Interview

In Conversation with James Merrill

by Jordan Kantor

James Merrill is a digital artist who resides in a rural town tucked away in the mountains of Vermont. Merrill lives in a 150-year-old farmhouse with his family, including his spouse, daughter, cat, and dog. Merrill has been making digital art in one form or another for over two decades, and when he is not outside, he is working in what he calls his “laboratory.” I had the pleasure of speaking with James in advance of his upcoming Art Blocks project ORI.

JK: Hi James. Great to get a chance to speak with you. I understand art runs in your family. Can you talk a little bit about how you yourself got into making art?

JM: As a third-generation artist, I've always been making something, and art has given my life direction and purpose. Whether it was drawing, origami, or clay modeling, I grew up doing art projects with my mom's art supplies. Both she and my grandfather were art teachers. They both had studios in their homes and plenty of things to play around with. 

I was introduced to Newgrounds.com sometime around 2002/03 by a family friend. I was immediately drawn towards the funny, creative animations designers uploaded for everyone to enjoy. Soon after that, I got my own copy of Flash. I immediately began creating abstract designs and animations. Flash came bundled with Actionscript, and I started learning how to program to make my own websites.

James Merrill. Untitled, 2003. Digital drawing.

My future was set. I started doing daily artwork and posting it online. This led me to communities of other fledgling digital artists and fueled my interest in doing new things with art and computer software.

I would go on to collaborate with digital artists from around the world in groups like EvokeOne and Depthcore. These collectives pushed the envelope in digital art by doing curated group releases together.

Opening of “EvokeONE Digital Art.” Baltimore City, MD, 2011. Photography: Ted Yavuzkurt.
JK: So you have a long history making digital art. How did you begin pursuing generative art, specifically?

JM: I was initially disinterested in generative art and instead preferred the manual process of digital painting. During these early years, my programming knowledge grew professionally alongside my passion for digital art. I used it to create some data visualization work in Flash to show off my GPS bike data or favorite music wave spectrums, for example. Although it would be many years until I revisited this, it was the first time I ventured into programmatic graphics.

My sentiment changed in 2018 when I randomly caught a post on HackerNews about #plottertwitter. My mind was blown by these strange drawing robots that artists would use to plot generative art onto paper. Soon after, I bought my Axidraw from EvilMadScientist and downloaded Processing. Although Flash had been dead since 2011, the syntax and patterns of Processing reminded me of the drawing APIs in Actionscript. I began investing hundreds of hours into learning everything I could about generative programming.

James Merrill. Subdivider, 2020. Plotter drawing with watercolor, 18 x 12 in.
JK: And then what was the transition into thinking about NFTs?

JM: In early 2021, I was one of the many witnesses to the emergence of NFTs via following other artists on Twitter. Around the same time, my good friend Justin Maller did a drop on Nifty Gateway and rekindled the Depthcore community. Upon joining the Discord, I recognized many of the most inspirational and prolific digital artists that had been key to my digital art journey. We were back! Older, grayer-haired, and re-energized. Justin gave me my initial NFT- and crypto tutorial and helped me set up my Metamask. It was mind-blowing to watch the market in real-time feed on the artwork that was so important in my life, but which had always been done for free. We would go on to do two Depthcore Nifty Gateway releases.

JK: With such a long creative history, and now as you say a bit “older and grayer-haired,” can you reflect a bit on how your practice has changed and evolved?

JM: I've been doing this for around 20 years and have undergone different phases.

For a long while, I focused on vector and 3D designs that were heavily abstract. I would pirate every tool I could find and figure out how to make something artistic. Many programs were meant for architecture design, VFX, and industrial simulations. I'd combine their results to make static graphics I found interesting.

James Merrill, The Blueprint, 2015. Digital drawing.

Eventually, digital painting took center stage, and I developed a style mimicking mixed media brushwork. Towards the end of that phase, I began incorporating some of the graffiti-like elements that would later appear again in ORI.

James Merrill, STREET SERIES: RUINTOWN, 2016. Digital drawing.

I needed a change; painting began feeling stale. I returned to my 3D roots and began deeply exploring the nature of simulating physics with tools and making artistic outputs. My design goal was to start with realistic fluid dynamics simulations, but combine unusual forces and emphasize color to create psychedelic visuals.

