When I began working with the computer, I had to look closely at how it could be used within an artistic context. - Charles A. Csuri
When Csuri began working with computers to create art, he quickly discovered that his creative circles included mostly scientists, who happened to be interested in what an artist had to say about representing the phenomenal world. His primary environment was no longer an artist's studio or a scenic view. Instead, he now worked in a cleanroom, working with a mainframe computer, pressing keys, creating punch cards and relying on drum plotters to produce hard copy versions of his works. This shift in physical surroundings and professional circles, while artistically isolating, led to him become the first artist to receive funding from the National Science Foundations (NSF). NSF was so impressed with his work, that they supported his creative research for twenty years. As Margit Rosen points out, this artist amongst scientists, however, remained an artist in thought and practice. Even in his NSF proposals and reports, he never refers to the user, but to the artist.
Csuri's early works, from 1963 - 1974, are a window into the artist's way of thinking about computer art. His creative process, his intentions, and the choices he made during this period continue to influences his work to the present day. The early period also establishes a foundation for many of the themes that recur in Csuri's art and shape his creative process. These include such things as object transformation, randomness, collaboration, and hierarchical levels of control. As Csuri views and explores the aesthetic object through the lens of transformation, randomness and change, we see the underpinnings of what later will become his "creative partnership" with the computer.
During the Early Period, Csuri's art invokes drawings and sketches that he made for the purpose of transforming them with analogue and digital technologies. A balance of still and moving images result from Csuri's creative endeavors at this time, and include transformations on drawings, fragmentation animations that incorporate the idea of morphing, and real-time art objects that were interactive and foreshadow much of the gaming that is so popular today.
Csuri's work during the early period shows his artistic versatility, his skill as a researcher within the realm of art, and his exceptional ability to serve as a leader within the the sphere of interdisciplinary collaboration. In many ways, Csuri's early art and processes predict new research and development structures, as well as the collaborative underpinnings of the animation industry.
Art takes place outside of the machine. - Charles A. Csuri
Csuri's artistic development from 1989 to 1995 occurred on the heels of significant life transitions. In 1985, Csuri resigned from Cranston/Csuri Productions, Inc. In 1990, he retired from OSU as an administrator, grants writer and teacher. At the urging of his wife Lee, he returned to his passion for making art. Two issues broadly characterize Csuri's work from the middle period: 1) the merging of traditional and new media and 2) the creation of a customized, core set of artistic tools.
Merging of traditional and new media
For Csuri, traditional art and computer art are not mutually exclusive. This is particularly evident in works made by the artist from 1989 to 1992. During this time, Csuri brought his oil paintings and drawings into three-dimensional computer space with texture and bump mapping. This blending of techniques, combined with meaningful subject matter, resulted in powerful and provocative works. The traditional media gave color, texture and warmth to the more mechanical computer forms. The technology, on the other hand, offered a unique sense of dimension and atmosphere to the thick, impasto application of paint and free-flowing calligraphic sketches. Many of the works during this period embrace Expressionism through a new lens. The incorporation of his paintings and drawings, wrapped around three-dimensional geometries, extend not only Csuri's two-dimensional works, but also the best qualities of Expressionism, beyond the picture plane and into new spaces of possibilities. These works, even today, may be more accessible to the traditional art communities, since they demonstrate significant painting and drawing expertise. However, they cannot be assessed solely within a traditional context, since they pressed the aesthetic boundaries of both traditional and computer art at the time they were made. Moreover, they continue to stand as viable aesthetic objects, today.
Establishment of core artistic tools
During this time, Csuri collaborated with various programmers to create a customized set of algorithms, which the artist refers to as "tools." By 1995, his core set of programming tools included, but were not limited to, the fragmentation tools, the colormix tool, and the ribbon tool. The fragmentation tool gives Csuri the ability to experiment with the relationship between form and abstraction. It gives the artist the freedom to vary the location, degree, and intensity to which an object can be dematerialized. The colormix tool serves several functions, including the ability to create color spaces through which Csuri can place or move his objects. The ribbon tool allows Csuri to draw in three-dimensional space with calligraphic lines that reflect light and cast shadows. Csuri uses this tool to the present, creating some of his most creative and engaging works.
