With a mix of arabesque design and AI-generated imagery, artist Jason Seife’s latest exhibition bears elements of the intricate and the infinite.
Titled Generascope, his first solo show in the region is currently on view at ICD Brookfield Place in the Dubai International Financial Centre and features four new paintings, 50 prints of his NFT artworks and a digital animation shown on a large, immersive screen display.
Of Cuban and Syrian heritage, Seife was born in Miami and partly raised by an Iranian aunt. Growing up, he was surrounded by traditional Oriental rugs, the designs of which fascinated him so much from a young age that he drew them for a high school project.
With a background in graphic design, he began producing paintings in 2013 that he would become known for — detailed replications of arabesque carpets, transferred from textile to paint on canvas.
Playing with texture and material, Seife has also produced works with acrylic on concrete. In these pieces, he renders ornate patterns on the concrete surface while leaving gaps exposed or treated in a way that mimics sand, an effect that makes it seem as though the designs are emerging from a ruin.
To further his study of traditional textiles, he travelled to Morocco, Turkey, Iran and Syria to meet with carpet-weavers and artists.
Four meticulously executed paintings, produced in the past year, are on view as part of the show at ICD Brookfield Place, which is also presenting new elements in the artist’s practice, specifically his venture into generative art.
In late 2021, he collaborated with developer Andrew Cassetti to create an algorithmic code that turned 11 hand-drawn images (also called “seed images”) into infinite iterations of designs. In the end, Seife decided on 1,111 versions to be sold as NFTs on OpenSea. His first digital artwork sold for $100,000.
The algorithm is able to do this by splicing, mirroring and reflecting the units within the patterns, producing unconventional visuals that go outside of recognisable traditional patterns and motifs.
“My goal is to push this art form in any way I can,” Seife tells The National. “I went to Iran and Syria, both places are part of my heritage and where this art form started, and I wanted to understand what the rules were so I could go and see where I can bend and break them.”
He explains that his decision to go digital has its practical side. For one, he can produce new works faster. In comparison, his paintings take weeks or months to complete, as he has to sketch out a pattern before drawing it on canvas and painstakingly paint the elements by hand. At present he works alone, without assistants.
Seife says that through NFTs, he is also able to reach more audiences who are able to experience his creations in a different way via screens.
“People can zoom in and take time to see things in the artwork,” he says. “Instead of doing 100 prints of the same piece, with this I can still have differentiation within the pieces. It’s a great way for me to bring a wider audience into my work."
With the generative works, he says, the hand-drawn aspects are still there, this time combined with new configurations that, at times, surprise even the artist.
“Sometimes three-headed figures come out of it,” he says.
He gives the example of a bird, a common motif in traditional rugs. “I would normally draw the full figure, but the algorithm creates its own shape where only a part of it is used.”
This change is evident in his latest paintings, too, which are a departure from his previous works. Their patterns have not been pulled from classic arabesque designs, but from the AI-generated visuals, a kind of cycle from the analogue to the digital and back again.
Though the paintings bear familiarity to Orientalist designs, there is a strange glitch dissonance, producing a more structured and symmetrical kaleidoscopic look as opposed to the more richly detailed florals and patterns of works past.
With this process, Seife is experimenting with ways to bridge his formal painting and digital practices.
“When I approach a painting, there are certain things, compositionally, that I would not do. Since I’ve based these paintings on algorithmic outputs and recreating them on canvas, I’m finding these little elements that were in the original and have now become a new shape,” he says.
“It’s interesting to have this almost ‘forced’ version of my work, where the algorithm rearranges the artwork in a new way, then I make a painting out of it."
Despite these projects, Seife insists that his primary interest remains with putting the brush to canvas. “I’m a painter still. Even these digital works are coming from hand drawings, and they’ll always go back to that.” His approach to working with algorithms, he says, is to enable more versions of his work while still retaining the uniqueness of each pattern.
"[Generascope] was exciting to me because it was really collaborative. I’ve always used digital and analogue and bounced between the two, and with this I feel like this is a collaboration with a computer where the original ones become something else."
Generascope is on view at ICD Brookfield Place until April 3.