An engineer pursuing art

We chatted to Herman Pretorius from Pretoria who won a merit award at the Sasol New Signatures 2022 competition for his piece called Instructures. 

What was your reaction when you heard that you are one of the seven winners in the Sasol New Signatures competition?
On a Friday afternoon at 4pm, I received the news. I wasn’t expecting any calls, so it was a welcome surprise! I was relieved and very excited, to say the least. I put a lot of effort into the work, and being selected has proven to me that hard work can pay off.

Is this the first time you have entered? I entered twice, last year and this year.

Tell us about your artistic journey up until the point of entering Sasol New Signatures 2022.
In 2017 I was inspired to create some collage works on weekends. I experimented with many ideas and techniques using fragments of text from books to create images of objects like rocks, cubes, spheres etc. Over three years, I completed many works, each work a natural progression of previous works. The fragments I use are very small, so completing individual artwork is a very slow process. All of these works are in black and white and satisfy my desire to achieve vivid graphic images with clean and crisp lines.

In 2020 I was looking for ways to include colour in my work, and this search led me to start drawing with ink and coloured pencils on graph paper. I was interested in isometric shapes and structures that are built up by following pre-defined rules but in random order. It was faster to complete drawings than collage works but still too slow to get a decent range of interesting results within a reasonable time.

Drawing by following these rules naturally led me to start writing software that could generate many images much faster according to to set instructions but with randomness introduced to achieve variety in outputs. Creating art in this fashion where an autonomous software program creates many outputs with a recognisable common character is called generative art, and it was first practised in the 60s with the arrival of easier access to computers. All my work has been done on weekends, allowing me to slowly progress, and entering New Signatures in 2021 was the first time I felt that my work was ready to be shared with a wider audience than family and friends.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career as an artist to date?
Growing up in the 90s and early 2000s, I was fascinated with all the new imagery made available by computers, TV games, the Internet, music videos, CD album covers, skateboarding magazines, street art etc. I aim to create simplified and more minimalist art that draws inspiration from all the imagery I have consumed through these mediums throughout my life.

Why did you create the piece you submitted?
My artwork, Instructures, is a computer program I created to explore the endless and diverse outcomes when a minimal and straightforward set of instructions are followed to build structures out of cubes. Even though the program is focused on generating unique structures, the additional variations in scale, composition, colour, viewing angle and drawing style create an even wider array of generative outcomes. Some outputs are recognisable as three-dimensional isometric drawings, whilst others are more abstract. The unique artworks are also meant to be used as points of departure for creating new artworks using methods of drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpting, etc. My aim with Instructures is to strike a balance between traditional art and the more technical nature of computers and programming art by blending visual cues from both disciplines. I hope that the works can be appreciated by audiences from both these worlds.

Your preferred mediums are?
Programming and drawing are the two mediums I use most often. I also use collage and woodwork. I have been painting on and off, and there is still a lot I need to explore and learn about painting. I prefer mediums that allow me a certain level of control to achieve clean and crisp end results. Hence the uses of software that I can edit and improve until the results reflect exactly what I have in mind. Working in a couple of different mediums also satisfies my need to step away from my ideas for short periods so that I can process my thoughts and allow things to settle into place without rushing the process.

When people view your work – what response are you hoping to create?
I hope the images delight and surprise people. I aim to trigger people’s curiosity. The interactive part of the work allows viewers to see how the software generates new images on the computer screen. I’m hoping people will interact with the installation computer, wanting to see just one more generated image every time they press the space bar to generate an image. The possible images are infinite. I also hope that people would look at the individual works up close, see interesting shapes, patterns, and anomalies, and wonder how the pieces fit together to create the structures in the images. Seeing the images together, viewers should wonder how they are related and how they differ, and also be intrigued by how it is that software creates these images as they might as well have been conceived and created individually by the artist without the backing of a computer program.

Why do you think your work was chosen as a top 7?
I think the interactive installation that enables viewers to generate new compositions on screen is something that perhaps hasn’t necessarily been seen at this competition. Generative art as a concept is also relevant to the times we are living in, where we all crave constant stimulation and “new” experiences all the time … almost non-stop. Apart from the interactive aspect, the individually printed artworks on the wall are meant to be valid stand-alone artworks that can be appreciated alone or in a selection together. I paid a lot of attention to the execution details of my installation, from the software that I wrote to the quality of paper and printing, up to the choice of frames and framers. I believe that the work I entered has many layers to explore and will satisfy casual viewers and also be appreciated by the more curious and technically minded.

What are you currently working on?
I am working on a couple of ideas I’ve been contemplating and slowly developing over the last year. It involves computer programming, sculpture, painting, drawings and animation.

Which South African artists do you admire and why?
Gerhard Marx, Conrad Botes, Willem Boshoff, Serge Alain Nitegeka, Maja Maljevic, Paul Senyol, Asha Zero and Eduardo Villa, to name a few — all these artists produce art that is very bold, bright, and graphic, with many layers to look at and consider. Their art allows you to come back again and again without getting bored, noticing something new every time.

Anything else you would like to add?
Thank you to Sasol New Signatures for hosting this competition every year. Entering the competition has motivated me to put in the time and effort to create works of art that I am truly proud of.


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