Art Meets Coding: Matt Kane’s Creative Process

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Originally published April 22, 2020 on

After his promising entry into the art world back in 2004, Matt Kane took a break from it to push further his creative research. He did not want to commit to one style too soon, and ended up designing himself the software that now allows his visions to come to life in the digital realm, switching from one esthetic to the other. 

We asked him to show us the creative process behind one of his pieces. So let’s get to the images and insights he shared!

The process of making a piece changes one to the next. It’s difficult to speak linearly and impossible to generalize across all my pieces. I do what I have to do in order to create a presentable form of a painting. Sometimes that means pausing a painting and coding a new feature to my software if the idea warrants it. I’m always getting ideas while working on a painting and write down notes on areas I need to improve or what I need to add to my software. I generally spend a week strictly coding after finishing a piece or before beginning a new one.

More recently, I’ve been relying on my walks in the woods and meditations to sort out issues of the subject matter. Within a meditation, I’ll get a vision and start working the piece out cognitively. This becomes like a collaboration between my waking-mind and my unconscious. I’ve learned to trust that what comes from below is meant to be. I try not to interfere too much. Once my idea is solid, the next step is to gather image resources and if there’s collage work needing to be done, I set myself on that. 

For most of my pieces, I’ll create a wide variety of image masks. Often, but not always, this is where I’ll begin to tune into color and begin taking notes by way of what color I make each mask. I don’t know how my brain does it, but it’s always colored things object by object – respecting natural borders. These image masks are pretty good diagrams of how my mind has assigned color to a scene when I initially tune in. 

In my earliest work on canvas, like this process shot from 2004, I’d make these image masks as acrylic under-paintings. This is a special part of the process for me because it’s carried on all 19 years, from my studio days into this digital era.  

The way I designed the user-interface of my software is different from most software. I don’t use drop-down menus. Instead I use a tab & bucket system. I spread out all the UI tools across one monitor. This is inspired by how I used to set up my oil painting palette and lay out my brushes. I’d have every color laid out and every tool I’d need, at the ready – because you never want to kill your momentum by rummaging through a toolbox. I suppose I view drop-down menus as cluttered drawers that inhibit instantaneous workflow. 

My most frequently used variables, I’ve hooked up to a midi controller that interfaces with the software I’ve written using and Java. 

I’ll keep building an image until my gut, heart, and mind are all singing the same tune. I’ll often walk away from the computer for a couple hours when I think a piece is done. Sometimes I sit back down for another couple hours. Other times, I exit the software and the act of making the painting is saved as a database. It can performatively recreate itself like a player-piano reads sheet music.

In the case of my dimensional painting animations, I bring my work to a web browser, using a custom application I’ve written in javascript. The actual tools are quite extensive and take up an entire screen on my 2K monitor. This is just a small snapshot to give some context to this end of the process

After a painting is complete, I’ll reopen its database. I can create high-resolution images or setup animations. Because I can only view one layer animating in realtime, I compile each layer’s interaction with the next in my mind. I’m finding I’m very good at tracking these in my head. I have to render a piece before I see it all move in realtime together, so I’ll end up making several renders, making tiny adjustments between them if adjustments are needed. 

Before minting an NFT, I’ll add the painting to my NFT Portal website, I create a page for the artwork and load it up with additional public or private content. Often, a super high-resolution zoom-able image is included. Token owners are welcome to change permission on the artwork experiences that are designated as exclusives to them.

WOW! Thanks for the great lesson, Matt! 

Interview by art editor and curator Chiara Braidotti