutout to all supporters my work, you help give it meaning.

Anything else?

Thank you The Artist John for giving me a platform to share my thoughts and for asking all of the right questions. I can’t wait to see who is interviewed next, and what is in store for generative art!

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