Paintball’s Coming Home: generating Damien Hirst spot paintings

A few days ago, I read an article about Damien Hirst’s new spot paintings. I’d forgotten how regular the spots were in the original spot paintings from the 1990s (examples are on his page here). It made me think that these paintings could be randomly generated and so I wrote a quick piece of code to do this (HirstGenerator).

I used Hirst’s painting ‘Abalone Acetone Powder’ (1991), which is shown on this page as photographed by Alex Hartley. A wrote some code to sample the colours of this image and then a script to replicate it. The original is shown below  © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. Click them for full size.

and then this is the replica:

Now that I had a palette of the colours used in the original. It was simple to write a generator to make spot paintings where the spots are randomly assigned.

The generator can make canvasses at whatever size is required.

The code can be repurposed to make spot paintings with different palettes from his other spot paintings or from something else. So there you have it. Generative Hirst Spot Paintings.

For nerds only

My original idea was to generate a palette of unique colours from the original painting. Because of the way I sampled them, each spot is represented once in the palette. This means the same colour as used by the artist is represented as several very similar but nonidentical colours in the palette. My original plan was to find the euclidean distances between all spots in RGB colour space and to establish a distance cutoff to decide what is a unique colour.

That part was easy to write but what value to give for the cutoff was tricky. After some reading, it seems that other colour spaces are better suited for this task, e.g. converting RGB to a CIE colour space. For two reasons, I didn’t pursue this. First, quantixed coding is time-limited. Second. assuming that there is something to the composition of these spot paintings (and they are not a con trick) the frequency of spots must have artistic merit and so they should be left in the palette for sampling in the generated pictures. The representation of the palette in RGB colour space had an interesting pattern (shown in the GIF above).

The post title comes from “Paintball’s Coming Home” by Half Man Half Biscuit from Voyage To The Bottom Of The Road. Spot paintings are kind of paintballs, but mostly because I love the title of this song.

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