Darrell Viner: Early Work
27 July – 30 October 2011
Exhibition in the Upper Sculpture Study Gallery, Leeds Art Gallery
Darrell Viner (1947-2001) was a pioneer in the field of computer art. He originally turned to computers to pursue his interest in movement and animation and went on to apply the technology to kinetic and interactive sculpture.
Darrell Viner: Early Work focuses on Viner's experimental work at the Slade School of Fine Art in the mid-1970s and celebrates the recent acquisition to the Leeds Museum & Galleries Sculpture Collection of a series of his computer drawings from this period. Created with a pen plotter, which Viner regarded as a pliable drawing tool, the images have a remarkable hand-drawn quality. The artist described them as a 'journey in mark making'.
Together with the drawings, the exhibition includes documentation of Viner's early kinetic sculptures that show the continuity between his work in two and three dimensions. For his degree show at the Slade, he made a set of animated wooden sculptures, which he described as 'creepy crawly creatures'. These were later shown at the Royal Academy, where the moving legs scratched the wooden floor, taking on the character of automated drawing machines. This experiment led to the computer animation 'Inside/Outside' (1976), a film drawn by a virtual automaton programmed to simulate the actions of a kinetic sculpture, which is screened within the show.
In addition to the works on paper and film, Darrell Viner: Early Work presents a later kinetic sculpture by Viner - from the mid-1980s - that is activated by the shadows of passers by. As with all of Viner's works, this opens a conversation between man and machine to propose an expanded understanding of the study of sculpture.
About the artist
Viner was born in Coventry in 1946. His father, a clerk, died when his son was only five, leaving his wife, a factory worker, to bring up the family. The young Viner found inventive ways to stimulate his wide-ranging curiosity: he played Beethoven to himself on a wind-up gramophone, and detonated objects with homemade explosives.
After leaving school with three O-levels, Viner worked in the research department at Courtaulds Textiles in the late 1960s, where he experienced computer and electronic systems. When he moved to London around 1970, he worked on the lighting and rigging for rock bands, testing his designs in his landlady's garage. He is known to have built the first sound activated lighting system in the UK in 1968.
First using computers whilst studying at Hornsey College of Art (1971-4), he worked alongside John Vince, lecturer in data processing, who developed one of the first computer packages for artists, PICASO. Viner learned to write in computer code and encouraged Vince to develop 'Rough' and 'Sketch' features for PICASO, which transformed clinical computer generated plottings into believable hand-drawn lines.
Studying at the Experimental Department at the Slade, which was established by Malcolm Hughes, a founder member of the Systems Art group, in 1973, Viner developed his own automated drawing systems and built a pen plotter in collaboration with other artists. He also produced computer-controlled kinetic and interactive sculptures, for which he became known later in his career.
Darrell Viner operated outside the gallery system, creating large-scale sculptures and installations in non-art spaces, including 'Is Tall Better than Small?' at the Science Museum in 2000. He was influential as a teacher, serving in a number of art schools, including Portsmouth Polytechnic, where he was Senior Lecturer in Sculpture (one of his pupils was Grayson Perry) and Chelsea School of Art on both the BA and MA courses.