Davis created this art for Tool guitarist Adam Jones after visiting his house and looking at his tribal relics and videos showing embalmed babies.
via Wired Issue 14.03 - March 2006: [thanks TWhid!]
The Chaos of Joshua Davis
He's a punk, a provocateur, the bad boy of Web design. They call him the Jackson Pollock of the Internet age. He calls them a few choice four-letter words. But everyone from BMW to the Tate Modern wants a piece of him.
By Scott Kirsner
The first music Joshua Davis cranks up every morning, after he has carried a mug of coffee from his kitchen to the backyard barn that serves as his studio, is "Refused Are Fucking Dead," a punk diatribe by a Swedish band called Refused that foretells the group's crash and burn. Davis pounds the edge of his desk in rhythm, getting stoked for the day ahead. "My theme song," he says.
Davis is dressed in black - baseball cap, cords, long-sleeve sweater - accented by red socks and bright orange sneakers. His head is shaved from a recent surgery to remove a cyst. Three skulls are tattooed on the fingers of his left hand, and patches of inked skin peek out from his sleeves and the neck of his sweater. Inside the barn, there are skateboards hanging on the walls, six computers, a Wacom digital sketch tablet, a widescreen TV, several gaming consoles, a vintage Centipede arcade game, and a vast chalkboard showing Davis' upcoming speaking gigs: Mexico City in March, Toronto in April, Barcelona in May. Perched on a windowsill is a winged, Oscar-like statuette he received in 2001 from the prestigious European digital culture center Ars Electronica.
There are two ways to get noticed as an artist. You can stick to a familiar formula, like Thomas Kinkade with his prodigious output of country cottages that look perfect hung above the chenille sofa in a bed-and-breakfast. Or you can have a fresh shtick, something that kicks convention to the curb. Davis' shtick is provocation.
At 34, he's a skateboarding ex-cocaine addict whose body is tattooed almost as thoroughly as Tommy Lee's. He seeks confrontation at every turn. Addressing a recent gathering of several hundred architects in Ohio, Davis - who is completely unschooled in their field - boasted that his art-generating software could help them come up with bright ideas whenever they hit creative blocks. "Sure, that pissed some people off," he says. At the TED conference last year in Monterey, California, Davis greeted the technology, entertainment, and design bigwigs in the audience by calling them "special assholes." Then he referred to Jackson Pollock as a "conceptual prick." He asserts that he doesn't go to museums or surf the Net. "What's on the Net? Google, porn, Amazon, and my work," Davis says. "I want to bring something to the Net that's not on the Net."
Davis creates what he calls generative composition machines: applications written with his collaborator Branden Hall, using open source code and Flash to automate his sketches. He plugs in multiple options - say, five different drawings of a tree trunk, 10 types of leaves, seven branches, 15 critters that can live in the foliage, and 12 background colors. Then his code morphs the image from pastoral scenescape into any number of moving visuals - a time-lapse sequence of continental drift, a single frame of anime burning in front of a projector lens, or a Japanese landscape painting rendered as spin art.
For Davis, content is everywhere. While walking on the beach in Croatia a few years ago, he picked up a shard of earthenware that eventually served as the base ingredient for a piece of his art. He drew a version of its pale blue fleur-de-lis pattern on the Wacom tablet and changed it into other shapes and forms onscreen. He's also pulled colors off the cover of his daughter's Snow White DVD and used jellyfish at the Coney Island aquarium to give him ideas on shape and movement.
For all his antics - some of which are, to be sure, an act that barely disguises his nice guy bona fides - Davis pays the bills shilling for the Man. Right now, he's working on BMW's new Z4 coupe. "Yeah, I'll do it - why not?" he says. "I'll fly to Germany, sit in a room, and write code for my artwork. Hell, yeah." With projects completed or under way for clients as diverse as Barneys New York, Nike, Nokia, Diesel, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Tool, Davis has become the badass artiste mainstream America turns to for edgy branding.
"Having Josh create something new based on the car's design sounded like something that would get people talking," says Oliver Schmid, head of Dorten, the Stuttgart, Germany, ad agency that hired Davis for the BMW project. "We did think about how BMW would react to his persona - there were moments when we thought, this is going too far."
Davis is writing software for BMW that will generate 1,500 prints, each unique, inspired by the Z4's colors and lines. It's a clever twist on an artist's standard process of producing a batch of lithographs of a particular work. In this age of mass customization, Davis is saying, why not make every item an original? And who cares if a machine - not the artist - actually made the changes between prints 213 and 214? [read on...]