James Merrill, WAVEFORMS 1. Installation view, The Netherlands. Photography: Onedome

I became obsessed with the nature of math as our understanding of reality. Could we use math to forecast any turn of events? From a drip of water to a waterfall? The Navier-Stokes equations are theoretically able to do this with fluids. They are part of the Millenium Prize, which awards $1,000,000 to individuals who resolve these types of problems.

My 3D work would result in a series of short films, including OCHRE and Waveforms 1 & 2. It would also serve as the basis for my entry into the NFT world.

James Merrill, A Series of Tubes, 2020. Plotter Drawing, 18 x 12 in.

Plotter art became my primary focus a few years ago, and I took a very limited and minimal approach to generative art. Plotters only accept lines, and they do not care about layering. So all of my algorithms had to be specialized to work within these constraints. I suddenly had to educate myself on algebra to write intersection detection algorithms. It was a bit of a shock to my system, given I had a partial high school education and math was the bane of my existence. But my investment paid off when I saw my artwork drawn in pen with excruciating detail.

JK: Any recent accomplishments you'd like to share?

JM: I recently participated in Feral File's -GRAPH exhibit alongside other artists who’ve released on Art Blocks such as Tyler Hobbs, Licia He, and Julian Gachadoat. We took a unique angle to NFTs: we included a physical plotter drawing for each of the 30 mints. It was incredible to circulate ideas with my fellow artists and Casey Reas, who curated the exhibit. My submission, titled Chaos Blocks is a generative algorithm that features substantial pattern work. You may recognize some aspects of it in ORI as well.

James Merrill, Chaos Blocks, 2021. Plotter Drawing, 18 x 12 in.

At the end of 2021, I saw my artwork live on a massive screen in Times Square. It was the perfect way to conclude a fantastic year in Cryptoart. Since then, I have gone heads down, radio silent to make ORI.

James Merrill. Liquid Galaxies. Times Square, New York. 2021.
JK: I can imagine it was a thrill to see your work on the big screen: I can almost see you smile under the mask there! So, in the intervening year, you have been cranking away on ORI. What, in particular, was the inspiration for this body of work?

JM: ORI started as an experiment in programming an origami algorithm. The results were highly unpredictable, but they really stood out when they worked. Origami has always fascinated me, and I began to see paper as geometry and folds as manipulations of its coordinates.

I spent time meeting with graffiti writers in Vermont and hanging out under bridges to watch people work. It's Vermont, so I wasn't particularly concerned about trekking into “unsafe” places at unusual times and doing some light trespassing. Although I don't write myself, I have always found graffiti and street art to be some of the most intriguing styles of artwork.

James Merrill. “Graffiti Mecca,” Winooski, Vermont, 2022.

I leaned hard into my digital art roots to combine principles of origami and graffiti in visually exciting ways. The compositions I pursued felt second nature, given my past. I was well equipped to balance detail and simplicity across the portfolio of test mints.

James Merrill, ORI #0, 2022.
JK: What a fascinating and unlikely combination of influences: truly unique. What should collectors look for in ORI as the series is revealed?

JM: I created a system that stacks up mutations and randomness. By design, this gives ORI a wide variety of output possibilities. It was my intention to create a system that is geometrically emergent with a style that provides coherence. I want ORI to be recognizable as a series, but each mint to have a unique form.

Personally, I really gravitate to the mints that have a single background color. When the random function cooperates, the background fills can sometimes all be the same base color, and the foreground elements may be extra bold or subtle.

JK: Anything else people should know to better understand your art?

JM: I weirdly enjoy tedium. Some of my 3D projects took hundreds of hours to simulate and render. I've spent countless nights running my computer at max speed to wake up to a new JPG sequence. It reminds me of baking cookies. Generative art is a different beast but has some of the same trials. In this space, I am building the geometry and the rendering engine.

JK: Baking jpg sequences: that sounds amazing. What is the best way for people to follow your work and to learn more?

