TGAM Interviews

As part of our third exhibition "Issue #03 Red Pill" Thomas Lin Pedersen joins TGAM founders Xavier and Ruggero, for a casual conversation about his practice and generative art.

While all of Thomas’s work has a digital beginning he insists on the link to the physical manifestation of his work. Print is a big part of how the work should be explored, as is experimentations with other analogue production forms such as pen plotters. This duality is also present in his systems that often take inspiration from older art production approaches in order to incorporate some of the fractal imprecisions found in these old ways.

During 2021 Thomas began exploring the world of crypto art, first on the nascent Hic et Nunc platform and later on ArtBlocks and Foundation. During this period of time his work also began to shift in character, abandoning the pure dynamic aspects of his earlier work and incorporating texture and stronger geometric forms as key elements. This came to a recent conclusion with his ArtBlocks Curated series “Screens” that also served as an onset for his current investigation of generative compositions.

Thomas is a generative artist located in Denmark. He started his journey in generative art in 2017, inspired by work from Anders Hoff. His early years were focused on dynamic systems and how they might be captured in still images. While his earliest work was often monochromatic, it didn’t take long for color to become a large part of his work. From his Genesis series in 2019 and until now almost all his pieces have featured strong color palettes.

The Generative Art Museum: Hello Thomas, thanks for being here. How are you today?

TLP: Thanks for having me, I’m good, just in Denmark gearing up for my London show for the bright moments London show this Thursday, So a lot of loose ends to figure out but it’s all good.

“My journey towards what I'm doing now started with an early fascination for photography and graphic design.”

TGAM: Please give us some background on who Thomas is.

Thomas Lin Pedersen: I'm currently a software engineer working for RStudio which is an open source software company creating tools and utilities for data science and in that position I've worked with graphic mainly focused on data visualization but also data graphics and I'm still doing that, so art on the side and software engineering full time.

My journey towards what I'm doing now, probably started quite early with a fascination of especially photography but also graphic design, I had a pretty long period of time where I spent a great deal of time focusing on both the practice of photography but also post processing in photoshop and what not, and whilst I still enjoyed that, at some point in my life I started a family and as some of you may be able to sign in on, the amount of free time you have is greatly reduced.

With photography I was mainly doing landscape and architectural photography where you’re really chasing the light to get that perfect image wich is not very sustainable whilst taking care of a baby so the whole photography part was kind of put on hold. But there was this creative itch that I needed to somehow get out of my system, and I was working creating data visualization and tools for data visualization, and some way the twitter algorithm put up some work from Anders Hoff who goes by the name of inconvergent.

Well that just blew my mind, it resonated deeply with me but also the idea of just making art using data but not real data, just random data, I couldn't understand why i hadn't thought about that so I was hooked instantly and it kind of married my interest in creating visual representations of data and also my creative urge to create art. It all made sense so I went ahead and started creating generative art and it just kind of spiraled off from there, so yeah that's my short version of my journey.

TGAM: What is RStudio?

Thomas Lin Pedersen: RStudio is a company dedicated to creating open source solutions for data science, of course a very booming sector and has been for a long time. We started focused on the programming language R, and now we are also working with Python, and mainly just creating what needs to be created and basing this on a pure open source model.

It's incredibly giving to be able to work on that full time. Just creating stuff you can give away and see people be productive with it instantly with no barriers to entry.

Within RStudio I'm responsible for maintaining and developing the graphic stack which is of course mainly focused on creating data visualization. Data visualizations and generative art is kind of two sides of the same coin, you are drawing lines in the end and whether those lines are based on stuff that you generate by different random functions or whether those data points are stuff that you draw out from the data sheet that really doesn't matter that much.

So I find it very easy for me to retrofit a lot of the things I've been developing and working on for data visualization and use that for generative art as well.

TGAM: How did you come to crypto art?

Thomas Lin Pedersen: Before crypto art really exploded we were already a rather big group of generative artists that knew each other and had a space to talk and discuss. Then during the late part of 2020 the name NFT and crypto art began to register.

