Rob and Nick Carter’s Robot Paints Yinka Shonibare

Last updated:

Ben Brown Fine Arts is delighted to announce that its renowned British artist duo Rob and Nick Carter have been selected to exhibit Yinka Shonibare Robot Painting as part of the Royal Academy’s 2021 Summer Exhibition. Under the theme ‘Reclaiming Magic,’ the RA Summer Show exhibited works this year have been selected by a panel of artists and coordinator Yinka Shonibare CBE RA, the subject of the Carters’ Robot Painting.

Rob and Nick Carter's Robot Paints Yinka Shonibare
Rob and Nick Carter with Yinka Shonibare

The Carters are known for their creative and playful engagement with digital age technologies and this work is one of the Dark Factory Portraits, one of the duo’s most technically pioneering projects to date. This series has its genesis in a series of reports on the future of the workforce. According to a 2013 study by researchers at Oxford University and consulting firm Deloitte, 35% of UK jobs are liable to be fully automated by the mid-2030s.

The future for artists is relatively secure according to projections, because the more a job relies on a combination of empathy, creative thinking, social intelligence and advanced levels of manual dexterity, the safer it is from the reach of the machine.

Nevertheless, the question intrigued Rob and Nick Carter. Could a machine become a painter, for example? And more than that, could it convey not just form, but that most intangible of human qualities: personality?

Rob and Nick Carter's Robot Paints Yinka Shonibare
The Carters robot in action

Working with a team of cutting-edge software programmers and visual effects specialists, they set out to explore how far and how fast algorithms and moving parts could progress towards a new creative paradigm. Central to this conversation was the artists’ desire to use technology to execute their own ideas, and paint in a style of their choice. Over months of iterations, they worked with the programmers to layer the code so that the robot could paint both loosely and to a very high level of detail where necessary, executing the portraits to a consistent style envisioned by the artists. The outcome of three years of advanced research is set to unsettle, provoke and inspire.

Rob and Nick Carter's Robot Paints Yinka Shonibare
Yinka Shonibare painting at Royal Academy Summer Exhibtion

Taking their title from ‘lights-out manufacturing’, where factories can function in the dark because robotic systems do not need to ‘see’ what they’re doing, the Dark Factory Portraits (portraits of celebrated artists such as Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono and Damien Hirst) were first displayed at Ben Brown Fine Arts in Mayfair in Spring 2020.

“We are thrilled to be chosen for the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition 2021. We have been working with our robot for 4 years now and cannot believe what we have achieved. This is a world’s first, from blank canvas to finished painting the portrait is untouched by human hands. We loved making this portrait of Yinka, an artist whose work we very much admire.” Rob and Nick Carter

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition runs 22 September 2021 — 2 January 2022.
Friends preview days will be 19, 20 and 21 September.

©2021 Rob Carter, Nick Carter, Yinka Shonibare