Kinetic Fine Art

In 1905, Thomas Wilfred possibly made the first acknowledged kinetic painting. Later, in1919, he built the Clavilux. The Clavilux was composed of a translucent screen with a picture painted onto it, with reflectors and filters behind the picture, with mechanical mechanism and a light source. He called it the Lumia system. It was his color organ as mentioned earlier. Then in 1956, Frank Malina painted a picture onto a transparent object (“plate” as he called it). He also painted onto a rotating disc (rotor). A light source would shine through the rotor and plate. The plate (also called a “diffusor”) would combine the light, color, and movement. The Cosmos is a good example of how he put his work together. Both of these examples would be considered low-tech kinetic paintings by today’s standards. The microchip had not yet infiltrated our society. But in their time, the technology was high-tech. Both artists used the high-tech of their time to incorporate motion with a hand painted picture. This is traditional-high-tech kinetic painting.


My first several kinetic paintings, in 1986, were very similar to the two examples just mentioned. They consisted of a screen painting, done by hand, with a large wheel that turned slowly behind the screen painting. The wheel was powered by a dc power supply that I built. I used ambient light, and the wheel also had a screen painting. The screen canvas on the wheel and the picture were of patched screens. In other words, they were about one inch square patches of screen attached together and made to look as one complete screen canvas. The position of the lines in the patches from the front layer (the picture) to the back layer (wheel) would determine the direction of the moiré pattern movement. This moving moiré pattern mixed with the painted screen to create the total effect. I named the artwork “Santuario”.

A moiré pattern is simply a pattern seen by the eye but it doesn’t actually exist. When placing a screen over another screen, if you move either screen at some point you’ll see a pattern emerge. This pattern is created by the line interference of the two screens and does not actually exist, but is seen by the eye as a pattern.


The Santuario (formerly the 'Kinetic Visual Display') was my version of a traditional-high-tech kinetic painting. The stream looked as though it was flowing, and the trees swayed in the wind. The moving moiré pattern was created by the rotating wheel, which had a layer of screen in relation to the screen in the front. This information is only to allow you to see some of the progression that my kinetic painting has taken. This Field Project is a transition from low-tech (electronics) to high-tech (microchip) fine art.

Now, I am ready to describe the details of how my Field project was built. First using some hand drawings and the graphic program called Photoshop, I developed some pictures of patterns. These images were just plain black and white pictures. Then I brought these patterns into another program called After Effects. In After Effects, I put an alpha channel onto the white areas of the picture that was on the top track. This made the white areas transparent. Then I animated the picture on the top track to move over the other picture on the lower track. Due to the white area being transparent on the top track, the lower layer, or track was seen through these areas. The interference of lines from the two layers, or tracks created a moving moiré pattern. I would like to add that this is not how I normally made moiré animations in the past. Normally, I would make them in an animation program. But, I found the combination of Photoshop and After Effects to work easier, especially when it came time for rendering. A great deal of experimenting took place before I finally found this combination of programs to work for me. I still use a regular animation program, such as 3D Max or Lightwave, for some effects, but for the most part the video animation of After Effects has much more flexibility and control.


Also with the flat panel plasmatron monitor that I use as part of the kinetic painting, I can see the results instantly in the areas desired. Before starting this process of experimentation, I had a picture in my mind for a screen painting. So the movement had to be in certain areas to create the desired effects in the finished kinetic painting. Once I had the animated effects, in close proximity to the vision in my head, it was time to start the hand painted screen painting. This was actually the easiest part of the whole process. Especially since I had been painting, in Maryland, on screens for many years previously. But in order to paint a screen painting for the plasmatron monitor, I had to build a stretcher to fit onto the monitor.

Normally for a screen painting, I would stretch the screen the same as I would stretch a canvas in preparation to do a painting. The normal way to stretch a canvas, or screen is to use a canvas stretcher, then apply gesso to the canvas. But in this case, I had to see how the screen painting would look, on the plasmatron monitor, as the painting was in progress. So a stretcher had to be custom built onto the plasmatron monitor to allow me to play the video animation during the progress of the painting. The stretcher was built using galvanized steel. The galvanized steel was welded together using oxygen and acetylene compressed gas cylinders. Once the stretcher was built and fitted for the plasmatron monitor, the screen was attached to the stretcher. The attaching of the screen to the stretcher was a little tricky. It was a lot different from attaching a canvas, or screen canvas, to a canvas stretcher. It is important to stretch a canvas or screen canvas so that it doesn’t sag as you are painting. Normally wedges are used at the inner corners of a stretcher. They are lightly tapped with a hammer at each corner until the canvas has the desired tightness, or stretch. But with this custom built steel stretcher, I had to first attach the screen canvas to one side, then hold the screen canvas tight on the other end of the steel stretcher, and attach the screen canvas to that side. The screen canvas was attached to the steel stretcher using strands of wire taken from the screen canvas. Also, the steel stretcher was built, with an additional strand of flexible wire, so that it could be used for final tension adjustment to the stretch of the screen canvas.


