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The Duality of Light Exploited in the Fusion of two Designs:

Introducing Matricism

John N. Randall Ph.D.

Space is made up of time and distance. Human values are forged in intelligence and
emotion. Electricity is measured in current and voltage. Light is made of color and
brightness. There is a duality in most things. Christian Seidler has developed a new
painting technique that explores the duality of light in a way that produces remarkable
results. In doing so he has found a harmony in the dual aspects of human progress: art
and science.

I. Introduction:

This article is a description of the basics a revolutionary oil painting technique called
Matricism. This new language for expression in art is being developed by the artist
Christian Seidler who in the past century was best known for his portrait work.
Matricism has two distinct but related elements. One is an exploration of the discreteness
of human vision. The other is a unique method of combining two designs into one image.
Matricism is a technique rather than a style of oil painting. It is not restricted to
representational (creating a recognizable image) art, though to date, that has been its
principle mode. Seidler has already developed several distinct styles and has only
scratched the surface. In this article, paintings created with this technique will be referred
to as Matrix paintings.

Until recently the Matricism carried a heavy burden. Its intricacies placed a high
physical, mental, and emotional demand on the artist. In the first 13 years of the
existence of the technique Seidler produced only 3 or 4 paintings per year. For example,
one painting “The Quest for Innovation”, took over three months of debilitating physical
labor to complete. The compensating feature of the technique is that it is algorithmic. In
other words, the technique is based on a structured approach that makes it amenable to
realization through the use of recently developed technology.

In this article, we will attempt to explain the basic elements of Matricism starting with the
unique approach that combines two designs into a single image. Next the granularity or
discreteness of Matrix paintings will be discussed. An example of a Matrix painting
construction will be given which will allow a discussion of the algorithmic nature of the
construction process which leads to computer aided painting design and mechanized
execution of paintings. The mechanization of the execution of the painting has led critics
to dismiss (quite erroneously on both counts) the technique as either a reproduction
technique or computer generated art. The mechanization has led to new possibilities
which will be briefly discussed here. The article will close with a discussion of future
possibilities for this new painting technique.

II. Merging Designs


In this section we will discuss the most unique aspect of the technique of Matricism, a
method of merging two designs into one painted image. But we must first lay some
groundwork that will allow us to clearly describe this technique.

Two distinct aspects of light are brightness and wavelength. The brightness is the
quantity of light with darkness existing when there is too little light, and unviewable
brilliance when there is too much light. The wavelength of light is the primary factor that
determines color. The longest visible wavelengths are red while the shortest are violet.
Wavelengths longer than red (infrared) and shorter than violet (ultraviolet) are not
visible. The wavelength of light determines the basic color, for instance, red or blue.
Most colors are made up of combination of wavelengths. However, it is a combination of
these aspects of light, brightness and wavelength (or more generally the ratio of a number
of wavelengths), that our eyes register as color: a dark red or a light blue.

A two dimensional image such as a painting or a color photograph is a design that is a


pattern of wavelength and brightness of light. In a grayscale or monochrome image all of
the information is in the range of brightness from the different parts of the image. A
Sunday comic strip image is mostly a wavelength pattern. Or stated differently, the
Sunday comic is made up of patches of simple color and makes little use of brightness
information.

In the vernacular of painting, paint colors are described by hue, value, and intensity. In
the discussions that follow we will generally ignore paint color intensity because (at
present) the Matricism technique does not deal explicitly with intensity. But we will see
the natural relationship of the wavelength of light to the choice of hue and the brightness
of light to the choice of value.

Matricism achieves the merging of two designs into one image by assigning the
brightness information to one design and the wavelength information to the other. In
what follows, we will refer to the brightness design which is a grayscale or monochrome
image and the wavelength design which is regions of color with no brightness
modulation. The simplest explanation of the image merging technique is that any one
position in the painting has the paint color value determined by the brightness design and
the paint hue determined by the wavelength design. One way to conceive of this aspect
of Matricism is looking at a black and white image (brightness design) through a stained
glass window (wavelength design). However, this explanation describes a concept not a
technique. In order to understand the technique, we must delve into the other aspect of
Matricism, that being the exploration of the discreteness of human vision.

