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Ken Knowlton

Computer Art Pioneer and mosaic innovator

Ken Knowlton has “been there, done that” — farmhand, student, teacher, advisor, speaker, reader, mathematician, physicist, electron microscopist, computer scientist, researcher, inventor, author, artist, critic, son, sibling, father, husband, grandfather, peace and civil rights activist, agnostic, retiree, liberal, curmudgeon. His formal education slalomed through a one-room country school in western New York, high school in downtown Springville, Physics at Cornell, and "Computer Science" at M.I.T. before such a curriculum existed. Then came the R&D for which he is best known: 20 years at Bell Labs, starting with the first computer language for bitmap movies in 1963, and continuing there and elsewhere in computer graphics and computer art, as a lone practitioner and as a collaborator with scientists and artists. His paper trail consists of many works on computer graphics and techniques, and likewise for "computer" "art", plus several U.S. patents (only 1,063 fewer than Edison!) on software and hardware and combinations. Time also spent as: an ACM lecturer, a visiting professor at UCSC, prizes from art shows, book chapters about his work, computer graphics workshops given, magazine and/or book covers produced, startups that he joined which then failed, states lived in, letters-to-the-editor in support of losing presidential candidates, years working with the Society for Social Responsibility in Science, years as a Quaker before being read out of meeting, and months as Chimesmaster at Cornell. These days, he is developing and using a variety of his own computer-assisted methods for planning artwork, mostly mosaic portraits (www.KnowltonMosaics.com). Many are made of seashells, but other materials from nature or culture serve as tesserae: dominoes, dice, toys, pottery shards, puzzle pieces, and seashore debris. As with other mosaics, his interest concerns vision, perception and interpretation — Why do we see what we think we see? How is our perception cued by distance, by lighting, and by our experience with a specific artwork, with a genre, and/or with a lifetime of really seeing things (or thinking that we're really seeing things)?

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