I think the first time was Dimitri talking about this new thing called ringers with thousands of iterations and all of these things that are now historic, and I kind of faded that, to my sadness. It just didn't click at that time, but it became very apparent that the marriage of generative art and crypto art was something that made a lot of sense.

What really got me into it was the Hic et Nunc platform that was started in early 2021. Where you had a lovely playground and a community that formed around HEN that was just incredible, and that community feeling started on Hic et Nunc and the collecting from fellow amazing artists and kind of building up the space gradually, that was the thing that got me really hooked in the beginning

Also what I've been working on mostly these last many months has been more in the vein of art blocks releases which is now termed “long form” generative art. That takes a different mind set from what I used to develop in terms of how I used to create generative pieces. It's also something you have to internalize how you think about the art you are creating and to make sure that you are not just creating 1000 iterations of the same idea.

Instead I actually create a system that is more than just a single idea, it becomes the essence of a whole body of work that makes sense to be released that way, which took time for me to come around to that way of thinking and I'm kind of absorbed in that right now, to the point that I haven't really developed one of one’s for a long time now.

““Long form” generative art takes a different mind set, you are creating a system that is more than just a single idea, it becomes the essence of a whole body of work.”

TGAM: What is the main inspiration for your work?

Thomas Lin Pedersen: In the beginning, I was deeply inspired by the idea of dynamic systems but not in the sense of animations but rather parts that moved and related to each other but also thinking about how that feeling of dynamics could be captured in static imagery.

A lot of my early works show a really strong focus on this dynamism, and idea of flow and how to capture that. For a long time what happened in nature and how things interacted for example how fluids were working and flock behaviors and so on. This had a deep impact on me. For the last let’s say short year, I've become more and more interested in the idea of composition and texture.

Currently I'm drawing more and more inspiration from the traditional art world, looking both into different production techniques and what kind of tell-tale textures they use, and how I can get inspired by these different production methods, but also which art direction and which streams in the art movements were linked to these production methods. So yeah I'm way more into more abstract and geometric based artwork at the moment, it’s difficult to say where I'm exactly drawing that inspiration from.

The thing I'm working on right now for the London show is very directly inspired by Kandinsky, the Bauhaus movement and the suprematism movement that were contemporary but focused on the Russian arts scene. Where the onset for that idea came from is difficult to keep track of I must say. I think for my coming show I had an urge to dive more into how the hyper precision of computer algorithms really fascinates me.

The perfection in which computers can draw is really fascinating, but not in the sense that precision and perfection is interesting, for me I find that kind of boring, there’s nothing to rattle the mind but instead how can you juxtapost this capability of the perfect with something more analogue and something more prone to, I wouldn't say faults but more random behavior.

That’s where the idea of having both something inspired by watercolor texture and combining this with hyper precise strong geometric lines. From there the leap to the work of Kandinsky was fairly obvious to me and I had this kind of back and forth with his work in terms of figuring out where I wanted to take this project.

TGAM: You mentioned the London show, could you tell us more?

Thomas Lin Pedersen: The London show is opening on Thursday, it’s called imprecision, part of the bright moments London collection.

The whole show is built up around real live presence, it's not a metaverse show, it's a location in Soho. The whole minting set up is focused on being there and taking the time to be in the moment. So when the artwork for this show is created, people have bought mint passes, and they can come in and scan this mint pass, but from there on the whole experience is screen free, no monitors, it’s all analog, the way the piece will be revealed is a through a giant printer situated in the main room, which once it has been generated it’ll start printing. The spectators and the buyers, their first view of this is as it exits the printer.

I think that's an interesting approach to it because a lot of the art consumption we have right now in generative art is really high paced, ao to force you to not get the whole picture immediately but to take the time for the art to be produced as its printed out gives you a new appreciation for what's coming out because as you are waiting you cannot help but focus on the small details of the incomplete piece and in the end you may end up experiencing it all in a different way, because you have been focusing on details that made a different sense before you knew the whole piece, and these small details you might not have focused on if you had just been given the whole piece ready made for you.