III. The Exploration of the Discreteness of Human Vision

While the merging of two designs is the most novel feature of Matricism, the most
obvious feature of most Matrix paintings is the granularity of the paintings due to the use
of distinct and often relatively large dots of paint applied with a palette knife. In fact,
early works by Seidler while he was developing this technique, completely lacked the
merged design aspect. The discrete dots of paint restrict the artist in his ability to
reproduce all of the features of an image (limits spatial resolution) and force him to find
the essence of the subject. Small and unimportant details are stripped away and only the
truth of the image is conveyed. The palette knife technique that Seidler employs on
Matrix paintings is usually restricted to applying a small number of dot sizes. Most
Matrix paintings use only two or three dot sizes and many use only one. This technique
not only limits the minimum spatial feature it can use but limits the choices of sizes of the
feature elements. The palette knife application of paint with a limited range of dot sizes
allows a richness of expression through texture and granularity. Seidler’s choice of a
palette knife to apply discrete dots of paint both ties him to Pointillism and differentiates
his technique from it. While pointillists were counting on the eye to merge their dots,
Seidler uses prominent heavily textured dots to demand attention. However, the choice
of the palette knife application of the paint should be considered a style rather than a
fundamental aspect of Matricism. Other artist might choose a brush, a knife, a stick, or
their finger.

In addition to the restriction of spatial resolution in Matricism, Seidler also restricted his
use of colors. In his effort to find a new approach to painting, he broke from his
classical training in oil painting techniques that demanded a large number of paint colors.
He chose instead to restrict his color palette. By restricting the color palette we mean that
both the hues and values were restricted to a relatively small number, and once a finite
number of paint colors were prepared, only those paint mixtures were used and the
temptation to mix them to achieve intermediate colors was avoided. One of the
definitions of ‘matrix’ is a rectangular array of elements. The discrete paint colors can be
arranged into a color matrix where each row is a distinct hue and each column a value.
For instance figure (color matrix) is a color matrix with 3 hues (red, blue, and yellow)
and 9 values. Usually, the values of each hue are well matched. For a particular
composition the artist chooses, before he starts to paint, a color matrix. That is to say that
he or she selects the hues that they intend to use and the range of values. The notion of a
color matrix is the origin of the name Matricism.

Using this color matrix method restricts the use of color in a composition. Images are
formed with a set of colors far fewer than a human is capable of perceiving yet the
images can still convey meaning to the viewer. Although Matricism has been used to
explore representational art, the restricted color palette combined with the restricted
spatial resolution inherent in the discrete dots of paint provides the opportunity to
produce abstract beauty with this painting technique. Regions of the painting with little
information in the painting design can have abstract beauty in color and texture of paint.

We can now describe the technique of merging designs into a single image in Matrix
paintings. First, the brightness design is restricted to using a reasonably small number of
different brightnesses which corresponds to the number of color values to be used in the
painting. Second, the wavelength design is limited to a relatively small number of colors
or hues. Finally, the wavelength design is divided into many small regions or dots which
will become the individual dots of paint.
As an example, if there were 11 brightness levels in the brightness design and 3 principle
hues in the wavelength design then there would be 33 different colored (hue and value)
paints in that particular composition. We can now explain the basics of the construction
method for a Matrix painting. As mentioned above, the wavelength design is divided into
small regions or dots. Each dot in the wavelength design will get a dot of paint whose
color will be selected by the hue of the wavelength design for that dot and the color value
will be selected by the brightness level of the brightness design in that dot’s position.
Once all of the dots of paints are applied, both the wavelength design and the brightness
design are combined in a way that keeps each distinct, yet each clearly visible.

While it is speculation on our part, the authors believe that the division the color selection
into a simple set of hues and a small number of values combined with the use of discrete
dots of paint is what led Seidler to recognize and exploit the opportunity of dividing the
assignment of value to one design and the hue information to another design. With a
restricted color palette, it is difficult to make color selection based on the representational
criteria. If a painting was being created that had an object that would normally require a
color that was not available within the color matrix available, what would a color choice
be based on? In other words, the color selection could be made for abstract reasons. We
believe that it is the freedom to select colors abstractly, that led Seidler to the innovation
of color selection that was determined by a completely different and abstract design while
the value selection remained with the original representational design. The piece
“Moonlight Reflections” circa 1990 is a transition piece. First completed as a three hue
(red, blue, yellow) representational piece, Seidler went back and added a completely
abstract design of vertical lines in gray. At this point Seidler did not match the values of
the abstract design to the values of the underpainting but went from lighter values to
darker values as the lines moved away from the luminous moon emulating a glowing fog.

