Martin Thompson

untitled

c. 1990
fibre-tip pen on graph paper
210mm x 295mm

Provenance

Private collection, Auckland.
Acquired from Brett McDowell Gallery, Dunedin, 2011.

Exhibitions

Procedure, rm 103, Auckland, 25 October–10 November, 2012.

Literature

Simon Bowerbank, Procedure (Auckland: Self-published, 2013), 28.

Essay

Since the early 1980s, Martin Thompson has produced hundreds of intricately rendered, single-colour drawings according to his own algorithms. While these algorithms, which appar...

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Estimate $1,000 - $2,000
Achieved $1,231.13

Martin Thompson

untitled

c. 1990

fibre-tip pen on graph paper

210mm x 295mm

Auction N˚4

Estimate $1,000 - $2,000

Achieved $1,231.13

Martin Thompson and the Game of Life

by Simon Bowerbank

Since the early 1980s, Martin Thompson has produced hundreds of intricately rendered, single-colour drawings according to his own algorithms. While these algorithms, which apparently dictate every property of each drawing, including size, composition, and colour, have never been formally recorded, Thompson can often be heard reciting them to himself as he labours over his drawings, repeatedly executing their instructions with a single felt-tip pen onto the surface of his graph paper. Working row-by-row like a dot matrix printer, Thompson individually fills in whichever one of the grid’s one-millimetre-wide cells that his algorithms dictate. In this way, Thompson makes use of the orthogonal grid’s uniform division of the paper’s surface in order to populate it with a host of controllable elements. The square cells on the paper are treated by Thompson as pixels in either one of two binary states, coloured or uncoloured and on or off.

In this respect, the surface of Thompson’s paper is treated in a similar manner to the pixelated display of a computer screen. Like a monitor, Thompson’s grid is an array—a systematic arrangement of entities, over which the rules that govern his patterns also enable them to spread like bacteria. In 1970, British mathematician John Conway invented The Game of Life, a series of instructions meant to simulate the behaviour of simple life forms, in effect creating an ecosystem of “cellular” automata. Computer program versions of The Game of Life have a visual structure similar to that of Thompson’s drawings, and are also in some respects constructed according to a similar logic. Following four simple rules, a computer running The Game of Life will set the cells of a grid as either “alive” or “dead” according to the state of the neighbouring cells. The rules of the Game read:

1. Any live cell with fewer than two live neighbours dies, as if caused by underpopulation. 2. Any live cell with more than three live neighbours dies, as if by overcrowding. 3. Any live cell with two or three live neighbours lives on to the next generation. 4. Any dead cell with exactly three live neighbours becomes a live cell.