Charles Csuri, whose experiments with computers in the 1960s made him a key figure in the history of digital art, has died aged 99. An announcement from Ohio State University in Columbus, where Csuri had long served as a professor of arts education and computer science. , said he died on Sunday, but did not provide a cause of death.
Csuri’s work has been considered unclassifiable – neither artistic enough for some to be classified as art, nor digitally oriented enough for others to be considered to belong to the world of technology. Despite the adversity he described throughout his career, Csuri found admirers for the unusual ways he fused traditional artistic practices such as painting with algorithms, programming, and more.
In various writings about his career, historians have called him the “father of computer art” and, in a 1998 article New York Times profile Csuri has described himself as “the first artist with serious artistic credentials to work with the computer”. In another profile from three years earlier, Smithsonian Magazine stated that Csuri “could be the closest thing, in this new art form, to an old master”.
Although he may never have been properly investigated in a major museum, Csuri’s status in the history of digital art is virtually undisputed. He is acclaimed for works such as Humming-bird (1968), a computer-generated animation of a bird whose image appears to double and separate. Comprised of over 30,000 individual images, the film was made through a labor-intensive process that involved an IBM 704 computer creating images of the hummingbird. Each image contained information for a drum plotter which, when fed into it, translated each into a pen drawing.
Originally commissioned for a series of computer-generated films accompanying the Museum of Modern Art exhibition “The Machine Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age”. Humming-bird was one of the first works of its kind to enter the collections of this New York institution. Art historian Christiane Paul called the film a “landmark of computer-generated ‘animation'” in her genre-defining 2003 book. digital art.
Despite Csuri’s reputation in some artistic circles, he claimed few recognized his importance. Indeed, the only Csuri work held by the MoMA remains Humming-bird. In 1967, when an OSU professor tried to get art forum to publish an article on Csuri, Philip Leider, the publication’s then-editor, replied, “I can’t imagine ARTFORUM ever doing a special on electronics or computer art, but you never know. “
“I think I’m a pretty damn good artist, and I don’t think a lot of people know that,” Csuri told the Times in 1995.
Charles Csuri was born on July 4, 1922 in West Virginia. He then went to school at Ohio State University, where he was put on a track to become a professional football player. In 1944, he was selected in the NFL Draft to join the Chicago Cardinals, although he had given up the opportunity to serve in the United States Army during World War II. During the war he was exposed to mathematics, algebra and technology which he would later adopt as a professional artist.
From 1947 he began teaching at OSU, where for a time he shared an office with pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, who had not yet become famous for the pop paintings he painted. would later achieve with what appeared to be Ben-Day points. . At the time, Csuri was working in what might be called a more traditional mode, producing abstract paintings that would later feature in the Venice Biennale. But that all changed in 1964, when he saw a computer portrait that was printed in an OSU publication. He enrolled in a programming course and started doing his own computer art. Later, he would ask others to do the programming for him, further emphasizing the fact that he considered himself an artist first and foremost.
Csuri’s early period work – distorted portraits formed from sine waves, a progression of computer-generated images showing an aging person – can seem entirely digital. In fact, he saw in it a translation of what he was already doing in painting. He then accentuated this idea when, in the 90s, he began to make works that used bump mapping (a type of imagery capable of detecting changes in texture on a surface) to digitally visualize abstractions. One of these works Gossip (1987-1991), which features an array of multicolored forms that dissolve into ribbons, involved scanning a painting and then redoing it again in a digital vacuum. It received a $100,000 Distinction Award from the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria.
Late-career recognition came in 1998 in the form of a retrospective organized by Siggraph, the International Computer Graphics Conference. Asked by the New York Times on the occasion, curator Barbara London, who advocated video art and sound art as important mediums at the Museum of Modern Art, said that Csuri was “ahead of her time”.
“The stress I often feel as an artist is my attempt to free myself from this carefully measured universe, a universe where there is a predictable outcome,” Csuri wrote in the show’s catalog. “When I allow myself to play and search in the space of uncertainty, the more creativity becomes a process of discovery. The more childlike and curious I become about this world and this space full of objects, the better the result . “