In the piece “Lavender Angel” we see the fully developed design merging technique.
The value design is a young girl angel staring at the spiritual energy that glows above her.
The wavelength design is a set of colored lines spiraling out from the center of the glow.
It is the discreteness of the dots that make up the lines that allow the artist to select the
principle color from frequency design (spiral lines) and the value from the angel design to
select the color value for each dot.

We can then understand why the years of experimenting with discreteness of color, value,
and individual paint dots came before the design merging technique was developed. In
fact they had to come first. Counter intuitively, it was this simplification in painting
technique, fewer color choices, fewer value choices, and fewer paint application options
that led to this dual design complexity.

IV. New Technology

It is paradoxical that in an attempt to simplify his art, Seidler ended up developing a


technique that is both complex and demanding. Historically he can be seen as falling into
the same trap as Seurat, Pissarro and other Pointilists. The demands of Matricism are
similar to the demands of Pointilism which so restricted the output of that movement in
painting. As mentioned above, Seidler’s output of Matrix paintings was only a few
pieces per year. Frustrated with the extreme demands of the form, in the late 1990s he
essentially abandoned the approach.

In 1999 however, in collaboration with some technologists, Seidler was able to exploit
the systematic nature of Matricism and developed new painting tools which have
permitted this new language of art expression to survive and evolve as technology has
presented new possibilities.

In order to understand how technology has been used to aid in the production of Matrix
paintings, it is appropriate to give a concrete example of the creation of a Matrix painting
as Seidler has done it by hand. The first stage is painting a grayscale underpainting. This
is the brightness design. Seidler does this alla prima, with no drawn sketches to begin
with. He simply conceives of and paints with oil on canvas using ordinary brushes.
Figure (underpainting) shows a completed underpainting. This grayscale image is
typically done with relatively thin paints and provides little in the way of texture. The
underpainting usually is created with no obvious restriction on value.

Next he creates a wavelength design. Often this is a series of lines, each in a principle
hue. The choice of three principle hues is typical but not universal. These lines are
drawn on the underpainting. Having selected the hues as part of the wavelength design,
Seidler selects the number and range of values. Once both hues and values have been
selected, the paints can be mixed to create the color matrix. Seidler will then pick a line
in the wavelength design of a particular hue and start applying dots of paint with his
palette knife along the line. Along that line the dots will typically be the same size and
spacing and will always be the same hue. The value of the hue for each dot of paint is
selected by Seidler to be as close as possible to the value (graylevel) of the underpainting
in the location of that dot. This process is repeated for each line in the wavelength design
until the painting is complete. Sometimes the wavelength design produces dots so
closely packed that very little if any of the underpainting is left uncovered. Such is the
case of the Lavender Angel. In other compositions the grayscale underpainting is clearly
seen between the dots of the wavelength design and forms an integral part of the
composition.

The manual process so easily described in the above two paragraphs requires an
enormous amount of painstaking labor that is taxing physically as well as mentally. As
he works along each wavelength design line, the artist must keep the dot size and spacing
consistent. This is done by progressing along the line with each dot placed one after
another. This requires that all of the paint values of the particular hue to be available.
The artist must judge the value of the grayscale on the underpainting and find the
appropriate matching color value. Unlike painting with a brush, where mistakes are
easily painted over, this process is very unforgiving. The thick dots of paint are difficult
to remove once applied to the canvas, so each dot must have its value carefully selected
and must be accurately placed. When tens to hundreds of thousands of dots must be
applied to finish a Matrix painting, the manual and mental effort can be overwhelming.
The salvation of this approach is that it is structured so that the choices that the artist
makes: principle hues, number of color levels, dot size(s), and dot spacing(s) can be
applied to his designs in an algorithmic manner. This has allowed Technology to be
invented that enables the creation of original Matrix oil paintings. The intended
advantage that this technology was intended for was to reduce the time to produce a
Matrix painting. In this it has been very successful. The time to produce a Matrix
painting of moderate complexity has been reduced from weeks to days. However, the
technology has also provided new opportunities for Matricism to evolve as we will
explain in a later section.

