Posts Tagged ‘Robot artist’

1820 – Prosopographus, the Automaton Artist – Charles Hervé

prosopographus-automaton-artist-1820

Prosopographus

Selected extract from the full post by Patrick Feaster here.

Between 1820 and 1835, a machine was exhibited around Great Britain that was advertised as taking people’s portraits by strictly automatic means.  Someone had only to pay a shilling and sit perfectly still next to it for the space of a minute to obtain a likeness alleged to be more accurate than anything a living artist could have drawn.  The machine relied on principles very different from those of photography, first introduced to the world via the daguerreotype in 1839, and its portraits didn’t anticipate the photographic portraits of later years in any technical sense.  However, they did anticipate them quite closely in a cultural sense.  As far as subjects were concerned, they might have gone to get their pictures taken by this machine in 1825, and again by a photographic camera in 1845, without perceiving any fundamental difference between the two experiences.  In both cases, they would have been told that their likenesses were being captured automatically, without the mediation of a human observer, although they might still have paid extra for someone to touch up the results afterwards or add color to them.  The earlier machine went by the name of “Prosopographus, the Automaton Artist,” and it produced silhouettes—thousands upon thousands of them, if reports from the time are to be believed.  I was recently fortunate enough to acquire one, which is what prompted me to pull together the following account.

556-McK-S1-Prosopographus--

In appearance, Prosopographus was a miniature android figure dressed in fancy Spanish costume, shown above as illustrated on a period handbill.  I’ll refer to it here myself as “it,” but contemporaries generally anthropomorphized it as “him,” consistent with the grammatical gender of its Greco-Latinate name: Prosopo- (“face”) -graph- (“writer”) –us (second declension nominative masculine ending).  It held a pencil in its hand, and when someone sat down next to it, it would use this pencil—within full view of spectators—to trace an outline of the person’s profile.  The process was described variously as taking less than a minute, half a minute, or less than half a minute, but subjects had to hold perfectly still during that time: “The least movement on the part of the sitter will occasion the Automaton to shake his head, and the operation of taking the outline to be recommenced.  Advertisements emphasized that this work was carried out “without even touching the Face, and indeed “without touching, or having the slightest communication with the Person.  Daylight wasn’t necessary either, patrons were assured, so that likenesses could continue to be taken after sunset.  The proprietor never revealed the specific process used to capture people’s profiles, but it was claimed to be wholly mechanical, and hence superhuman in its accuracy.  Thus, Prosopographus was billed as “performing more perfect resemblances than is in the power of any living hand to trace,  and as “so contrived that by means of mechanism it is enabled to trace a more accurate and pleasing resemblance of any face that may be presented than could be produced through the agency of any LIVING artist whatever.

The basic portrait to which every visitor was entitled by default seems to have consisted of the profile painted in black, and some later advertisements specified that this included glass and a frame.  For a surcharge, however, the profiles could also be cut out, shaded, bronzed, or done up in full color, as well as mounted in a fancier frame, at prices up to thirty guineas if anyone cared to pay that much. The result, in any case, was something visually indistinguishable from a conventional silhouette portrait of the period.

And that complicates our present ability to identify surviving specimens of Prosopographus’s work.  According to Profiles of the Past, a website dedicated to the history of British silhouette portraiture, “very few silhouettes [by Prosopographus] are known today,” even though countless thousands are said to have been taken.  Technically, however, what’s rare is a silhouette that can be attributed to Prosopographus because it’s labeled that way on the back.  The few reported types of Prosopographus trade label are linked to just a few exhibition venues, so it may be that silhouettes taken in other places weren’t labeled, making them impossible to tell apart from “ordinary” silhouettes.  For all we know, nearly all unlabeled silhouettes of the 1820s and 1830s might be the work of Prosopographus, which would make them extremely common.  However, it’s only when there’s a label that we know for sure what we have.

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The Prosopographus portrait I recently acquired is one of those with the Halifax trade label and promotional text on the back, augmented by a handwritten inscription identifying its subject as Ellen Waterhouse.  The silhouette itself is a likeness of the basic type that was thrown in free with the price of admission: the profile painted in black, with just a few embellishments added in the same color to represent hair and veil.


See the full post by Patrick Feaster here.


See other early Robots in Art and Drawing Machines here.


