Falling Silent

Hi! I am John Cartan, a generative artist.

I started making generative art as a teenager in the late 70s, long before I ever heard the term. One piece, which I entitled "Frog Closures", left my contemporaries scratching their heads. I couldn't explain, even to myself, what I was doing or why. I only knew that I liked doing it.

In grad school in the 1980s I was sometimes invited to parties where I used a sound board to turn music into shifting shapes and colors - a brief foray into performance art.

About this time I started work on what I called the Starmaze, a decades-long project to translate a 9-dimensional mathematical structure into a series of 2D and 3D images and animations. I didn't think of myself as a generational artist at the time, but ultimately I was striving to share my visions with other people. Some questioned my mental health. Others were enchanted.

Meanwhile I became a student (degrees in Computer Science, Psychology, and a Masters in English), a teacher, a researcher, a writer, a hermit (five years in a cottage on Montana's Continental Divide). Then I married and raised a daughter, became a software developer, then a user experience designer and researcher, and eventually an inventor (7 patents), data visualization expert, and Senior Design Architect at Oracle Design.

While at a visualization conference in Boston I attended a lecture by the inventor of NodeBox, a visual language designed to create generative art. I was hooked and began haunting the NodeBox forum, learning and helping others. The research institute running the forum asked me to become the forum administrator and I've been happily volunteering there ever since.

I returned to my roots and began creating new generative art pieces using NodeBox. I have long believed in the power of constraints to channel creative work and was inspired by the constraints in John Maeda's Design By Numbers. In this book he confines himself to a canvas of 100 x 100 points, with each point having a grayscale value between 0 and 100. Yet within these tight constraints and a simple language he is able to create a wide range of effects.

For most of my work in NodeBox I have placed myself under similar constraints: typically a square canvas (exported at 1080 by 1080) and, for MP4 animations, no more than 750 frames (30 seconds at 25 frames per second). All work is vector-based using the Lisp-like visual language of NodeBox which codes with wires (nodes and links) instead of words.

As part of my process I spend time not just crafting an animation, but also carefully connecting and arranging the nodes used to create that animation. This arrangement of nodes is a form of meditation similar to flower arrangement; it helps me reach a deeper understanding of the patterns driving my artwork.

I will often begin with an effect I see in my mind's eye, working until it becomes visible on the screen and begins to move. I then begin to play with it, turning knobs, changing colors, experimenting with different proportions - and continue iterating for hours or days. I try to stay open to happy accidents; if an adjustment surprises me or reveals an unexpected beauty I change course and follow it wherever it leads. Sometimes I wind up in a place utterly different than where I started.

I seldom stay in one place for long. I am constantly experimenting with new effects, often inspired by mathematics. As a result each piece in my Instagram portfolio is unique, each the culmination of a different journey.

In 2020 I retired and since then have been improving my craft and forging relationships with other generative artists around the world. I regularly publish a node library used by other NodeBox artists.

The Work

My NFT artwork is for sale at Foundation

Individual purchased pieces can be seen in the following collections:

My NFTs appear in an international exhibit of NodeBox artists at Cyber

My complete portfolio of animations can be seen on Instagram

Films shown in Tokyo, the De Young Museum, and Chiba can be seen on Vimeo

My work appears in the 2022 edition of East Bay Artists


Two of my animations were projected onto all four walls of the NEORT++ Gallery as part of the Curation Free #2 Exhibit
A large format still image appears on Billboard 7 in the Expo Metro Art Tunnel
San Francisco
My short film "Under the City" was shown for three months in the De Young Museum as part of the De Young Open 2023
San Francisco
"Hydra Clock" was awarded Honorable Mention for Experimental Art in the 2023 Sheridan Prize for Art
New York
A large still piece was shown in Times Square on a mega digital billboard for Expo Metro New York Times Square
Chiba, Japan
"The Stars of Tashkent Winter Holiday" was projected on the side of a building during YohaS Christmas Festival in Chiba, Japan
Alameda, CA
My animations were projected on walls during the Studio 23 Gallery Blacklight Art Show
Miami Beach
Eight still images from my animations appeared on Billboard 3 of the 2022 Expo Metro Art Train

The Starmaze is featured in this Boing Boing Article

Inquiries welcome: email