Austin Caskie Explores Generative Portraits

Austin Caskie seeks to modernize portraitures, archiving technological strides in artificial intelligence along the way.  

Austin Caskie’s paintings, featured in the “Submerged” exhibition at The Mahler, are an exploration of machine intelligence and serve as a direct reference to the automatic drawing experiments of the 20th Century.

[Related Content: "Submerged” Exhibit to Notice the Unnoticed]

“The thesis for my work is really that the implementation of A.I. and computer technology is a cultural equivalent to the ideas of Freud and Jung,” Caskie says. “While the invention of the unconscious was essential to artists of the 20th century, 21st century machine intelligence presents contemporary artists with a new consciousness to make art with.” Caskie, is a recent college graduate from the NC State School of Design.

Caskie’s work originated through a relatively complex process, using a photogrammetry tool he generates a 3D model from photographs. The subject could be anything, but by rushing the process of converting the 30-something photos into a single 3D model he forces the computer to make mistakes.

“Sometimes the subject is really warped and sometimes it’s a small thing like the computer not knowing a person’s glasses are not physically part of their face,” he says. After the computer builds the model it saves all of the color data into a couple of jpeg files. This file is what Caskie is painting, warping and all.

“The errors we see between the tool’s output and the tool’s input, are a form of creativity – the program is being creative. Its making abstractions from an outside stimulus much like an artist, but I intervene by painting the computer’s output, with the idea of a role reversal,” he Caskie. “I am working as a printer for the computer who makes the broad creative decisions regarding the work.”

He had just finished the frame for the portrait, rendered by the photogrammetry program which allows Caskie to be the second hand generator for the computer; role-reversal.

Caskie’s in-progress piece for Submerged.

Caskie translates the computer’s spatial awareness and transfers the visual with an painterly lens. “By painting the computer’s production, I naturally change the way it looks,” he explains. “I’m making my own errors on top of the computer’s mistakes. It’s like a flawed copy of a flawed copy.” 

In the 21st century we have seen technology play an integral role in the process of making art. Through glitch art and various forms of web-kitsch, artists are expressing a continued fascination with making generative pieces using the web, artificial intelligence, or some other form of technology in their works.

He went to NC State to study Animation and New Media because he knew he not only wanted to make art, but also learn marketable skills.

“I liked Raleigh and knew that at State I could take a huge variety of classes, as opposed to what I would have with a curriculum at an art school,” he says. “The Art and Design program breaks down into animation and fibers, and given my interests, I opted for animation where I learned the Adobe Suite, 2D animation, 3D modeling software and game programming.”

College offered Caskie the opportunity to visit Prague, where he studied Bohemian Glass Techniques. “It’s cheesy but I changed a lot while I was over there,” says Caskie. “Traveling is a lot of constant stimulus and I am so glad I got to do it the way I did.”

Unfortunately, the majority of his glass sculptures did not survive the 9-hour plane ride home, but he has this head to show for the experience.

Cast Glass Sculpture made in Prague, Caskie.

Caskie had some other opportunities that also helped lay the groundwork for where he is today as an artist, like a studio internship for Shaun Richards, where once a week he’d visit Shaun’s studio and prep work for paintings, shipping, and research.

“The best part was that I got to sit there with a real painter and ask questions and watch him paint,” he remembers. “I learned a lot from him and picked up a few habits.”

Later, Caskie began an internship at Flanders – today, known as Lump – and got to work with Kelly McChesney and Brandon Cordrey installing shows and routine gallery maintenance.

Caskie says he remembers how much he learned. “It was a cool gig; I got to meet a lot of people like Derek Tomes, Greg Lindquist, and Damian Stamer. I also got to see what it was like from the gallery’s point of view, having that perspective always makes you a better artist.”

In 2016, Caskie began work as an intern with The Mahler Fine Art. “My time with The Mahler has been really a positive thing for me,” he says. “By spending time working both at Flanders [n[now LUMP]nd The Mahler I was able to have a survey of gallery experience.”

Since graduation, he has kept up some with animation but is mainly focused on painting and video games, and a lot of coding. A new endeavor for Caskie will be teaching game design with the Forge Initiative. His advice to those that are soon to be unleashed from University structure and grades? “Keep making things.”

“The motivation to make leaves a lot of people after school; no faculty is looking at your work or reviewing your progress,” he says. “And even if you graduate into a dream job, making work outside of the job really contributes to your continued growth and keeps you flexible.

“Engaging with the work in your own backyard is the best thing you can do for yourself. Seeing art as an artist can be almost as important as making it. The best way to build a community is to just show up.”

Caskie is currently featured at LUMP in “Waves to Live By,” curated by Conner Calhoun. 

For now, Caskie’s digitally based paintings are a means to document the evolution of AI and continue exploring painting and technology: @austincaskie


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