The ORI microsite: ori.lostpixels.io
My website: lostpixels.io
Twitter: @toThePixel
Instagram: @lostpixels
Vimeo: vimeo.com/lostpixels

James Merrill is a digital artist who resides in a rural town tucked away in the mountains of Vermont. Merrill lives in a 150-year-old farmhouse with his family, including his spouse, daughter, cat, and dog. Merrill has been making digital art in one form or another for over two decades, and when he is not outside, he is working in what he calls his “laboratory.” I had the pleasure of speaking with James in advance of his upcoming Art Blocks project ORI.

JK: Hi James. Great to get a chance to speak with you. I understand art runs in your family. Can you talk a little bit about how you yourself got into making art?

JM: As a third-generation artist, I've always been making something, and art has given my life direction and purpose. Whether it was drawing, origami, or clay modeling, I grew up doing art projects with my mom's art supplies. Both she and my grandfather were art teachers. They both had studios in their homes and plenty of things to play around with. 

I was introduced to Newgrounds.com sometime around 2002/03 by a family friend. I was immediately drawn towards the funny, creative animations designers uploaded for everyone to enjoy. Soon after that, I got my own copy of Flash. I immediately began creating abstract designs and animations. Flash came bundled with Actionscript, and I started learning how to program to make my own websites.

James Merrill. Untitled, 2003. Digital drawing.

My future was set. I started doing daily artwork and posting it online. This led me to communities of other fledgling digital artists and fueled my interest in doing new things with art and computer software.

I would go on to collaborate with digital artists from around the world in groups like EvokeOne and Depthcore. These collectives pushed the envelope in digital art by doing curated group releases together.

Opening of “EvokeONE Digital Art.” Baltimore City, MD, 2011. Photography: Ted Yavuzkurt.
JK: So you have a long history making digital art. How did you begin pursuing generative art, specifically?

JM: I was initially disinterested in generative art and instead preferred the manual process of digital painting. During these early years, my programming knowledge grew professionally alongside my passion for digital art. I used it to create some data visualization work in Flash to show off my GPS bike data or favorite music wave spectrums, for example. Although it would be many years until I revisited this, it was the first time I ventured into programmatic graphics.

My sentiment changed in 2018 when I randomly caught a post on HackerNews about #plottertwitter. My mind was blown by these strange drawing robots that artists would use to plot generative art onto paper. Soon after, I bought my Axidraw from EvilMadScientist and downloaded Processing. Although Flash had been dead since 2011, the syntax and patterns of Processing reminded me of the drawing APIs in Actionscript. I began investing hundreds of hours into learning everything I could about generative programming.

James Merrill. Subdivider, 2020. Plotter drawing with watercolor, 18 x 12 in.
JK: And then what was the transition into thinking about NFTs?

JM: In early 2021, I was one of the many witnesses to the emergence of NFTs via following other artists on Twitter. Around the same time, my good friend Justin Maller did a drop on Nifty Gateway and rekindled the Depthcore community. Upon joining the Discord, I recognized many of the most inspirational and prolific digital artists that had been key to my digital art journey. We were back! Older, grayer-haired, and re-energized. Justin gave me my initial NFT- and crypto tutorial and helped me set up my Metamask. It was mind-blowing to watch the market in real-time feed on the artwork that was so important in my life, but which had always been done for free. We would go on to do two Depthcore Nifty Gateway releases.

JK: With such a long creative history, and now as you say a bit “older and grayer-haired,” can you reflect a bit on how your practice has changed and evolved?

JM: I've been doing this for around 20 years and have undergone different phases.

For a long while, I focused on vector and 3D designs that were heavily abstract. I would pirate every tool I could find and figure out how to make something artistic. Many programs were meant for architecture design, VFX, and industrial simulations. I'd combine their results to make static graphics I found interesting.

James Merrill, The Blueprint, 2015. Digital drawing.

Eventually, digital painting took center stage, and I developed a style mimicking mixed media brushwork. Towards the end of that phase, I began incorporating some of the graffiti-like elements that would later appear again in ORI.

James Merrill, STREET SERIES: RUINTOWN, 2016. Digital drawing.

I needed a change; painting began feeling stale. I returned to my 3D roots and began deeply exploring the nature of simulating physics with tools and making artistic outputs. My design goal was to start with realistic fluid dynamics simulations, but combine unusual forces and emphasize color to create psychedelic visuals.

