Additive Masterpieces: Artists and 3D Printing

Since its arrival in the 1980s, 3D-printing technology found its way into the arts rather slowly and was followed by (an arguably still ongoing) debate of to what extent its product can be considered art. Nevertheless, fast-forwarding to today, it has become a useful tool for artists working in a variety of mediums and styles. In this article we examine the work of 3 different artists that used  additive manufacturing in their masterpiece and hopefully bridge (or should we say, print?) the gap between 3D printing and the art world.

Having shadowed the visual arts, 3D-printed replicas of famous artworks such as the Nefertiti Bust in the Neues Museum or the Mona Lisa in the Museo Del Prado help the visually impaired experience these masterpieces. Juxtaposed with the originals, they translate them into an experience of touch, thus working toward the goal of making the gallery of visual art an inclusive place. 

But what happens when the 3D-printed work of art stands alone? Its creation somewhat less painstaking then the traditional methods of sculpting and/or modelling? Are the works of art to be judged based on the artistic effort behind the means of production?  

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3D-printed replica of the bust of the Egyptian Queen Nefertiti in the Neues Museum, Berlin. Source: visitberlin.de

Unlike the traditional Michelangelean ability to see a sculpture within a marble block, additive manufacturing does not chip away, but rather prints a pre-meditated design. This makes 3D printing useful for artists at any stage of the creative process, and can be used in a variety of mediums and styles. Whether it is used as preparatory modelling, part of the piece, or even the whole work entirely. 

In 2017, the exhibition Printing the World at the Centre Pompidou showcased the 3D printing world and its possibilities. Bringing together the works of 40 different artists, the exhibition asked: what is the artist’s role in the universe, and where does the future of art lie in a world of additive manufacturing?

Among the artists was the architect Michael Hansmeyer and his largescale 3D-printed grotto “Digital Grotesque II”. 

Digital Grotesque II, Source: Designboom

Using 7 tonnes of printed sandstone, and containing 1.35 billion surfaces, this impressive structure definitely landed a few superlatives at the Centre Pompidou. The algorithmically-generated design was developed over the course of two years, followed by a subdivision algorithm that challenged the 3D printer to make this complex, immersive, yet soothing and familiar 3.5m block of organic structure. Hansmeyer invites the viewer to consider the computer as more than a system of control and execution, but as a device for discovery and endless possibility (each tailored to the viewers visual experience).

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Digital Grotesque II, Source: Designboom
Digital Grotesque II, Source: Designboom

 

On a slightly smaller scale, artist Oliver Laric took a 3D-printed version of an icon and subsequently transformed it into a silicone mould using laser sintering, this was then used to make a series of brightly-coloured polyurethane sculptures. Relief (Utrecht) 2011 explores the ideas of images hierarchies in the historical and contemporary context, the polyurethane icons reflect the iconoclastic tendencies of the Reformation, and the contemporary age of remixes and redesign holding the same value as the original.

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Oliver Larinc: Relief (Utrecht) Source: seventeengallery.com
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Oliver Larinc: Relief (Utrecht) Source: seventeengallery.com

Our last (and most recent) example brings us back to Scotland, to the work of artist Adam Boyd. Inspired by the increasing influence of digital media and the Sci-Fi genre landscape, his Solaristics (2018) series explores notions of loss and technology as a source of compensation. The objects in this exhibition therefore exist as both fleeting moments on screen, and as materialised props.

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Mimiods 1-3. Source: Adamboydstudio.com

The sculpture Mimiods 1-3 contains a 3D Printed PLA skeleton hand. In this sculpture, where the hand is clutching the crocheted blanket, we witness a manifestation of emotional loss as well as technological advancement in the material nature of the work.

Mimiods 1-3. Source: Adamboydstudio.com

After having seen just a few of the many artists using 3D printing in their works, we return to our initial question: are they to be considered works of art? Is the right way to judge these works based on the effort and/or manual labour behind them? If so, we can definitely agree that "digital grotesque II" involved quite a bit of work when it came to the CAD software (probably the digital equivalent to chiseling). Perhaps the dawn of additive manufacturing means we have to let go of our classical sculpture yardstick in order to consider these pieces.  

In more recent news, we were able to put the finishing touches on a 3D printing project with a local artist, so keep an eye out on our social media to find out more!

Here at 3D print works, we’ve had the privilege of supporting plenty of creative projects in the past. Check out our latest blog articles about the work we did for The Social and the Willow Tea Rooms in Glasgow. Furthermore, we currently offer 3D printing services, so if you’re an artist undertaking a project, don’t hesitate to reach out to us, the possibilities are endless.