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The works use small, custom-built computer systems to produce the images rendered on flat screens. The 'paint' is entirely synthetic. Each work has many photographic base images which are 'painted' in a random sequence that continues indefinitely. Each painting of a base image is itself full of subtle variations so no two paintings of an image are ever identicalAfter I studied Matisse's work the impasto of the paint changed significantly.

In addition to having shot all the photographic images, I wrote both the program that prepares the images for painting and the program modules that paints them, affording me a level of control not possible with commercial software tools. The works are self-contained and can be turned on and off simply by pressing a button. The code is written in C and employs OpenGL and GLSLforgraphic
rendering. Because my work is written in C, if I have an idea then it is just me and the machine — I have no excuses or limits — and in that sense, I grind my own pigments.

McCarthy's works uncannily evince the facture of actual paintings. Which is not to say that you will be fooled into thinking you are looking at pigment on canvas; only that his works are sensual. His algorithms do a superb job of synthesizing line, brushstroke, and tactility. Whether that's good, I'm not sure. In general, I resist digital encroachments on certain segments of the real world. But, if we're destined to lose that battle, as it appears we are, then it's people like McCarthy whom I want in charge.

What's unquestionably good about McCarthy's effort is that it combines the virtues painting and video while muting their respective "problems". Painting activates the senses through the touch of the human hand on tangible surfaces. The problem is that you have to engage with it, something the device-addicted Facebook generation may be incapable of. With video, it's just the opposite. It exploits our survival instinct. If it moves, we look. We can't help it. McCarthy's works, because of how they blend the long-look demand of painting with the must-look quality of video, reward instinct and intellect simultaneously and in roughly equal measure. Thus, process is the product. The only counterpart that comes to mind are the videos David Hockney made of himself creating iPad drawings.

McCarthy, who spent years as chief engineer at the semiconductor maker Altera [now part of Intel] before taking up art in 1997, understands these challenges, having probed the neurophysiology of vision as explored by David Marr, the MIT scientist whose work on cognition and computation remains seminal decades after it was published posthumously in 1982. McCarthy's application of his ideas may well change the rules of engagement for painters.

David M. Roth,  April 2014

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