AI uses traditional Chinese techniques to create 'mindscapes'

Victor Wong and 3812 Gallery

The Chinese painting style called Xieyi literally means “writing ideas,” and marries the freehand techniques of calligraphy, line drawing and shading. Artists often use traditional Xuan rice paper along with organic brushes and ink, and the impressionistic style is designed not to be realistic, but rather capture the spirit of the subject.

It would seem odd, then, to let a machine interpret such a human-oriented artistic style. But that’s exactly what Hong Kong artist Victor Wong has done with a painting robot called A.I. Gemini (via Wallpaper). As a Xieyi artist with a background in physics, electrical engineering and VFX effects for cinema, Wong spent three years programming the industrial-style robot to paint in the Xieyi style.

Wong created formulas based on factors he considered to be the “genesis” of geological landscapes, like gravity, tectonic collisions, erosion and tidal volumes. A.I. Genesis then uses those formulas to create three dimensional landscapes in its “mind” for each painting. “This is similar to Chinese ink painting practices: conceive a ‘mindscape’ before painting it,” he said in a video (above).

He also trained it to identify the best photographic angle, so after dreaming up the landscape, the system then “wanders” into it to choose the best vantage point. It can then start painting using its robot arm, along with traditional Chinese ink and rice paper. The final works are one-off paintings rather than prints, but Wong is also making them available on Samsung TVs via the “Art Mode” on select models.

“I treat A.I. Gemini as a student, coaching it to master simple brush strokes and programming it to develop its own recognizable style rather than copying the work of ink masters,” Wong told ArtPowerHK. “A.I. Gemini’s decisions have become autonomous, and the form of its chaotic and wild landscapes are now unpredictable even to me.”

Because the machine can paint whatever it wants, some of the works are strongly recognizable as landscapes while others like The Fauvist Dream of Gemini 03 (above) look more abstract. While they certainly look more modern, all are identifiable as Xieyi-style works, thanks to the materials used and the long, freehand brushstrokes that resemble what a human artist would do. Wong emphasized that factors like temperature and humidity can also affect the look of the landscapes.

“The landscape does not exist anywhere apart from in Gemini’s ‘mind,’” Wong explains. “I didn’t want my AI to copy me; I wanted him to learn from me. We feed off each other.”