Once the screen canvas was attached to the custom built steel stretcher, I was ready to apply the gesso to the screen canvas. Gesso has to be applied to the screen canvas in order to preserve the screen painting from the backside. This seals and protects the screen canvas from oxidation. Of course, the front of the screen painting will be protected by the use of an acrylic varnish. After applying the gesso, I was almost ready for creating the screen painting. But before applying any paint to the screen canvas, a design had to be sketched out on scratch paper. After making many sketches, I finally found something that was an approximation to what I envisioned. The light patterns of the video animation showing through the screen painting will eventually change the overall look of the design. So consideration had to be made for final adjustment of the animation and final touches of the screen painting for the eventual combined effect. After completing the rough design, I placed the design on a large flat table. Then I placed the prepared screen canvas on top of the design, and using the design as a guide, sketched an outline drawing on to the gesso surface. The sketch on the gesso has no detail and is only needed to approximate the composition for the screen painting.


Now the actual hand painting can be painted. The steel stretcher was then attached to the plasmatron monitor. This was done mainly so I could visualize in my mind the picture that I was about to paint. The plasmatron monitor has a wide groove on all sides of the monitor, which was already part of the design of the monitor. So the steel stretcher that I built fitted onto this groove. This stretcher could be easily removed and re-attached at my discretion. The first thing a painter does when painting a picture is to lay down paint. Since I didn’t want any paint to get onto the monitor, I painted using an easel. In other words, the screen canvas while attached to the steel stretcher was placed onto an easel. At intervals of the painting, I would attach the screen painting, which was attached to the steel stretcher, to the monitor to see the progress. At times I would play the animation to see the combined effect of the animation with the screen painting.

As a reminder, it is the combined effect of the hand painting on screen, and in this particular case, the video animation that constitutes the kinetic painting. Once the screen painting was near completion and most of the paint has been applied, I was ready to make a temporary attachment of the screen painting to a picture frame. The picture frame was eventually fitted on to the plasmatron monitor. In this case the picture frame was a custom-built picture frame, made by a professional frame maker, not me. The screen painting was actually attached to a Plexiglas, which was then attached to the picture frame. Then, I was ready to make adjustments to the video animation. The adjustments to the video animation were actually a very long process due to a low-end workstation, and each change had to be rendered. Also since the kinetic painting is a combination of screen painting and video animation, each change, or adjustment had to be viewed with the screen painting attached to the monitor as the video animation was running. Also, since the screen painting obstructed my view of the video animation while editing, the screen painting had to be taken off the plasmatron monitor and replaced many times. Then the screen painting was eventually reattached to see the combined affect. This was my difficult learning process of creating this type of kinetic painting. The majority of the testing at this point was due to my adding some actual video to the animation, which I had previously taped. I had some video shots that I took of a Flamenco performance. But, before this explanation of my method continues, this might be a good time to explain the result that I was aiming toward.


The actual screen painting is of a mother buffalo and its calf. They are surrounded by storm clouds, with painted moiré patterns going through the clouds and the buffalos. This is the actual screen painting, which is attached to the picture frame. Another screen painting is actually attached to the plasmatron monitor. This second screen painting is just a black and white pattern. Together these two screen paintings constitute the hand painted portion of the kinetic painting. Also, a portion of the first screen painting is of sunrays. These sunrays are actually going through the mother buffalo. Both screen paintings are painted with acrylic paint. The video animation has two different moiré animations showing through the screen paintings. One is for the cloud area. The other is for the mother buffalo and its calf. These two moiré animations are separated with a bezier mask created in After Effects. They are blended together with a feather, which is also created in After Effects. The Flamenco video shots are composited with an alpha channel, and then they are composited with the moiré animations. Then to blend the video animation with the screen painting, I composited an altered southwest still into the video animation along with the Flamenco dancer. The combined effect is flamenco dancing mixed with moving moiré patterns, within a southwest scene that has a buffalo and calf, with sunrays going through the buffalo.


Now, I will pick up the process with the video animation near done, and the picture frame with screen paintings attached to the plasmatron monitor. I also left the screen painting near done, purposely. So now, I could now put the finishing touches to the screen painting. Also while making final adjustments to the screen painting, the final adjustment was then added to the video animation. Once this process was completed, the kinetic painting was finished.

There was one more twist to the creation of this kinetic painting. A small computer had to be attached to the plasmatron monitor wall-mount. This was done so that the kinetic painting could be hung, on a museum wall, as one complete unit. I did not want the computer (CPU unit) that is running the video animation to be external from the kinetic painting. So I found a small computer on the Internet that could fit behind the plasmatron monitor as it hung from the wall. Before attaching this computer to the wall-mount, I had to test the computer. I was fairly sure with the specifications of the computer that it would run the animation, but I wasn’t sure if it would run continually for a long period of time. Once satisfied, I attached the small computer to the monitor’s wall mount bracket.


The wall mount unit was not designed for this type of an attachment, so by using two wall-mounts, I was able to redesign the wall-mount to accommodate the small computer. Also, the keyboard and mouse had to be attached to the wall-mount. This was needed in case of a power outage and then the small computer could be restarted. So with the kinetic painting completed, the video animation completed, and the computer components attached to the wall-mount, this was the completion of the Field Project.