Embracing the Machine

By Carla Rapoport November 1, 2018

Most Lumen artists are hard to categorise. This is because they employ such disparate disciplines to make their art. A prime example of such an artist is Mark Lyons, this year’s Still Image Award winner. Mark is a Newcastle-based artist who began his professional life as a graphic designer. His first job, in fact, was a sign maker. At 23, he decided to go back to art college as a mature student and now he’s combining graphic design, traditional printing techniques and A.I. tools he’s picked up along the way to make his work.


His work perfectly reflects this varied background. To begin the process of creating his winning work, Overload (Consequences), he tapped into Google Deep Dream for the source image, did some work on it in Photoshop and exported it as a single colour half-tone. He then used Illustrator to live trace, creating an outlined version of the image. These are similar to the kind of printmaking techniques that go into making his plotter-based works. To get the density and the tone, he uses a photo-etching technique where the black is reduced in the input, in order to increase the tonal density of the final output, he explains.


Why begin with Deep Dream? “I started thinking about relinquishing some control,” he explains. “Fine art, for me, is normally small, controlled drawing and print making techniques. When I began working with machine, I was losing some of this control, to the software or the machine. And when errors happened, I liked that. I started reading about A.I. that seemed the ultimate aim of losing control to a machine, “ he says.


The technique drew the attention of the Lumen Jury Panel, with one judge commenting: This is a visually stunning (and slightly unsettling) work, due to the “machine errors” that imply a human hand.” Unlike Mario Klingemann, Lumen’s Gold Winner this year, who also employs A.I. tools, Mark doesn’t have a programming background.  “But I have read a lot about A.I. theory. Its potential is phenomenal and the concerns are great too. I like that – the sinister undertones to the use of A.I. It’s the first time I’ve outsourced any part of my work. Prior to that, it’s always been my drawings.”


The risk he took – sacrificing control to a machine – has created some real impact. As another Lumen judge comments:  “The unanticipated errors in the process … make the images incredibly rich and beautiful.” I couldn’t have said it better.

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