GH: We're so curious to find out: who are you, where are you from, and what do you do?
Paolo: My name is Paolo Čerić. I was born, raised, and still living in Zagreb, Croatia. On paper, I am a Computer Science graduate currently working as a research engineer in a machine learning based company, and that's what I do during the day. The rest of my time I spend working on my art and developing my skills in that aspect. I have always been split between these two seemingly different fields, art and science, but I chose to pursue engineering as my professional career because at that time my interest in art wasn't focused on one particular form, so it didn't make sense to me to commit myself to a particular art department. I think it was a wise choice because I discovered that there is actually a lot of overlap between science/engineering and art, and many techniques that I learned in my education and profession proved to be very useful for my art creation, it being photography, generative art, drawings, installations, etc.
"I'm always interested in exploring the connection between regularity found in math and the scientific approach, and the irregularity and the organic nature of the world around us."
GH: What is the underlying philosophy behind your work?
Paolo: As previously mentioned, I've always found myself somewhere between science and art, and I think that fact reflects in my works. I mostly get my inspiration from science and exploration of math, algorithms, and natural phenomenons, but much of it also comes from everyday life and the things that surround me. Although the inspiration often comes from my analytical side, the actual creation of my works is mostly dictated by my creative side with which I shape them in order to satisfy my creative standards. It is also important to realize that complex algorithms and ideas don't necessarily result in great works of art, and the opposite also holds. I find that interesting because, in order to make a certain piece, one must also invest their creative skills to actually communicate their inner thoughts and ideas about art.
GH: Can you pick an artwork and describe your workflow?
Paolo: This one is my latest piece in which I wanted to explore the aesthetics and a play between regular and irregular shapes.
I started with producing stacked arrays of letters with varying densities per each row. There were some nuances to work on to make the drawing well balanced, and there were a number of edge cases to be solved to avoid glitches and undesirable patterns. This drawing was the first step, and it represented the regular component of the piece.
The second step was to make a number of instances of the first component and apply random 2D transformations (translate, rotate, scale) to it. To each of those instances, I attributed a unique color which would later be used for masking the shapes. Then I created a mask generator which creates a mask consisted of a number of randomly parametrized polygons that were colored using only the colors that were attributed to the drawings in the previous step.
The third and final step was to mask each drawing by cutting out only the parts of it which were contained in the drawing's corresponding color in the mask.
To get more technical, all of the described steps were completely automated and written in Python using libraries like numpy, opencv, svgwrite, and other. The reason this project was a bit more complicated than it could have been is the fact that I wanted to be able to plot the graphic using the AxiDraw machine. That required implementing a method for masking the paths with given shapes. If I were working with only raster data, that task would be as simple as a multiplication of images using opencv, but since I was dealing with vector data I needed to iterate over each curve in the drawing and check the corresponding value of the mask at that position, and depending on the value I would either use the whole path, trim the path, cut out a piece of the path, or not use it at all. This was really fun to work on because some parts of it really felt like solving a puzzle.
It is also important to mention that although I could have masked the drawings by manually cutting out the shapes using Illustrator or Inkscape, the automatisation of the whole process allowed me to quickly iterate through many different randomly produced pieces, which is very important because it offers me a great number of samples to choose from and makes the curation process more productive.
GH: What's been inspiring you lately?
Paolo: As demonstrated in my latest piece, I'm always interested in exploring the connection between regularity found in math and the scientific approach, and the irregularity and the organic nature of the world around us. I think these two worlds, when combined, can produce unique and interesting works.
One of the artists that I would like to mention is the Norwegian artist Anders Hoff (Inconvergent). His works are based on very interesting algorithms that have influenced some of my work. I would also like to point out Andrew Heumann, his 2D representations of 3D geometry are very interesting and the volume and quality of his work are impressive.
GH: Tell us about your setup. Where do you create? What tools do you use? Paolo: Since the creation of most of my works is purely digital, I can develop ideas wherever I can bring my laptop. When it comes to plotting them, using the aforementioned AxiDraw plotter, I do it at my home. I've been lucky to find a metal sheet of the exact same size as the table at which I'm plotting, which allowed me to have a clean setup that only requires small magnets to hold the paper that I'm plotting on. The pen that I mostly use for plotting black on white is Pigma Micron in various sizes, but I have many similar pens that I use as a backup. For plotting white on black, the only pen that allowed me to have successful plots is Sakura Gelly Roll.
Since the actual process of plotting requires the computer to be connected to the plotter via USB, it constrains the possible movement of the computer, so I've bought a Raspberry Pi on which I've installed the command-line tool for running the plotting software. That way I can move freely with my laptop and initiate the plotting process by connecting to the RPI via SSH protocol from wherever I want.
As for the tools that I use to create my works, at first, I mostly used Cinema 4D for some of my 3D animation works, and Processing for everything else, but nowadays I am mostly using Python and Blender (with its wonderful Python API). There are also many other software that I use for some intermediate and/or final steps, like Photoshop, Illustrator, and Inkscape.
I would also like to point out that artists should not be afraid to learn new tools and concepts, because even if you never actually use them, there is always some knowledge that you'll pick up from them and find useful for your work. That's why I also spend much time reading and watching lessons and tutorials about things that are seemingly far from my field, but every now and then they result in new ideas and inspiration for my work.
– Paolo Čerić, Zagreb, Croatia