James Merrill, WAVEFORMS 1. Installation view, The Netherlands. Photography: Onedome

I became obsessed with the nature of math as our understanding of reality. Could we use math to forecast any turn of events? From a drip of water to a waterfall? The Navier-Stokes equations are theoretically able to do this with fluids. They are part of the Millenium Prize, which awards $1,000,000 to individuals who resolve these types of problems.

My 3D work would result in a series of short films, including OCHRE and Waveforms 1 & 2. It would also serve as the basis for my entry into the NFT world.

James Merrill, A Series of Tubes, 2020. Plotter Drawing, 18 x 12 in.

Plotter art became my primary focus a few years ago, and I took a very limited and minimal approach to generative art. Plotters only accept lines, and they do not care about layering. So all of my algorithms had to be specialized to work within these constraints. I suddenly had to educate myself on algebra to write intersection detection algorithms. It was a bit of a shock to my system, given I had a partial high school education and math was the bane of my existence. But my investment paid off when I saw my artwork drawn in pen with excruciating detail.

JK: Any recent accomplishments you'd like to share?

JM: I recently participated in Feral File's -GRAPH exhibit alongside other artists who’ve released on Art Blocks such as Tyler Hobbs, Licia He, and Julian Gachadoat. We took a unique angle to NFTs: we included a physical plotter drawing for each of the 30 mints. It was incredible to circulate ideas with my fellow artists and Casey Reas, who curated the exhibit. My submission, titled Chaos Blocks is a generative algorithm that features substantial pattern work. You may recognize some aspects of it in ORI as well.

James Merrill, Chaos Blocks, 2021. Plotter Drawing, 18 x 12 in.

At the end of 2021, I saw my artwork live on a massive screen in Times Square. It was the perfect way to conclude a fantastic year in Cryptoart. Since then, I have gone heads down, radio silent to make ORI.

James Merrill. Liquid Galaxies. Times Square, New York. 2021.
JK: I can imagine it was a thrill to see your work on the big screen: I can almost see you smile under the mask there! So, in the intervening year, you have been cranking away on ORI. What, in particular, was the inspiration for this body of work?

JM: ORI started as an experiment in programming an origami algorithm. The results were highly unpredictable, but they really stood out when they worked. Origami has always fascinated me, and I began to see paper as geometry and folds as manipulations of its coordinates.

I spent time meeting with graffiti writers in Vermont and hanging out under bridges to watch people work. It's Vermont, so I wasn't particularly concerned about trekking into “unsafe” places at unusual times and doing some light trespassing. Although I don't write myself, I have always found graffiti and street art to be some of the most intriguing styles of artwork.

James Merrill. “Graffiti Mecca,” Winooski, Vermont, 2022.

I leaned hard into my digital art roots to combine principles of origami and graffiti in visually exciting ways. The compositions I pursued felt second nature, given my past. I was well equipped to balance detail and simplicity across the portfolio of test mints.

James Merrill, ORI #0, 2022.
JK: What a fascinating and unlikely combination of influences: truly unique. What should collectors look for in ORI as the series is revealed?

JM: I created a system that stacks up mutations and randomness. By design, this gives ORI a wide variety of output possibilities. It was my intention to create a system that is geometrically emergent with a style that provides coherence. I want ORI to be recognizable as a series, but each mint to have a unique form.

Personally, I really gravitate to the mints that have a single background color. When the random function cooperates, the background fills can sometimes all be the same base color, and the foreground elements may be extra bold or subtle.

JK: Anything else people should know to better understand your art?

JM: I weirdly enjoy tedium. Some of my 3D projects took hundreds of hours to simulate and render. I've spent countless nights running my computer at max speed to wake up to a new JPG sequence. It reminds me of baking cookies. Generative art is a different beast but has some of the same trials. In this space, I am building the geometry and the rendering engine.

JK: Baking jpg sequences: that sounds amazing. What is the best way for people to follow your work and to learn more?

