I had the pleasure of viewing Katsu’s Drone paintings in person brought to Silicon Valley Contemporary by The Hole NYC. I had seen a video and heard news about the drone paintings earlier in the week. I was intrigued to see how the work would look in person. A perfect match for Silicon Valley, bridging technology and art. Yet I hoped to see something more than another viral video that captured a certain intrigue from fans of art and technology. I have known the work of Katsu for some time and his ability to capitalize on viral stunts on video and other concepts has been one of his strong points. A legitimate graffiti artist in one of today’s most respected bombing crews, his hand styles and signature skull throw up have gained him respect with graffiti community. Katsu venturing into drone painting seemed like a natural progression from his previous work that has involved the internet and new technologies.
After talking to the wonderful people at the booth and being able to see the work in person I was impressed with the overall presentation of the paintings. Large abstract works are displayed alongside other contemporary art, a video runs on a screen of the process. Even the furniture and rug have been sprayed with the drone for the installation. As a viewer of contemporary art the work checked all the necessary boxes and fit in well within the art fair. That being said the paintings which are the result of an impressive process lacked weight aesthetically for me. Possibly due to Katsu not having worked in abstract before or the process and concept been given more value than the results. It felt like the paintings were mere decoration the same way the painted furniture was painted and installed next to the paintings. I don’t feel that the gesture of Katsu or his mark was strong enough within the paintings. When you see a Katsu fire extinguisher tag his mark is prominent with his name, taking away the representational aspect of his tag its hard to engage the pieces except purely conceptually. There have been other artists recently who have also experimented with robotic painting on canvas, or utilizing specific tools to create marks that are free from the hand of the artist yet the drone seemed to create a different set of problems. It could be said that the drone and process hindered the ability to control the mark far more than others who have experimented with robotics before him. For this reason I would hope that in future experiments Katsu is able to control the spray better allowing for a more direct mark, or even possibly being able to tag with it. As a whole I was extremely impressed with the concept and the artist again finding a way to push the envelope and move into new territory. I believe that Katsu will continue to experiment and establish not only a strong conceptual approach to painting, but also have the results be visually strong as well. It is important to not forget that although our generation of artists can be great thinkers what has always stood out is our ability to engage the visual aesthetic nature of painting as well as the conceptual.
The Hole is proud to present a solo booth at the first Silicon Valley Art Fair by multimedia artist KATSU. In a fair focusing on art and technology, we will present a series of abstract paintings by KATSU that are made by drone aircraft (flight). The booth will also feature a video that documents how the paintings were made and the technology used to make them.
The artworks in this exhibition are a completely new type of painting that has never been made before. As drone aircraft (drones) have become more affordable to consumers, KATSU has been working to develop a way to make them paint. Originally developing technology so drones could be programmed to write illegal graffiti, KATSU created the hardware and software to have a drone carry a spray paint can and a mechanism to press the can to emit spray. These pasts months he has experimented with the weight of the paint, the straw for the sprayer, the sensor for the can activation, the flight of the drone and different paint and surfaces to achieve the artworks he sought.
The results show a new type of mark, divorced from the artist hand though remotely controlled by it, and filtered through the nature of the drone and its tendencies. The semi-random line in the works has a choppy quality to one side of the mark, as the paint is whipped up in the drone’s propellers. The gesture of the mark is governed by the drone’s gyroscope as it tries to “right” itself from the paint payload and the spray
propulsion. The result is semi-controlled chaos as the artist can control color and semicontrol composition but not much else. These works visually relate to Abstract Expressionism, where the gestures are random and free and a record of movement; however of course here the hand of the artist is on a joystick and has been honed by years of video game playing. In spirit the works are very much part of a tendency in emerging art to engage with process driven abstraction, however in these works, the artist is not seeking to shirk responsibility by turning the composition over only to process, rather he is creating new opportunities of engagement, and their resulting difficulties and restrictions, through a challenging and pioneering process. Like William Anastasi subway drawings or Cy Twombly automatic writing, the process shapes the work but does not engulf and exclude the work; these abstractions are not about robotics but about the beautiful or poetic expressions that can come from a fusion of human and technology.