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1964 – Painting Machine(s) – “Larry Flint” (American)

In the movie "What A Way To Go!", "Larry Flint" creates painting machines to produce his abstract art.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rps9NZPesh4#t=2696s

Plot
This lavishly produced, big-budget comedy (it cost $20 million in 1964 dollars) stars Shirley MacLaine as Louisa, a widow who is worth $200 million dollars. However, she's convinced that her fortune is cursed, and she wants to give all her money to the IRS. As she explains her sad tale to her psychiatrist, Dr. Stephanson (Robert Cummings), it seems that when Louisa was young she had the choice of marrying rich playboy Leonard Crawley (Dean Martin) or poor but decent Edgar Hopper (Dick Van Dyke). She chose Edgar, but soon he became obsessed with providing a fine home and fortune for her; he got rich but worked himself to death in the process. Despondent, Louisa flies to Paris, where she strikes up a romance with expatriate artist Larry Flint (Paul Newman). When Larry invents a machine that creates paintings based on sounds, he becomes wealthy and famous — and dies. Louisa returns to America, where she figures to break her streak by marrying Rod (Robert Mitchum), a business tycoon who already has lots of money. He resolves to take life easier and becomes a farmer, only to die in a strange accident with a bull. Louisa is drowning her sorrows one night at a sleazy night spot when she falls for second rate entertainer Jerry (Gene Kelly). They marry, and a now-wealthy Jerry develops a relaxed, carefree quality to his act that makes him a huge star, which leads to his being crushed by a mob of his biggest fans. What a Way to Go! boasted a screenplay by Betty Comdon and Adolph Green that featured many amusing film parodies  ~ Mark Deming. 

The manual use of a jack hammer to make loud, random noises before "Larry" discovered automation using a record player, thanks to "Louisa's" idea.

The more painting machines there were, the bigger the mural that could be painted, the more money one could make.
 

Sadly, there are no credits in the above film clip to find out who made the painting machines.

Paul Newman as "Larry Flint", an ex-patriot artist living in Paris. Shirley MacLaine as "Louisa", looking for the simple life.

"Larry" develops abstract painting machines consisting of a controllable arm with a paint-brush "hand".

He explains to "Louisa", "The sonic vibrations that go in there. And that gets transmitted to this photoelectric cell which gives those dynamic impulses to the brushes and the arms. And it's a fusion of a mechanised world and a human soul."

"Larry" uses a siren, horn, alarm bell, bongo, sledge hammer and a pneumatic jack hammer amongst other things as random sound sources for his abstract art.  "Louisa" hates the loud noise and suggests playing classical music on a record player instead. The music, in turn, is picked-up by  the "sonic palette" and "Larry" is over the moon in excitement over the wonderful results produced. However, "Louisa" says she prefers the real "Larry" produced art, and not the automated "Mendelssohn" inspired pieces.

As "Larry" gets more successful, you see multiple painting machines, mainly painting a mural together on a single, long canvas. The final scene shows the eight painting machines, now painted a gold colour and having an extended arm, plus two newer painting arms, which now have a longer boom arm, and a spine-like end-effector holding a brush, rather like an elephant's trunk. Ten machines in all.  These wrap around "Larry" during the final crescendo, then all the other painting machines encircle "Larry" holding him down, then simultaneously blow themselves up along with "Larry". So much for auto-destructive art!

In reality, the painting machines are props, manned by a person inside each base. This is evident when the bases move around by themselves, and the shape of them allows the hidden person to see what they are doing. The arm itself is fully articulated, and controlled by the person within the base.  The credits may conform this but I have not seen the credits.

Clearly a parody of the Swiss-French Kinetic Artist Jean Tinguely, who had made a name for himself making "Meta-matic" abstract drawing machines.

There is also a scene whereby we hear gunshots, only to find "Polly" shooting at paint balloons on a canvas creating a type of destructive art piece. Again clearly a parody to the late Niki de Saint Phalle who was an artist friend, later wife to Jean Tinguely who were both living in Paris at the time. Niki's early paintings of this period (1961) included her "Shooting Paintings."


 


Note: 2012. I first saw this movie on TV in black and white. I must have been about 12 years old at the time. The painting machines certainly inspired me.  It's taken me over 40 years, thanks to the internet, to locate this film. Wonderful to see again after all this time.


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