The ORI microsite: ori.lostpixels.io
My website: lostpixels.io
Twitter: @toThePixel
Instagram: @lostpixels
Vimeo: vimeo.com/lostpixels

James Merrill is a digital artist who resides in a rural town tucked away in the mountains of Vermont. Merrill lives in a 150-year-old farmhouse with his family, including his spouse, daughter, cat, and dog. Merrill has been making digital art in one form or another for over two decades, and when he is not outside, he is working in what he calls his “laboratory.” I had the pleasure of speaking with James in advance of his upcoming Art Blocks project ORI.

JK: Hi James. Great to get a chance to speak with you. I understand art runs in your family. Can you talk a little bit about how you yourself got into making art?

JM: As a third-generation artist, I've always been making something, and art has given my life direction and purpose. Whether it was drawing, origami, or clay modeling, I grew up doing art projects with my mom's art supplies. Both she and my grandfather were art teachers. They both had studios in their homes and plenty of things to play around with. 

I was introduced to Newgrounds.com sometime around 2002/03 by a family friend. I was immediately drawn towards the funny, creative animations designers uploaded for everyone to enjoy. Soon after that, I got my own copy of Flash. I immediately began creating abstract designs and animations. Flash came bundled with Actionscript, and I started learning how to program to make my own websites.

James Merrill. Untitled, 2003. Digital drawing.

My future was set. I started doing daily artwork and posting it online. This led me to communities of other fledgling digital artists and fueled my interest in doing new things with art and computer software.

I would go on to collaborate with digital artists from around the world in groups like EvokeOne and Depthcore. These collectives pushed the envelope in digital art by doing curated group releases together.

Opening of “EvokeONE Digital Art.” Baltimore City, MD, 2011. Photography: Ted Yavuzkurt.
JK: So you have a long history making digital art. How did you begin pursuing generative art, specifically?

JM: I was initially disinterested in generative art and instead preferred the manual process of digital painting. During these early years, my programming knowledge grew professionally alongside my passion for digital art. I used it to create some data visualization work in Flash to show off my GPS bike data or favorite music wave spectrums, for example. Although it would be many years until I revisited this, it was the first time I ventured into programmatic graphics.

My sentiment changed in 2018 when I randomly caught a post on HackerNews about #plottertwitter. My mind was blown by these strange drawing robots that artists would use to plot generative art onto paper. Soon after, I bought my Axidraw from EvilMadScientist and downloaded Processing. Although Flash had been dead since 2011, the syntax and patterns of Processing reminded me of the drawing APIs in Actionscript. I began investing hundreds of hours into learning everything I could about generative programming.

James Merrill. Subdivider, 2020. Plotter drawing with watercolor, 18 x 12 in.
JK: And then what was the transition into thinking about NFTs?

JM: In early 2021, I was one of the many witnesses to the emergence of NFTs via following other artists on Twitter. Around the same time, my good friend Justin Maller did a drop on Nifty Gateway and rekindled the Depthcore community. Upon joining the Discord, I recognized many of the most inspirational and prolific digital artists that had been key to my digital art journey. We were back! Older, grayer-haired, and re-energized. Justin gave me my initial NFT- and crypto tutorial and helped me set up my Metamask. It was mind-blowing to watch the market in real-time feed on the artwork that was so important in my life, but which had always been done for free. We would go on to do two Depthcore Nifty Gateway releases.

JK: With such a long creative history, and now as you say a bit “older and grayer-haired,” can you reflect a bit on how your practice has changed and evolved?

JM: I've been doing this for around 20 years and have undergone different phases.

For a long while, I focused on vector and 3D designs that were heavily abstract. I would pirate every tool I could find and figure out how to make something artistic. Many programs were meant for architecture design, VFX, and industrial simulations. I'd combine their results to make static graphics I found interesting.

James Merrill, The Blueprint, 2015. Digital drawing.

Eventually, digital painting took center stage, and I developed a style mimicking mixed media brushwork. Towards the end of that phase, I began incorporating some of the graffiti-like elements that would later appear again in ORI.

James Merrill, STREET SERIES: RUINTOWN, 2016. Digital drawing.

I needed a change; painting began feeling stale. I returned to my 3D roots and began deeply exploring the nature of simulating physics with tools and making artistic outputs. My design goal was to start with realistic fluid dynamics simulations, but combine unusual forces and emphasize color to create psychedelic visuals.