The technology used to produce Matrix paintings includes digital imaging, image
processing, lots of programming, and a 21st Century paint brush. The process starts just
as it always did with Seidler creating the brightness design by painting a grayscale
underpainting. The underpainting is then digitized and stored in a Tagged Image Format
(TIF) file in a grayscale mode. Normally there are 256 levels of gray in such an image
file. The artist selects the number of levels that he/she would like to use. Let us say that
the artist chooses 11 levels. The image is processed to have only 11 gray levels instead
of 256. One way to do this is with the ‘Posterize’ function in Adobe PhotoShop. The
processed TIF file is made up of pixels which represent spatial points of the image. Each
pixel has one of 11 different gray levels.

Next the artist creates the wavelength design. In this case we will consider a wavelength
design with 3 principle hues (red, purple, gray) that is made up of lines. There will be
multiple red lines, purple lines, and gray lines. Instead of drawing lines on the
underpainting, this can be done in a computer drawing program. Each hue gets its own
TIF file made up of lines.

The artist selects dot size, dot spacing, and several other parameters that affects the
placement of dots along the lines drawn in the wavelength design. These selections can
be different for each hue or even for lines individually. Based on these inputs, dot
positions are determined along the lines of the wavelength design. At the same time for
each dot the gray level of the brightness design is determined in the position of that dot.
The end result of this process are files which contain the size, position, hue, and value for
each dot that will make up the painting. The data for the dots is arranged into different
groups with dots of a particular paint color (hue and value) and within these groups into
dots of the same size. Data in this grouping is what is used to create the Matrix
paintings.

The Matrix Painting Tool (MPT) is a large scale XYZ positioning robot with the ability
to deposit paint on a canvas with control of the size and shape of the deposited paint. The
paint delivery mechanism is a paint filled cartridge that is pneumatically driven to
extrude oil paint out of a tip. Figure (plotter image) shows the first MPT and Figure
(cartridge close up) shows the paint deposition mechanism.

A painting is produced one by depositing one paint color (hue and value) at a time. Paint
cartridges are loaded one at a time and the machine parameters are adjusted to achieve a
particular dot size and texture. Once adjusted, all dots of a particular size and texture are
deposited sequentially until all dots of that color are applied. This typically proceeds
through all of the values of one hue before another hue is applied. The order of paint
application can make a difference particularly with closely spaced or overlapping dots.

It is tempting to think of the MPT as a large scale plotter or ink jet printer. However, it
is distinctly different from a printer or plotter because it creates three dimensional
structures of paint where printers and plotters create two dimensional images. This
ability to deposit paint with control of the texture is what makes the MPT a 21st century
paint brush rather than a reproduction machine. While there is little doubt that this
technology will eventually be used to reproduce art, Seidler is adamant about never
creating copies of any work. He has stated are two many possibilities to explore to
bother with creating more than one of any Matrix painting.

While the MPT was created simply to mimic Seidler’s hand done Matrix technique, the
use of the technology immediately created new options. The first realization was that the
creation of a Matrix painting no longer required the underpainting to be directly used. A
hand done piece required the wavelength design to be placed directly over the brightness
design so that both the location and the value of each dot could be determined. The new
technology allows that determination to be done in virtual space on a computer. The data
produced by the process captures the position, hue, value, and size of each dot, so the
MPT can place each dot and create a Matrix painting without the underpainting beneath
the dots of paint. This has allowed a single brightness design (grayscale underpainting)
to be used in multiple Matrix paintings with different wavelength designs.

This possibility also created some new opportunities and problems. With wavelength
designs that do not completely cover the brightness design, the lack of the underpainting
beneath the dots was an element Seidler had not dealt with before. In some cases it led to
an undesirable loss of definition of the brightness design. To deal with this change, the
wavelength design was expanded to include a concept Seidler calls “negative space”
which refers to relatively large areas of space not covered by the wavelength design.
This was accomplished by defining a uniform background set of lines that allowed dots to
fill this negative space. In the first paintings done on the MPT these negative space dots
were kept grayscale to reflect the unseen underpainting. Later, Seidler adopted the
negative space into the wavelength design using it as a background hue other than gray to
fill in the negative space.