The project itself is heavily inspired by Bauhaus and Kandinsky. It's a continuation of some of the ideas I explored in “screens'' even though they don't share the same aesthetics. During my development of screens, I became more and more interested in how you go about creating interesting and engaging compositions. I think a lot of generative art is not as dynamic in its composition, it's usually something centered in the middle or a pattern, it doesn't have the same kind of engaging composition as you would find in a lot of photography for instance.

Coming from photography it makes a lot of sense for me to begin to explore how I can take some of the ideas that I would have when walking around aiming my camera against the world and the decisions I made there. How can that approach be captured in a generative sense and some of that thought went into screens and with this new series I'm trying to take it one step further and really leaning into the idea of how can we create a system that is in some sense minimally controlled but still tries to end up with engaging compositions that are not repeating themselves.

It's easy enough to code in some rules for a composition but if you repeat those rules again and again, they can become kind of meaningless in terms of artistic value at least. So how can I, with a very light touch, steer a system into more varied and very engaging compositions? That's kind of the meta layer of what I'm trying to explore here and it's probably something I plan to continue exploring in various ways for the long term of my art practice.

TGAM: How does the transition from the digital to analog world feel for you?

Thomas Lin Pedersen: It's a mouthful, I didn't expect to have a solo show this year, there's a lot of things I didn't expect in the art world to happen to me, and this is one of them, so it's pretty wild. But for me I’ve always seen my art as something existing in the real world, I’ve been selling prints, and enjoyed the printmaking process for a very long time. When I create a piece I can't wait to see it on paper.

I know monitors are getting better but they have no legs against a fine art print, it's just a different league, a different level, so for me my art has always in my mind existed in the real world, so this transition is not new to me in the sense of how I see my art. It's more new to me that I'm in a position where I can have a show and exhibit my work on huge A1 prints, so that’s crazy and I can't wait to see how it turns out.

TGAM: You say, “knowing the answer is the killer of creativity”, but, can you tell us a little more about your process and the tools you use?

Thomas Lin Pedersen: My intent with that quote is that if you get handed a system, i.e. this is my code this is how I do it, and you begin to play with different parameters, that's a dangerous approach because you become married to my idea of how I make art instead of exploring where you want to go with it for yourself. Some of my own practice, i've talked about how I work alot with R and using a lot of the tools I have developed for data visualization but my jump into the world of art blocks and long form generative art has kind of forced me to work more with javascript, because it needs to be generated in the browser.

Tthat has changed my tooling a bit and I've also begun looking more and more into webgl and gpu based rendering, but I'm always kind of starting from scratch in a sense. I’ll usually start by looking at the texture, at least for the last couple of projects that’s been the focus. How can I enable a texture or get a pipeline that enables the texture I want, and when that is done it's kind of a bit easier to begin to toy with various ways of using this pipeline to see what makes sense and what doesn’t.

For imprecision I started with the watercolor effect and not perfected it, because it's a journey, but at least got it to a point where I said this is a look I can accept and vouch for. I knew I wanted something that was very minimally controlled I simply started by drawing shapes on the canvas and saying what part of these things work, complete randomness is not that interesting, but starting with complete randomness and analyzing what comes and from there deciding which parts work and which need removing then with a light touch steering away from a situation that didn't go in a direction I wanted to.

Over the course of several months I was looking at iterations and every time I saw something that this is not good enough, I'd ask why, how can I control that without taking away a lot of the freedom that the system already has.

“Currently I'm drawing more and more inspiration from the traditional art world.”

TGAM: One of the interesting reads you can have at Thomas website (data-imaginist.com) is the “Becoming an intern” article, which starts with the line “I was not always this famous”. We find it really interesting that an artist explains the often abandoned beginnings of hard work, could you explain a bit more about your humble start?

Thomas Lin Pedersen: That starting is kind of tongue in cheek I hope you all get that. It was weird, because my journey has not been very direct, sure it all seems to make sense now but I started as a graduate student within food science working with dairy cultures and developing screening tests for that industry.

I then moved my way towards biotechnology and bioinformatics which opened up the world of programming and being a software engineer. It makes very little sense if you wanted to create a road map of how to become an artist.