James Merrill, WAVEFORMS 1. Installation view, The Netherlands. Photography: Onedome

I became obsessed with the nature of math as our understanding of reality. Could we use math to forecast any turn of events? From a drip of water to a waterfall? The Navier-Stokes equations are theoretically able to do this with fluids. They are part of the Millenium Prize, which awards $1,000,000 to individuals who resolve these types of problems.

My 3D work would result in a series of short films, including OCHRE and Waveforms 1 & 2. It would also serve as the basis for my entry into the NFT world.

James Merrill, A Series of Tubes, 2020. Plotter Drawing, 18 x 12 in.

Plotter art became my primary focus a few years ago, and I took a very limited and minimal approach to generative art. Plotters only accept lines, and they do not care about layering. So all of my algorithms had to be specialized to work within these constraints. I suddenly had to educate myself on algebra to write intersection detection algorithms. It was a bit of a shock to my system, given I had a partial high school education and math was the bane of my existence. But my investment paid off when I saw my artwork drawn in pen with excruciating detail.

JK: Any recent accomplishments you'd like to share?

JM: I recently participated in Feral File's -GRAPH exhibit alongside other artists who’ve released on Art Blocks such as Tyler Hobbs, Licia He, and Julian Gachadoat. We took a unique angle to NFTs: we included a physical plotter drawing for each of the 30 mints. It was incredible to circulate ideas with my fellow artists and Casey Reas, who curated the exhibit. My submission, titled Chaos Blocks is a generative algorithm that features substantial pattern work. You may recognize some aspects of it in ORI as well.

James Merrill, Chaos Blocks, 2021. Plotter Drawing, 18 x 12 in.

At the end of 2021, I saw my artwork live on a massive screen in Times Square. It was the perfect way to conclude a fantastic year in Cryptoart. Since then, I have gone heads down, radio silent to make ORI.

James Merrill. Liquid Galaxies. Times Square, New York. 2021.
JK: I can imagine it was a thrill to see your work on the big screen: I can almost see you smile under the mask there! So, in the intervening year, you have been cranking away on ORI. What, in particular, was the inspiration for this body of work?

JM: ORI started as an experiment in programming an origami algorithm. The results were highly unpredictable, but they really stood out when they worked. Origami has always fascinated me, and I began to see paper as geometry and folds as manipulations of its coordinates.

I spent time meeting with graffiti writers in Vermont and hanging out under bridges to watch people work. It's Vermont, so I wasn't particularly concerned about trekking into “unsafe” places at unusual times and doing some light trespassing. Although I don't write myself, I have always found graffiti and street art to be some of the most intriguing styles of artwork.

James Merrill. “Graffiti Mecca,” Winooski, Vermont, 2022.

I leaned hard into my digital art roots to combine principles of origami and graffiti in visually exciting ways. The compositions I pursued felt second nature, given my past. I was well equipped to balance detail and simplicity across the portfolio of test mints.

James Merrill, ORI #0, 2022.
JK: What a fascinating and unlikely combination of influences: truly unique. What should collectors look for in ORI as the series is revealed?

JM: I created a system that stacks up mutations and randomness. By design, this gives ORI a wide variety of output possibilities. It was my intention to create a system that is geometrically emergent with a style that provides coherence. I want ORI to be recognizable as a series, but each mint to have a unique form.

Personally, I really gravitate to the mints that have a single background color. When the random function cooperates, the background fills can sometimes all be the same base color, and the foreground elements may be extra bold or subtle.

JK: Anything else people should know to better understand your art?

JM: I weirdly enjoy tedium. Some of my 3D projects took hundreds of hours to simulate and render. I've spent countless nights running my computer at max speed to wake up to a new JPG sequence. It reminds me of baking cookies. Generative art is a different beast but has some of the same trials. In this space, I am building the geometry and the rendering engine.

JK: Baking jpg sequences: that sounds amazing. What is the best way for people to follow your work and to learn more?

