ApeiroPattern is generative art*, created with a method developed by Alex Russell. It uses code (computer programming) to produce artworks from a library of pre-prepared images. Alex builds the library using a range of different media, including drawing, painting, collage and photography. The code combines a range of pattern-making and compositional rules that draw on all facets of Alex’s creative experience. It produces outputs that can cover an area of any size with ever-different pattern. “Apeiro” is Greek for unlimited or boundless.

The ApeiroPattern artworks are built in collections that share the same code and image library. Every time the code runs, a unique ApeiroPattern is created. The prints or other outputs are one-off works of art, not reproductions. Each one does not exist in any other format; if you have one, no-one else’s will be the same. The first collection is called A Scheme Not Of This World. You can find out more about it here. The second will launch soon; it’s called Endlich Nach Zahn.

* Generative means created from a series of instructions that have scope for unpredictable things to happen. The instructions are written in a way that takes control away from the artist, giving the artwork itself autonomy. They are often an algorithm and carried out by a computer, but they don’t have to be. Philip Galanter’s academic-but-approachable “What is Generative Art? Complexity Theory as a Context for Art Theory” is a good place to learn more about Generative Art. He presented it at the 2003 International Conference on Generative Art. This is an ongoing showcase organised by Celestino Soddu. His 1987 La Citta’ Ideale project created generative Italian medieval towns and is a particular favourite of Alex’s.

ApeiroPattern generative art library, code and two outputs from A Scheme Not Of This World by Alex Russell
A Scheme Not Of This World: image library, code and two outputs
BA, MA, freelance and Repeatless generative art by Alex Russell
Generative artworks: BA, MA, freelance and Repeatless

The story of ApeiroPattern generative art

Alex has used a wide range of approaches to art and design; ApeiroPattern crystallises pretty much all of them. He trained as a printed textile designer and has extensive experience of creating and teaching print and surface pattern. He began making images with code in the early 1980s and has made widespread use of digital image applications since the early 1990s. Alex started exploring generative processes during his BA, using dice-throws to choose between a range of different colour, composition and content possibilities. He first incorporated scientific concepts into his working processes during his MA, initially using chaos theory. Alongside this, he has drawn and painted his whole life.

Whilst working as a freelance designer, he began applying generative methods to design in the mid-2000s, setting limits of randomness within which design content could occur or repeatedly looping simple image manipulation processes. A couple of years later, as a lecturer, Alex started to develop the idea of code using pre-existing images. Initially, he used very simple patterns (spots and stripes) to create complex artwork. As this took shape, it became an academic research project called Repeatless. The project made extensive use of complex systems theory, giving Alex’s interest in science a central role in his practice. At the heart of Repeatless were two concepts. Firstly, that digital printing technology eliminated the need for repeat. Secondly, that code could generate a potentially endless stream of ever-changing pattern.

ApeiroPattern now

ApeiroPattern generative art combines and extends all these approaches. Alex creates large libraries of images and writes code that arranges them to create artwork. The rules (algorithms) that govern how this composition happens include compositional techniques used by a range of different creative fields. These include printed textile design, graphic design and fine art. Each rule has parameters within which a range of outcomes can happen. The rules are inter-woven. As the code runs, the parameters change to reflect the in-process content of the image. Without giving too much away, the overall intention is getting the rules to create a balanced final output. Alex’s goal is to make all the elements in the artwork talk to each other in a way that ensures the final image’s content and composition hits a sweet spot of quality.

In other words, Alex develops quite-probably-overly-complex ways of making images, in the hope that they will be good ones.

Geek corner

The coding for ApeiroPattern mostly uses ExtendScript, a language developed by Adobe® to use with its applications (in Alex’s case, mainly Photoshop®). ExtendScript, er, extends the possibilities of Javascript. He also uses the Processing environment, developed by Casey Reas and Ben Fry at MIT. If you want to explore creative coding, Processing is an excellent place to start. Find out more at processing.org

Sketchbook, development, image library and output illustrating generative art process used by Alex Russell
Generative art process: sketchbook, development, image library, final output