So there are a lot of situations where I'm asking how on earth did that end up happening in that way!? You could either take the idea that it's because I'm amazingly accomplished and it's just because I'm so good at taking the right direction and pursuing my ideas, but I know that that's not true. I've been extremely lucky multiple times during my career and I continue to be extremely lucky and continue to be extremely privileged and I think it is so important to keep that in mind as you progress through your career.

That doesn't mean you can't be proud of what you're doing and what you're working with but at least acknowledging that there are thousands of other people that work as hard as me and as talented as me. I have just been lucky and blessed with the ability to exhibit my art and sell my art and work in open source software.

A lot of the reasons why I'm able to do that is by pure chance and being in the right place at the right time. It’s just extremely important to me to never lose sight of the fortunate path I've taken.

TGAM: 25% of the proceeds from the Rapture project went to the preservation of the Ecuadorian rainforest Bigai through Randers Rainforest Wildlife Foundation. How is your relationship with these foundations? Why in Ecuador?

Thomas Lin Pedersen: Part of what I try to do acknowledging my privileges is giving back, not that I want to talk too much about that, but when you have this sudden influx of money I think one of the best things you can do is to experience the joy of giving back to the world. It was very clear for me that I wanted to do something for nature and for the rainforest.

In Denmark we have this amazing artificial rainforest in a bio dome that has animals and plants from the rainforest. They do an amazing job of educating kids and adults about nature, why it's so amazing and why it's something we need to protect. They also do a lot of work actually trying to protect said rainforest. They run a lot of projects within the Ecuadorian rainforest and it was so apparent that the work they are doing comes from a deep filled belief that they can change the world, and the love for what they are doing is very apparent, so they seemed like the absolute right recipients of any amount of money I could donate to them.

It's been such a fantastic experience and I've been chatting with them and visiting them multiple times. I'm joyous that it was possible to find someone I had 100% confidence that would handle the donation properly.

TGAM: “Rapture” was a great success, but then came “Screens” which has become an iconic project in Artblocks and probably in the whole generative art ecosystem. You describe the “Screens” series as a celebration of modern art. What did you have in mind when creating this project?

Thomas Lin Pedersen: I think “Screens” was where my current fascination with the Bauhaus movement began. “Screens” is a continuation of the work I did with “Constructive”, which was a set of single edition pieces, very handheld. I predefined a lot of the composition there, but it has this very granular, very analog look I wanted to do more with. “Screens” was my way of not taking the exact system but some of the feels and looks of Constructive and trying to embrace the long form format with it. It’s inspired by a lot of different things, for sure Bauhaus and constructivism movements are there with the strong geometries and so on, but I’ve also leaned into a lot of the feelings in sci-fi and pulp literature covers.

It embraces a love of the modern art movements in various different ways. It builds on this idea of how a lot of the mass production of art came to be in the 20th century through the process of silk screen printing and riso printing, suddenly you could produce original beautiful art but on a scale that was not possible before. The embrace of these production methods from the traditional art world meant that high grade art was suddenly within reach of less prosperous people.

You had this explosion of art within the general world, you didn't need to go museums, it became obtainable to have art within your homes. For me all these things that happened were a huge shift for how we perceived that.

Now with NFTs and crypto art it is partly the same story we see again, we have a liberation of art happening, it's certainly possible to collect and own art at a scale that was previously not that possible. I found it very interesting to take some of the aesthetics of the previous wave of what we saw and apply it to a system that would be released in this new wave.

TGAM: You offer a prints on your website, how does that work?

Thomas Lin Pedersen: Yeah, I have a print shop on my website that's linked from my profile. Those are open edition prints that are fairly priced. But those are not NFTs. When I entered the crypto scene I made the decision I wanted to make a very strong separation between the prints that I was providing in a very open manner like with my print shop and prints tied to specific NFTs.

So if you own an NFT from me, especially rapture and “Screens” and “Inprecision” when it comes, you are eligible for a print. In general, historically people who have bought single edition NFTs from me have also been offered prints for those, but in general if there's an NFT and you don't own it you can't have a print of it. But a lot of the series I have created except for my art block pieces, have a few pieces in my open edition print shop as well. So if it's for a nice piece of art for your wall and you enjoy what I make, then you are not late to the party at all and you can just order some prints.