Featured Artworks of the Week
Interview with VanDi
This week, we conclude our winter artist interview series with Marc VanDermeer, also known as VanDi. Marc is a multidisciplinary artist with an art career spanning over 40 years working in both digital and analog formats. He is best known for his multidimensional layered collages, which draw inspiration from nature, light, and color. For Mint Gold Dust’s 79Au, Marc discusses his journey from photography and film to collage work and shares more about his new AI project.
You originally studied Film. Can you share your trajectory from Film to your collage works today?
Some of the first work I did was anti war Vietnam cut-and-paste collages. I grew up the only son of an artist and a single mother. Art was served up daily, and even though we lived in a New York apartment, we rented a basement studio on Perry Street in the west Village. I painted and made collages up to my first year of art school. Along with my art, I wrote long prose and short content. In 1971 I went to the Philadelphia College of Art (PCA), wanting to be a painter. I was really into Abstract Expressionism. I loved the work of Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler, Ashville Gorky, Robert Motherwell, and Robert Rauschenberg. Rauschenberg heavily influenced my work, especially his work with mixed media and collages; I used his technique for lifting ink off a magazine’s photo with Acetone in my collages.
I still like incorporating mixed media with photography into my work. Most of these artists worked, lived, or exhibited in New York. Many would summer in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and my mother rented a small house and studio in Provincetown in the summer. I was enrolled in a summer workshop and lived on my own during the week. I was a precocious sixteen-year-old, so it was a blast. Many of my friends were the sons and daughters of the artists I admired. I got friendly with a guy named John Waters, who was working in a bookstore in town and starting to make 16mm films in his spare time. We all used to hang out at a dance bar called “Piggies,” so I suppose the first film seeds might have been planted then. My mother and stepfather exposed me to Film at a very early age by often taking me to foreign films with subtitles. I grew up very fast. Art Schools will let you pick your major in your second year. Instead, all students are enrolled in what is known as a “foundation year”. The idea is to expose the students to drawing, painting, and sculpture before they decide what they want to major in. Before starting my first year in late August, I remember wandering around the old part of Philly and running into a crew of guys shooting a film. Serendipity struck when one of the crew asked if I could hold up a reflector to light the shot. It turned out that these guys were seniors at PCA and were making a film. Long story short, we clicked, and they took a liking to me. I did some acting in their movies and crewed in my spare time. When it came time to announce my major, I chose Film.
My painting professor Harry Soviak was very disappointed when I told him I would major in Film. He thought I was very talented and told me I would eventually return to painting. He was right. The Film department was chaired by the late and highly gifted photographer Ray K. Metzker. Photography was a required study for anyone majoring in Film. So I studied photography under Metzker, who would later be my most influential teacher. Ironically I had very little interest in photography and would do the bare minimum. Metzker took no prisoners, and in those days, there were no social norms about humiliating a student in front of the entire class, and I was known as the “Prince” because I acted like a Primadonna and didn’t do the work to back it up. That class of twenty students became superstar commercial photographers. Ray K Metzker is recognized as one of the great masters of American photography, best known for his black-and-white semi-abstract photography.
How did you first get into the NFT space from there?
I’ve always had a strong interest in tech, naturally looking to create something original. NFT Art is a relatively new art form, although it’s been around for some time. Technology and Art have been joined at the hip going back 17,000 years; early prehistoric cave dwellers discovered that charcoal, iron oxide, and Ochre could be used to paint on cave walls in southwestern France.
In March of 2021, I came across the work of two digital artists, Pak and Beeple. Beeple has been posting new pieces of Art daily since 2007, but what vaulted Beeple into NFT history was his piece “The first 5000 Days,” made up of individual art pieces spliced together like a mosaic tapestry. At the same time, it’s quite a marvel but not his best. It will be remembered for making the acronym “NFT” a part of Digital Art history after selling in a Christie’s auction. For me and many others, it piqued my interest in NFTs.
Since 2001 I began thinking of myself as a Digital Artist. One of my first shows at the Agora Gallery in New York was titled “Pixel Perfect.” Back then, I made collages out of my photographs by mixing painted elements and individual splices from my photography. My work was unique, and most people didn’t understand Digital Art. Digital photography was early in its technical cycle to be what it is today. I knew of only one other artist doing the type of work I was. Two of my earliest are titled “Metropolis” and “42nd Street.” Both comprise photo elements of textures, graffiti-rusted metal spliced together into recurring themes and color schemes to create an aesthetic whole.
Since my work is digital, NFTs are just another way to authenticate and tokenize to present my work.
NFT Art is just another extension of tech’s relationship with Art to create something new. The space is most exciting because it’s a level playing field. It brings well-deserved recognition to a new group of programmers and digital artists who the art world had yet to recognize in the past.
Can you tell us more about your upcoming project, “Love in the Time of the Robot” and your experience working with AI?
I’m currently working on a project titled “Love in the Time of the Robot,” which is an all AI prompt art project. There is much controversy around AI art, and I’m figuring out where I line up. On the one hand, AI art derives its style from the style of many great illustrators and digital artists. Then again, as in the music industry, “sampling” is now an accepted norm in hip-hop. But there are degrees as to when it stops being a “sample,” and it becomes plagiarism. I am what some artists refer to as a multidisciplinary artist in that I paint, photograph, sculpt, and film. I am currently experimenting with AI art and, therefore, have decided not to profit from any art that is created by an AI.
I’ve always been a fan of science fiction, literature, and art. I am also obsessed with Robots and how these machines will affect the future landscape. As I mentioned earlier, I used to write and thought I would be a writer despite poor grammar and spelling. Many of the art-oriented schools I attended in my youth did not focus on spelling and grammar; instead, they stressed ‘stream of consciousness.’ My writing played a big part in why I chose to major in Film over painting in college, figuring I would someday direct the movies I wrote.
When I first started experimenting with AI prompt art, I went through hundreds of pure junk images. I wanted a particular look, and my Robot had to be part metallic with lifelike features. Still, after several months of trial and error, my Robot images began to work. I wrote a short story around my concept. This was before ‘ChatGPT’ became the topic of discussion at every Thanksgiving day dinner. The open-source online program called ‘ChatGPT’ has an artificial intelligence bot that can answer questions, write essays, and program computers. The bot remembers the thread of your dialogue; it has since been changed for expediency’s sake as it kept crashing by overwhelming demand.
Still, in the early days, you could ask the bot to use your essay or story and do a rewrite, repeatedly enhancing it. I entered my story into the program and asked the AI to rewrite and improve it. I did this six times, each time editing the story and evolving it. No, there is no robot apocalypse. In my story, the Robot evolves over the years, gains sentience, and becomes more human, including our human desires.
So I now have an illustrated short story. The images revolve around the story and stages of robot development. While my views are altruistic, I gave them away in batches of one hundred which sold out on Showtime within days. Minting is free, costing fractions of a cent to mint on the Polygon MATIC platform.