Jean-Pierre Hébert

Describe your field. Why are you interested in Computer Art/ Computer Graphics and what (event, need, idea, hope, obstacle) caused your involvement? Summarize your line of development (the essence of your input to the field) in relation to concurrent technology.

I do drawings from code that I write myself for each piece. Drawing is generally understood in the art world as the result of linear gestures. I translate my gesture intents into code, and once this code is executed it creates the required linear geometries and drives a device, plotter or similar, to trace these lines with a tool using traditional art media:

  • silver point on prepared paper
  • graphite lead on paper
  • pen & ink on paper
  • brush & ink on paper (calligraphy!)
  • acrylics on canvas
  • etched plates (to produce hand pulled prints off the press)
  • sand traces (digital zen gardens)
  • reliefs on wood
  • paper embossings
  • plasma torch cuts on steel, etc…

With the exception of two series (1998) I do not use digital printers for my art work.

I am interested in doing art with computer because it allows me to make the act of drawing a purely mental discipline. It also lets me do drawings which could not be practically done otherwise, for reasons of complexity, precision, and time. Technology has been good enough for me for the last twenty years. Although UNIX and development tools are all I need, I can of course always use a faster system.

My contribution to the field may be to have continued the tradition of drawing in its very medium, at the same time pushing it to new frontiers of minimal physical and maximal mental involvement. I have made my own code a direct translation of my concepts and the source of my art. I have thus developed independently a full body of original works, having taken full control of devices and software at hand while keeping my artistic vision alert, and intact.

Does the computer allow you to think visually about some topic or process in new ways? How has this influenced your work? Describe your ultimate accomplishment.

I think visually much better without the computer. My work is much higher definition than any monitor I know, and I can really recognize my work in its final stage only. Necessarily I need to anticipate mentally the results from my code and all other production decisions before committing to paper (or other media). I can see the actual work on paper only much later. This has been a very fruitful discipline that has sharpened my skills all along.

Has the field of computer art and graphics progressed in the ways that you expected? What has surprised you? What do you like about its progress and what do you wish had happened differently? What do you think the future holds for visual computing in science/art? Please make some predictions or wish lists for the near- and long-term future.

I have been disappointed to see computer programming become more and more complex, depriving most artists (and people) of their freedom to build their own tools, and pushing them instead into the limitations of commercial software.

Describe your dream environment for enhancing your project ideas. What are your preferred tools for creating and how do they work? What tools (hardware/software) you have used initially had the strongest impact on your work?

My dream environment would let artists create the systems they need, rather than the system industry needs. I would like to see:

  • an OS free of many layers of complexities that I should not have to deal with to do my work (a plague from one-fits-all computers)
  • a friendlier software development environment
  • affordable motion control components making device development cheaper and easier (something like an upscale Lego robotics set).

The early Hewlett Packard small Rocky Mountain Basic machines (HP9830) and plotters (HP7221c) was the determining combination of tool that put me on track in the seventies.

Describe how you think specific advancements in technology, (such as wireframe, hidden line removal, scanner, laser, HTML, Java applets, or any other advancement), determined the way the approaches to creating art/graphics evolved?

I do not use any of these software tools for my creative work. They are part of the unwanted complexity mentioned above, although they are useful for documentation, communication, etc.

How would you characterize the milestones (every ten years) in the development of computer technology? Which ones were most influential in art/graphics?
  • 60s: Lisp
  • 70s: Hewlett Packard small Rocky Mountain Basic machines and plotters.
  • 80s: PC + UNIX + Scheme
  • 90s: Mathematica, Linux, TCL/TK
  • now: Mac OS X, Python

These milestones all opened the doors to friendlier computer access by users in some way or another.

Which persons would you indicate as the pioneers in the particular areas/stages in which decade?

Early on Manfred Mohr inspired me, as well as Benoit Mandelbrot’s Fractal Geometry of Nature. Helaman Ferguson, who sculpts Carrara marble and granit with computer help is my favorite pioneer.