The absence of the underpainting also provided a new freedom. The canvas can be
painted with yet another design. The principle restriction is that the design is executed in
paint with little texture so as not to negatively impact the significant texture of the dots of
the wavelength design. So far the independent design of the underpainting has been
restricted to very simple designs of a principle hue. But this hue filling in the regions
between the dots, can strongly affect the overall tone of the composition. Seidler has a
tendency to use dark backgrounds even in his underpaintings, but he has begun to explore
lighter tones and even bright colors for backgrounds of Matrix paintings.
The other significant development that the MPT enabled is new paint textures. The
original plan was to have the MPT deposit a dollop of paint that the artist would manually
“smash” with a palette knife. However, Seidler immediately became enamored with the
variety of dots that were deposited directly by the tool. By changing the amount of paint
deposited and the tip height above the canvas, various shapes including spikes, little “Taj
Mahals”, Hershey’s Kisses, and pancakes. A fat Hershey’s Kiss shape is a favorite of
Seidler and several paintings have been done with this texture exclusively. There are
many more opportunities for unique paint texture effects that are being explored.

Another more subtle effect of the technology is a new method of creating abstract
wavelength designs that Seidler is now using to create some stunning landscapes. The
artist selects a uniform set of lines that cover the composition and a size and spacing for
all of the dots. Instead of assigning different hues to different lines, the artist selects a
number of hues and a ratio of the hues with respect to one another. For example the artist
might select purple and yellow as his hues and pre-determine that 70% of the dots will be
purple and 30% will be yellow. As the program places the dots along the lines, it selects
in a pseudo random manner (weighted to achieve the 70/30 split) between the purple and
yellow dots. In addition, the artist may choose to add some randomness to the placement
of the dots to avoid the regularity of the dot spacing.

There has been some discussion that paintings done in this manner do not involve the
merging of designs. We beg to differ. Simply because the wavelength design is abstract
and pseudo random nature does not change the fact that it is this design and not the
underpainting that selects the hue, size, and position of each dot.

The precision of the MPT is another new capability that the technology brings. It can be
used to create uniformity and alignment effects that are impossible to create by hand.
Seidler has generally avoided exploiting this feature. We believe that this choice is at
least partially in reaction to the ire of anti-technology reactionaries. The complaint that
Matricism, when realized with technological tools, is “computer generated” art is to be
expected, but we believe is misguided criticism. The artist is in control of the
composition. He paints the brightness designs and draws the rudiments of the
wavelength design. He selects the color matrix that is the hues and values. He selects the
size, spacing, and placement of the dots. The computer and robotics simply reduce some
of the labor involved. To those who say that it is not original art because technology is
making its realization easier, we suggest that there must have been similar complaints
when commercial oil paints became available. It may have been said that a “real” artist
mixes his own paints. It is an interesting historical note that the innovation of premixed
oil paints in tubes was a factor that allowed the Impressionists to take painting outside
where they were able to capture the transient effects of light and atmosphere.

The introduction of power tools to stone sculpture has been accepted for some time now.
Few people begrudge a modern sculptor using power tools to save time instead of using a
hammer and chisel. The MPT is simply the first power tool for oil painters.
We believe that real art is created by the heart and mind. The question of the importance
of Craftsmanship in art is an interesting one, especially with regard to the technical
innovations of Matricism. If one believes that craftsmanship is not important, then why
bother about what the artist uses as a tool? If you believe that craftsmanship is important,
then why deny the artist a superior paint brush?

V. The Future of Matricism

Matricism is a painting technique that has been developing over the past 13 years. It
started with the idea of simplifying color choices into a color matrix of values and hues
combined with the application of discrete dots of paint. These choices led to the unique
merging of separate designs into a single image. The complexity and intricacies created
by Matricism led to paintings that were so demanding that Seidler almost abandoned the
approach. The logical structure of the Matricism technique however, has allowed
technology to be developed and is allowing Matricism to evolve. New paint textures,
new execution techniques, and new design methods have already been discovered.

Where will Seidler take his new technique next? Certainly many new methods of
creating paint texture will be explored. But the opportunities for merging two designs are
most exciting and have only had the surface scratched. What relationships and interplay
between the two images will be explored? There are some intriguing possibilities for
including a background design to go along with the brightness design and wavelength
design. Perhaps Seidler will attempt to find some method of determining color intensity
along with hue and value. The exciting news is that the new found productivity that
technology has provided will allow Seidler and others a far greater opportunity to explore
the many possibilities of Matricism.