Several works from this period received awards and other recognition.
I learned many years ago, it takes time and experience before one becomes accustomed to a medium and tools. This is necessary before there can be any kind of flow or tempo to creative expression. - Charles A. Csuri
By 1996, Csuri had been working with computers to create art for more than thirty years. The next seven years are marked by a deepening awareness and familiarity with his core artistic tools, which he collaborated to create in the early 1990s. Csuri's intimate knowledge of his media comes from years of study and disciplined practice. But, as the artist is often keen to point out, his creativity emerges largely within the realm of play and humor.
Csuri's art during the Later Period no longer incorporates traditional media. By 1996, the artist works exclusively with the computer. Nevertheless, his knowledge of the history of art, his respect for the great masters, and his interest in visual structure continue to be a central part of his creative dialogue.
Csuri's art from 1996 is largely inspired by elements in his domestic life: children's laughter, gardens, masks, mythic symbols, commitment and love. Yet, his work never feels homespun. Instead, it stands squarely in a history of art that begins with Paul Cézanne, flows through the Pop Art movement, and emerges through the unique trajectory of computer art.
This trajectory led to the elegant Virtual Glass series, which was created between 1999 and 2000 and incorporates both still and moving images. The Virtual Glass series, like the Scribble Series of his recent works, is pure Csuri. The artist explores the reflective properties of glass, creating what seems a haute couture of the art world. Csuri's tools are carefully selected and customized to his needs. The results are elegant and captivating.
By 2001, Csuri turned his attention to his previous interests in randomness and chance, this time, in the form of generative art. 19th Century Space Station is one of his first works in the Infinity Series, and it foreshadows much of his work from 2002-2006.
The creative process works when I am able to live in a space of psychological uncertainty. - Charles A. Csuri
Csuri's work from 2002 - 2006 focuses largely on a form of Generative Art, which he refers to as the Infinity Series. This creative process, in which he shares artistic control with the computer in a hierarchical way, began with works like Random War (1967) and Feeding Time (1967). The artist also engages the notion of change and changing space within his Generative Movement works. Several of Csuri's Generative Movement pieces are on view for the first time in this exhibition.
Csuri often mentions the importance of having a "sense of the ridiculous" and "play" in his work. This may puzzle some viewers, since nothing ridiculous, cynical, or sarcastic is apparent in the final aesthetic object. Csuri's sense of the ridiculous and play are seated squarely within his personal creative process. In addition to not taking himself too seriously on a practical level, the artist also plays with the logics that serve as the underpinning for his algorithms. Through this creative exploration, he may insert numbers and combine algorithms in ways that ridiculously subvert the mathematical logics. Within this realm of shouldn't and couldn't, the artist occasionally finds surprising and intriguing results. But, trust must be garnered, since Csuri's creative process and choice of tools do not allow for real time viewing of his explorations.
Csuri has always considered the computer to be a creative partner. By 2002, their dance is increasingly effortless. There are slow waltzes and passionate tangos. There is humor and play, randomness and surprise. There is Generative Art and Generative Movement. There is Glorious Grass, Origami Flowers, and Emily's Scribbles. And, perhaps most notably, there is elegance and beauty.
As Csuri continues to explore creativity in his three-dimensional space of possibilities, he recently expressed having an increased sense of freedom. This freedom, along with the mastery of his core artistic tools, has resulted in aesthetic objects that are energetic and vibrant, yet appealing to even the staunchest of colorists. While it's difficult to pin a signature style on Csuri, there is no mistaking "a Csuri" when one sees it. Referred to as the "master of the digital renaissance" for his skillful blending of fine arts and science by Karla Loring, his years of study and training as a painter, his customized tool set, and his unique ability to see and interpret beauty, make it safe to say that there will never be another Csuri.
-by Janice M. Glowski