Discover How Graphic & Sound Design, Journalism, and Teaching Influenced Mark Webster's NFTs
He has been an early contributor to the Processing community...
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Mark Webster has practiced many things during his professional career. Graphic design, sound design, journalism, teaching, and, of course, programming. Mark combines all this knowledge in his NFT art, resulting in various creations, from symbols and abstract pieces to AI/GAN art (artificial intelligence / generative adversarial networks). He has been a constant contributor to the Processing community and founded Processing Paris and the Processing Cities project.
Can you tell me a bit about your background?
My background is a mixed bag. I never received any formal training in art or design. Apart from being classically trained in piano from an early age, I’m self-taught in what I practice and teach today. Some critical stages in my life have guided me in this journey.
At university, I studied French and Chinese, which may seem quite incongruous to what I do today but, in fact, lay down the basis of my thinking about creativity and especially in the fields of the visual and graphic arts. Language lies at the heart of this and for so many reasons, and I think it started with learning Chinese in part. I became fascinated by the idea that people learn, communicate and think in a formal system of signs far removed from our 26 letters. As a student studying semiology with Barthes and Eco, my interest shifted towards how language shapes culture and our thinking.
After studying both in England and in China and graduation day over, I moved to France, where I embarked upon a creative road journey. One that began with a job in a traditional animation studio. Here, I began to learn more about visual and, specifically, graphic design. I’ll spare you the details, but after about five years in animation working as an assistant director, I moved into sound design, journalism, and writing, all as a freelancer. The main area of interest was motion design or motion graphics, as it was known at the time.
My work as a journalist allowed me to meet influential figures in that field. One particular meeting would be a catalyst for this when I interviewed John Maeda in 2005 during his solo European major exhibition at La Fondation Cartier in Paris.
Suddenly, I was learning to code. I was learning new languages, and I was also convinced that this new medium had an essential role in the future of the arts. I’ve devoted a good part of the last ten years of my life to educating others - mostly graphic design students and at the graduate level. In 2010, I also set up a series of workshops and events for creative coders using Processing. This became Processing Paris and extended with the Processing Cities project.
Can you tell me a bit about your creative process?
My process can be pretty complex, and I put this down to my work in graphic design. So much is driven by the concept that I tend to let the process take over, and this often takes me down many alleyways of thought. It is enriching because a lot of my inspiration comes from what I read - mostly non-fiction and neuroscience. I think I’m a little obsessed with the themes of memory, emotion, and the whole artificial intelligence realm.
Technically, I mostly use Processing to code with. The generative aspect of working with some formal creative system, from thinking about it, conceiving it, and encoding it within a program, fascinates me. However, this is only a starting point because I love to mix media, techniques, and approaches. With my most recent work, I’m using GANs to explore other visuals and working with hand-drawn data sets that I mix with my Processing work. I’m also excited about printing these images using traditional techniques such as the etching press. I’m still very much attached to the physical aspects of image-making and print quality.
Since you have been doing generative art (processing) for a while, do you feel the scene changed thanks to NFTs?
The simple answer to this is a resounding yes. Whether it is ‘thanks to’ has become a point of contention and animosity for some. I could write a lot about this, but it isn’t the place to do it. NFTs are here, and they are here to stay, from what I can see. It has caused quite a stir amongst the many communities and has both positive and negative effects. The critical thing to remember is that we need time and space to exchange, discuss openly, and eventually guide the future together. That may sound somewhat idealistic or plain obvious, but I have faith in community efforts.
On a personal level, my entry into the NFT space, and I stress that I’m only active in the Tezos environment, has led to many positive changes. I’ve never had so many discussions with people on Twitter, and I think I’ve been on that platform for like fourteen years! The number of artists and collectors with whom I engage is immense, and it is, albeit quite taxing mentally, very enriching. I’m grateful to have these exchanges because I learn more and feel supported.
What are your future plans?
I’m excited about my new prints coming out soon. It took me quite some time to find the experts I needed to help me in printing some of my artwork. These are the works printed on an etching press. I’m very fond of these pieces, and I’ll be devoting more time to future work with this process. They take time to produce, which is something that counters the fast and furious NFT production market. I also like the fact that they mix digital and hand-made processes.
More information will be on my website as soon as I have these pieces to show. At the same time, I’ll be offering digitally printed works, and I’m currently working on this. Because my work has also gained interest from outside the NFT space, I’m looking to experiment with different means for selling and promoting my work. I equally have a few ideas up my sleeve that I’ll keep secret for now but let me say that I like to slip in a few extras when shipping out my artwork to collectors. There is nothing more gratifying for an artist than to have one’s work appreciated, and for that, I like to give a little extra too.
Don’t forget to follow Mark Webster on his Twitter account to get all the news about his future prints.
Until next time,