Piter Pasma on pushing the boundaries of code with generative art

Nina Knaack
February 15, 2023
“I realised that what I had been doing all my life could now be used in a new way” — Piter Pasma

Initially drawn to art through his love for comics and illustration, Piter Pasma has always displayed a creative flare. But, after his entry into coding at only nine years old, Piter soon became entranced by the aesthetic potential of generative art. He tells Nina Knaack about pushing the boundaries of code, and why he believes that NFTs and generative art make for a perfect match.

“My dad loved to draw and so did I,“ Piter Pasma reminisces. Influenced by this shared passion, and a father-son bond over comics, Piter has been drawing his own cartoons for as long as he can remember. And, having always been interested in the makings of art, Piter spent his childhood consuming books on how to illustrate movement and simplify designs, a habit to which he attributes his future creative path.

But Piter’s childhood interests were not limited to illustration. “I started coding at the age of nine,” he recalls. Fascinated by the computer that his mother brought home from work one day, Piter started to explore its capabilities, beginning with art. “I tinkered with the word processor and discovered that, with a few tweaks, I could make it do more,” Piter explains. “I started coding lines and learned how to rotate and repeat them. Suddenly, little stars appeared on the screen, and that was my first experience with creative coding.“

Solar Sanctuary, by Piter Pasma.

Piter’s infatuation with coding only grew stronger over time. “During high school, while many of my friends were focused on creating video games, I was more drawn to the algorithms within the computer,” says Piter. “I was fascinated by an article that I’d read called Life in the Computer that discussed the potential for programming a computer to be creative.”

For Piter, a computer was much more than a machine that could perform calculations quickly. “It can produce things that you cannot even predict before letting the algorithm run its course,” he says. “The idea of this complex artificial life is what truly captivates me.”

In his late teens, Piter spent more time with other computer artists. “The demoscene is an international community of artists and computer enthusiasts who create self-contained demos, which showcase programming, visual, and musical skills,” Piter explains. During that time, a period in which he also released multiple prize-winning computer art pieces, Piter discovered generative art. “We had some fascinating discussions and talented individuals, but, while they were more focused on the conceptual aspects of generative art, I was interested in the creation of aesthetically pleasing generative art,” Piter recalls.

“It can produce things that you cannot even predict.”

— Piter Pasma

“During my studies in Computational Science and Machine Learning, I started to experiment more with creative coding, which I incorporated into my artwork,” says Piter, noting how many generative artists in the late 1990s had more of a conceptual interest in art, rather than their own aesthetic motivations. “I find it fascinating to think about how certain forms and patterns come about in nature and how I can recreate them in my art,” he divulges.

By the time that he began sharing his work on Instagram in 2019, that had all changed. “To my surprise, my images were well-received and I gained recognition quickly. That is when I discovered the incredible community of generative artists, and it marked the beginning of a new chapter for me.”

Semiotic Crystal, by Piter Pasma and William Stallwood.

“I loved sharing my generative art with the world and constantly sought to uncover new and unique forms of artificial creativity in the computer,” Piter recalls. “The positive response to my work motivated me to create more and to push boundaries.” Experimenting with Signed Distance Function (SDF) — a function which takes a position as an input, and outputs the distance from that position to the nearest part of a shape — Piter created his series, Industrial Devolution, GEOMORPHISM, and Skulptuur.

Always on the hunt for something innovative, Piter’s creative process starts with testing out different algorithms, before fine-tuning the code to make the final result visually appealing. “I am a big fan of contrast and often find that black and white imagery speaks for itself,” Piter says. “I draw inspiration from surrealist artists like Magritte and Dali and their use of strange shapes, which I aim to recreate through code.”

Piter was subsequently drawn to experimenting and pushing the boundaries of his code, and continuously created new pieces. “I recall first learning about NFTs via Rare Pepes many years ago,” he says. “I was puzzled at how Bitcoin could allow someone to ‘own’ a JPEG, and mistakenly thought that there was something special about the JPEG itself.”

It was not until Dmitri Cherniak released Ringers on Art Blocks that Piter truly understood the potential of NFTs on the blockchain. “I realised that what I had been doing all my life could now be used and interacted with in a new way.”

In the past, when Piter would show someone a programme that he had written with various generative outputs, they would simply hit refresh a few times to see the images change. “It was intriguing for a short while, but in the end, all the images blended together in the viewer's mind,” he recalls. “They would think, ‘Oh, that is a fun programme,’ but there was not much more to it.”

Sunset Orb, by Piter Pasma.

By storing generative art, or rather, its code, on the blockchain, Piter believes that a new and unique relationship is established between artwork and viewer. “Instead of the endless stream of similar-looking images that would quickly be forgotten with the press of a button, there is now a clear overview and the opportunity to actually own a piece of it,“ he says.

Piter suddenly found himself coding more complex variations because he knew that they would actually be seen now. “Before, I did not even bother because nobody would delve that deep into the outputs. And now, people are taking the time to look at a single outcome for longer, because they can collect them separately,” he says.

NFTs and generative art are a perfect match, Piter argues. “It finally provides a platform for all the generated images from one code to be displayed and appreciated together as individual artworks. As a coder, this is an incredibly special experience for me.”

“I realised that what I had been doing all my life could now be used in a new way.”

— Piter Pasma

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Nina Knaack
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Nina is passionate about telling the stories of artists and documenting their artistic processes, so that they can focus on creating. She’s written for a range of cultural magazines in the Netherlands, her homeland, including 3voor12 and the Groninger Museum. Her work as a contemporary art historian has seen her work at Museum Voorlinden, the Van Gogh Museum, and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Today, her main and ever-increasing focus is on the digital art world, and she is fascinated by the endless possibilities of web3 and how crypto artists are pushing the boundaries of creating without gatekeepers.