Dan Cooper

When the Apple II personal computer became available around 1980, before the advent of digital paint applications, I learned how to create visual imagery by programming in BASIC.

I wrote my code using mathematical formulas, always including variables with random numbers chosen by the processor.

My algorithms would first choose a series of unpredictable values and assign them to my x,y,z's and a,b,c's. Then it would plug them into an equation and draw an image on the white and black screen. When that was completed, it would loop back to the top of the program and begin again repeating the process, with newly chosen variables, merging visual layers, overwriting and cutting through the previous content.

If, for example, I was working with ellipses, I could allow the computer to randomly draw them filled solid in black or white, or just outlined, or filled with vertical or horizontal lines. The algorithm would choose random sizes, positions and orientations. As the program ran there was often interesting debris left in the form of isolated pixels or jaggy lines.

Writing a program was not an all-at-once creation. I would tweak the ranges available for each randomly chosen variable in response to what I saw on the screen. I never started with a visual idea, but rather a mathematical or geometrical one. I asked, "what if I did this'' I thought of my process as planting a seed in the processor and letting it grow. When you plant an acorn, you know you will get an oak tree, but you don't know exactly what it will look like. I thought of my algorithms as the DNA of a visual image, with unpredictable results.

I would watch the screen as the images evolved in an ever changing picture. When I saw a momentary composition that spoke to me, I would stop the program and save the image. It was fascinating, but not fully satisfying to me as an a fine artist used to working with physical materials. Most other computer artists were engineers with an artistic bent. Their way of making their images tangible was to take a picture of the computer screen. In contrast I am an artist with a mathematical bent.

When the first dot-matrix printers became available, I could finally bring my creative results into the 'real' world. This was a big step, but all I really had was a low-resolution black and white image on flimsy printer paper, about two by three inches. I took my printouts to a blueprint company and had them enlarged 1000%, (to about 20' x 30') onto clear film positives. Then, using a photo sensitive emulsion on the tightly stretched silkscreen fabric, I was able to transform my computer image into stencils. This way, I could, squeegee my image onto a large sheet of heavy watercolor paper, and later, on canvas.

At this point, I would start to work with colors, and cut additional screens by hand to coordinate with the enlarged dot-matrix images. I usually used colors that blended from side to side or top to bottom or both.

Later on, I began working on my screens by hand, alternately painting with a brush and squeegeeing, creating melded images, with the computer image maintaining structure which allowed the handwork to be spontaneous and expressionistic.

Dan Cooper's AutoGallery exhibit