Artificial Bob reserves a certain distrust for society writ large, and the structures that those with power attempt to push upon those enjoying simpler lives. The AI artist sat down with Mariquita de Boissière to discuss his work, the collective psyche, and the trappings of power.
Artificial Bob’s exploratory probing into the darker side of the collective psyche only began to flower this spring. But it didn’t take long for his combination of classically-informed digital painting techniques and AI-based rendering to make an impact in the 1/1 NFT scene. The second piece in the artist’s most recent collection, Reflections in the Mirror, released on Objkt in early July, now features as part of the Tezos Permanent Collection.
Contrasting the feverish staccato of frenzied animated figures with the heavy solemnity of lone forms in the grip of grief, Artificial Bob’s work takes the spectator on a journey that spans the peaks of mania down into the depths of despair.
Hailing from the Czech Republic, Artificial Bob doesn’t believe in giving too much away about his private life or the influences that inform his pieces. “I think that part of the ‘magic’ is that my art says everything it needs to say and whatever else is hidden". If any theme emerges from across his collections, it is his interrogation of the nature of power. Repeated across Shattered Masks”on Foundation, All Kinds of Weirdness on OpenSea, and his Reflections in the Mirror on Objkt are portraits of white, male figures; some in superhero garb, others in business suits or dinner jackets.
"We want more!" is introduced with the tagline “This isn't enough. And what we get next time won't be enough either.” "Those funny monkeys" asks “Are they really fighting over pieces of paper?”. Artificial Bob’s pieces recall the entitlement of a political class forged through boys-club antics.
“Just as I shape AI to manifest my thoughts, AI shapes me.”
— Artificial Bob
Meanwhile, "We Won, Hell is Ours" – “It was paradise before, but it wasn't ours” – and "Empire of bones" - "All that's left is a pile of bones, but I'm on top and that's all that matters" – speak to the senselessness of Europe’s long and bloody history and the modern manifestation of greed. Whereas most of the figures depicted are unidentifiable, and almost interchangeable, some ire is reserved specifically for tech titans Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg in "Take it bro, it’s not addictive" and faceblock.
"All Kinds of Weirdness is more open and responsive to current topics”, Artificial Bob explains. “The animation gives them a unique feel and also gave me the opportunity to reflect in each artwork a sense of ‘hecticness’, which is one of the words I would use to describe contemporary society.”
A recurring image across Artificial Bob’s first two collections is that of the “joker”, the clown, each bearing exaggeratedly whitened faces and bright red painted mouth twisted into maniacal smiles. As with the clowns he represents, Artificial Bob’s work provokes a sense of the uncanny; that liminal space which simultaneously invokes both the familiar and the unknown.
It is Artificial Bob’s incorporation of AI into his art that contributes to its almost otherworldly quality. “I try to eliminate the obvious signs of AI, but still keep that playfulness and ‘alienness’,” he shares. The results can be seen in forms that challenge established laws of physics and physiology. For the hyper-associative neural networks of the “artificial mind”, the impossible can be made real and expressed through extra rows of teeth or the flicker of disconcertingly-placed eyes. As spectators, we are often left doubting what we have seen between the oscillating layers of each animation.
It is precisely this freedom from earthly constraints that appeals to Artificial Bob. “Just as I shape AI to manifest my thoughts, AI shapes me. If there's one thing artists can learn from AI, it's unlimited creativity.” He goes on to explain, “AI doesn't say to itself ‘well this painting is starting to look terrible, I'll pass on that’, or ‘I can't put this together, it's stupid’. None of that. AI just creates, without the slightest self-criticism. I'm trying to think less critically of my ideas and to create ‘outside the box’ more often: to combine the incompatible.”
Despite Artificial Bob’s excitement for the creative potential of AI, he recognises a potentially darker side to the technology; one that he explores in his “Reflections in the Mirror” collection. “I’ve read about racism becoming embedded in AI, but it’s important to remember that it’s not AI’s fault. AI can’t discriminate, although it will internalise and reproduce racism from its environment. In this way, AI holds up a mirror to humanity – and we can see for ourselves that it is not always a pretty sight.”
If All Kinds of Weirdness takes aim at society’s elite, Reflections in the Mirror invites a more introspective critique. “People are obsessed with pointing the finger at someone else,” he posits. Concerned by the occasions in which he sees identity politics fall prey to group think, Artificial Bob is also wary of the power of blind conformity. “Violence is like a relay race. The baton gets passed, the runners change, but it's still the same track.”
As someone who sees the world through a lens of post-Soviet “skeptic-realism”, Artificial Bob reserves a certain distrust for economic systems of any stripe: “we need to get rid of classes altogether, but I feel like society just wants to create new ones.” Nonetheless, Artificial Bob‘s use of AI and blockchain, new technologies for the 21st century, to depict an old paradigm in decay, offers a unique example of truly web3-native art. For Artificial Bob, web3 represents “the biggest chance digital artists have ever had. Being able to connect with artists I've long admired, and to talk to them as friends, is an incredible feeling. I’m definitely grateful for this opportunity.”
“Violence is like a relay race. The baton gets passed, the runners change, but it's still the same track.”
— Artificial Bob