022 - Coast of Kanagawa, 2005

Joshua Davis

Location: New York, New York
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The work of Joshua Davis reveals the power of tools—and the importance of understanding them—for designers in today’s world. Davis explores the technical and aesthetic limits of the software programs Flash and Illustrator, industry standards in the design of images and interfaces. Davis writes his own code, in Flash ActionScript, to produce surprising interactions with users and to generate unique visual compositions according to rule-based, randomized processes.

Flash and Illustrator both produce vector- based graphics, which consist of relationships among points and lines (rather than pixels), and thus can be reproduced at any scale. (In contrast, a digital photograph breaks down when excessively enlarged.) In addition to working commercially for clients ranging from Nokia to the musical group Red Hot Chili Peppers, Davis exploits the scalability of vector art in his ongoing experimental project Once Upon a Forest, a series of “art-making machines” that allow users— including Davis himself—to generate one-of-a-kind images. Davis writes custom algorithms that randomly select elements from a database of hand-drawn imagery, then automatically transform, compose, and connect them. According to Davis, “The end result is never static. I’ll program the ‘brushes,’ the ‘paints,’ the ‘strokes,’ the ‘rules,’ and the ‘boundaries.’ However, it is the software that creates the compositions—the programs draw themselves. I am in a constant state of surprise and discovery, because the program may compile compositions that I would never have thought to execute, and would take hours to create manually.”

Davis’s process yields magical landscapes where organic and geometric components swirl together across surfaces packed with complexity, taking the form of screen-based graphics, digital prints, or customized wallpaper. Disaster looms over some of these candy-colored dream worlds: a massive storm bubbles above 0282 – Coast of Kanagawa, while the shard-like city in 021 – Honey Hive is dwarfed beneath ominous clouds of smoke or dust. These images pulse with danger and possibility, depicting an artificial world whose destiny has slipped beyond the designer’s control.