The ORI microsite: ori.lostpixels.io
My website: lostpixels.io
Twitter: @toThePixel
Instagram: @lostpixels
Vimeo: vimeo.com/lostpixels

James Merrill is a digital artist who resides in a rural town tucked away in the mountains of Vermont. Merrill lives in a 150-year-old farmhouse with his family, including his spouse, daughter, cat, and dog. Merrill has been making digital art in one form or another for over two decades, and when he is not outside, he is working in what he calls his “laboratory.” I had the pleasure of speaking with James in advance of his upcoming Art Blocks project ORI.

JK: Hi James. Great to get a chance to speak with you. I understand art runs in your family. Can you talk a little bit about how you yourself got into making art?

JM: As a third-generation artist, I've always been making something, and art has given my life direction and purpose. Whether it was drawing, origami, or clay modeling, I grew up doing art projects with my mom's art supplies. Both she and my grandfather were art teachers. They both had studios in their homes and plenty of things to play around with. 

I was introduced to Newgrounds.com sometime around 2002/03 by a family friend. I was immediately drawn towards the funny, creative animations designers uploaded for everyone to enjoy. Soon after that, I got my own copy of Flash. I immediately began creating abstract designs and animations. Flash came bundled with Actionscript, and I started learning how to program to make my own websites.

James Merrill. Untitled, 2003. Digital drawing.

My future was set. I started doing daily artwork and posting it online. This led me to communities of other fledgling digital artists and fueled my interest in doing new things with art and computer software.

I would go on to collaborate with digital artists from around the world in groups like EvokeOne and Depthcore. These collectives pushed the envelope in digital art by doing curated group releases together.

Opening of “EvokeONE Digital Art.” Baltimore City, MD, 2011. Photography: Ted Yavuzkurt.
JK: So you have a long history making digital art. How did you begin pursuing generative art, specifically?

JM: I was initially disinterested in generative art and instead preferred the manual process of digital painting. During these early years, my programming knowledge grew professionally alongside my passion for digital art. I used it to create some data visualization work in Flash to show off my GPS bike data or favorite music wave spectrums, for example. Although it would be many years until I revisited this, it was the first time I ventured into programmatic graphics.

My sentiment changed in 2018 when I randomly caught a post on HackerNews about #plottertwitter. My mind was blown by these strange drawing robots that artists would use to plot generative art onto paper. Soon after, I bought my Axidraw from EvilMadScientist and downloaded Processing. Although Flash had been dead since 2011, the syntax and patterns of Processing reminded me of the drawing APIs in Actionscript. I began investing hundreds of hours into learning everything I could about generative programming.

James Merrill. Subdivider, 2020. Plotter drawing with watercolor, 18 x 12 in.
JK: And then what was the transition into thinking about NFTs?

JM: In early 2021, I was one of the many witnesses to the emergence of NFTs via following other artists on Twitter. Around the same time, my good friend Justin Maller did a drop on Nifty Gateway and rekindled the Depthcore community. Upon joining the Discord, I recognized many of the most inspirational and prolific digital artists that had been key to my digital art journey. We were back! Older, grayer-haired, and re-energized. Justin gave me my initial NFT- and crypto tutorial and helped me set up my Metamask. It was mind-blowing to watch the market in real-time feed on the artwork that was so important in my life, but which had always been done for free. We would go on to do two Depthcore Nifty Gateway releases.

JK: With such a long creative history, and now as you say a bit “older and grayer-haired,” can you reflect a bit on how your practice has changed and evolved?

JM: I've been doing this for around 20 years and have undergone different phases.

For a long while, I focused on vector and 3D designs that were heavily abstract. I would pirate every tool I could find and figure out how to make something artistic. Many programs were meant for architecture design, VFX, and industrial simulations. I'd combine their results to make static graphics I found interesting.

James Merrill, The Blueprint, 2015. Digital drawing.

Eventually, digital painting took center stage, and I developed a style mimicking mixed media brushwork. Towards the end of that phase, I began incorporating some of the graffiti-like elements that would later appear again in ORI.

James Merrill, STREET SERIES: RUINTOWN, 2016. Digital drawing.

I needed a change; painting began feeling stale. I returned to my 3D roots and began deeply exploring the nature of simulating physics with tools and making artistic outputs. My design goal was to start with realistic fluid dynamics simulations, but combine unusual forces and emphasize color to create psychedelic visuals.

