DigitalFruit- John Salisbury

DigitalFruit is an interview series from Adafruit showcasing some of our favorite digital fine artists from around the world.  As we begin this new decade with its rapidly changing landscape, we must envision our path through a different lens.  Over the next few weeks we’ll feature many innovative perspectives and techniques that will inspire our maker community to construct a bold creative frontier.  The only way is forward.

1. Where are you based?

I am based in Carlsbad, a coastal town in northern San Diego, California.

2. Tell us about your background?

My background is heavily rooted in visual design. As a teenager living in California, I was obsessed with art and music and was drawn to graphic design through the work of Neville Brody, Vaughan Oliver, and David Carson. I grew up working in a print shop and had access to experiment visually with all sorts of machines and have always been keen on exploratory design.

After years of working in print and graphic design, I started a role that changed my design career by becoming one of the first user interface designers at Kyocera Mobile. I soon learned how to apply my creativity to develop user interface and application concepts that utilized technology in new ways to interact and display information. This opportunity allowed me a tremendous conceptual leap into what is now known as user experience design. I’ve done work for Sony, Qualcomm, Intel, Microsoft, VH1, and a host of startups harnessing technology in both practical and conceptual ways.

While at Sony, I developed an ambient TV viewing application that made interesting compositions from incoming TV signals. While at Kyocera, I developed application concepts that created unique screen savers based on the users’ phone usage. This was inspired off works at the time by Brian Eno and a flash-based artist named Joshua Davis.
In 2013 as a part of my design consulting business, I set up Craftlab Gallery with my wife in Oceanside, California, to showcase emerging artists and musicians. My connections with local musicians, designers, and artists allowed us to curate shows that fused the visual and audio, which somewhat drives a lot of the video work that I do today.

3. What inspires your work?

I am inspired by my daily life, which is a combination of the things I see in real life and the life I live on the digital screen and the world of online interactions. Being a digital designer for so long, I have a close relationship with the 2D computer screen. This has some fascination with me, and I often use the process of screen recording my interactions as a basis for video manipulations. I think that as our lives have become so entrenched with interacting with technology, it has become a parallel landscape to the real world our bodies live in.

I am inspired by classics such as Dada, Rauchenberg, David Hammonds, graphic design and adventurous music. Everyone that I am into has a sort of collage/assemblage aesthetic and has been with me since I was a pre-teen discovering the collage work of the Dada movement.  I don’t like my work to be too polished, and some computer-generated art can seem too algorithmic looking to me. I strive a lot to make something that feels authentic using this medium.

4. What are you currently working on?

I am currently in the process of working on three different video projects. I have a video for a synth artist 000 out of Amsterdam, which is employing the use of Machine Learning software (Runway) to generate brutalist architecture. I am remixing a letterpress collaboration between Marcos Mello and David Carson, from print to video composition. I am also remixing work by late 70’s NYC No Wave photographer Julia Gorton. It has been exciting to collaborate with a variety of people whose work touches on things close to the essence of my artistic inspiration. Once done with these, I get to work again with my favorite electronic composer Vytear. His work is so sonically rich, and I love immersing myself in his work.

4. Describe your process and what tools you like to use.

It starts with ideas surrounding the project, sometimes inputs from the source. A lot of musicians I work with give me the tracks, and I immerse myself in it and interpret what I hear. Often it’s through allowing myself to play with technique freely. I like to do a lot of screen recording and then manipulate what I see. That process will enable me to have a built-in animation basis. For the Vytear track Time Holes, I took one hundred abstract tape compositions on paper, scanned them and then used each image as one frame in the animation sequence. I then looped and layered those animations repeatedly for the whole video. Like in physical art practice, things like this give my work a somewhat organic feel and adds the unexpected touches that I am looking for. This excites me most, and I suppose it’s a bit like collage work.

I mostly use Adobe After Effects for my compositions, although I sometimes employ Adobe XD, a UX design tool I use for my design practice. I seem to like to use odd methods to generate an animation basis as it gives my work a few unpredictable results, which I like.


5. What does your workplace or studio look like? Do you work in silence or listen to music while you work?

I have a home office, nothing special, and work off my laptop wherever I might be. I am an ardent consumer of electronic music and use it to put myself in a creative state. I listen to artists such as 808 state, Apex Twin, Squarepusher, Boards of Canada, The Field, and lately, John Tejada. His last few records are so pristine, and they have been getting me through these days in COVID lockdown.

6. How has technology shaped your creative vision?

It has made many things somewhat more accessible and has allowed me to concentrate on making things weirder.  I like letting the medium slightly shape what I am creating. I love playing with the boundaries and limitations that make things feel somewhat authentic. I want to try and use software wrong and marvel at the weird artifacts it produces.

7. Any tips for someone interested in getting started in the digital art form?

Experiment always and use tools you can afford. Don’t think you have to know everything, just explore and learn by doing.

8. Where do you see generative and digital art heading in the future?

A lot of our world is experienced through the digital medium, so it’s part of our landscapes. Since I’ve been a designer of technology for 15 years, I’ve witnessed a lot of user data to drive design. Some art like this might come off as stale; there has to be a way to interject our personal experience to make it unique and authentic.
The cool thing is the availability to publish and to connect with others.

John Salisbury

DigitaFruit is curated by Adafruit lead photographer- Andrew Tingle

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