James Merrill, WAVEFORMS 1. Installation view, The Netherlands. Photography: Onedome

I became obsessed with the nature of math as our understanding of reality. Could we use math to forecast any turn of events? From a drip of water to a waterfall? The Navier-Stokes equations are theoretically able to do this with fluids. They are part of the Millenium Prize, which awards $1,000,000 to individuals who resolve these types of problems.

My 3D work would result in a series of short films, including OCHRE and Waveforms 1 & 2. It would also serve as the basis for my entry into the NFT world.

James Merrill, A Series of Tubes, 2020. Plotter Drawing, 18 x 12 in.

Plotter art became my primary focus a few years ago, and I took a very limited and minimal approach to generative art. Plotters only accept lines, and they do not care about layering. So all of my algorithms had to be specialized to work within these constraints. I suddenly had to educate myself on algebra to write intersection detection algorithms. It was a bit of a shock to my system, given I had a partial high school education and math was the bane of my existence. But my investment paid off when I saw my artwork drawn in pen with excruciating detail.

JK: Any recent accomplishments you'd like to share?

JM: I recently participated in Feral File's -GRAPH exhibit alongside other artists who’ve released on Art Blocks such as Tyler Hobbs, Licia He, and Julian Gachadoat. We took a unique angle to NFTs: we included a physical plotter drawing for each of the 30 mints. It was incredible to circulate ideas with my fellow artists and Casey Reas, who curated the exhibit. My submission, titled Chaos Blocks is a generative algorithm that features substantial pattern work. You may recognize some aspects of it in ORI as well.

James Merrill, Chaos Blocks, 2021. Plotter Drawing, 18 x 12 in.

At the end of 2021, I saw my artwork live on a massive screen in Times Square. It was the perfect way to conclude a fantastic year in Cryptoart. Since then, I have gone heads down, radio silent to make ORI.

James Merrill. Liquid Galaxies. Times Square, New York. 2021.
JK: I can imagine it was a thrill to see your work on the big screen: I can almost see you smile under the mask there! So, in the intervening year, you have been cranking away on ORI. What, in particular, was the inspiration for this body of work?

JM: ORI started as an experiment in programming an origami algorithm. The results were highly unpredictable, but they really stood out when they worked. Origami has always fascinated me, and I began to see paper as geometry and folds as manipulations of its coordinates.

I spent time meeting with graffiti writers in Vermont and hanging out under bridges to watch people work. It's Vermont, so I wasn't particularly concerned about trekking into “unsafe” places at unusual times and doing some light trespassing. Although I don't write myself, I have always found graffiti and street art to be some of the most intriguing styles of artwork.

James Merrill. “Graffiti Mecca,” Winooski, Vermont, 2022.

I leaned hard into my digital art roots to combine principles of origami and graffiti in visually exciting ways. The compositions I pursued felt second nature, given my past. I was well equipped to balance detail and simplicity across the portfolio of test mints.

James Merrill, ORI #0, 2022.
JK: What a fascinating and unlikely combination of influences: truly unique. What should collectors look for in ORI as the series is revealed?

JM: I created a system that stacks up mutations and randomness. By design, this gives ORI a wide variety of output possibilities. It was my intention to create a system that is geometrically emergent with a style that provides coherence. I want ORI to be recognizable as a series, but each mint to have a unique form.

Personally, I really gravitate to the mints that have a single background color. When the random function cooperates, the background fills can sometimes all be the same base color, and the foreground elements may be extra bold or subtle.

JK: Anything else people should know to better understand your art?

JM: I weirdly enjoy tedium. Some of my 3D projects took hundreds of hours to simulate and render. I've spent countless nights running my computer at max speed to wake up to a new JPG sequence. It reminds me of baking cookies. Generative art is a different beast but has some of the same trials. In this space, I am building the geometry and the rendering engine.

JK: Baking jpg sequences: that sounds amazing. What is the best way for people to follow your work and to learn more?

The ORI microsite: ori.lostpixels.io
My website: lostpixels.io
Twitter: @toThePixel
Instagram: @lostpixels
Vimeo: vimeo.com/lostpixels

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