Melanie Lenz on William Mapan

William Mapan, Sketchbook A, 2023. Work in Progress (detail).

William Mapan’s distinctive digital creations are characterized by the richness of their painterly and textured qualities. Dragons, his first long-form generative art project in 2021, skilfully makes use of chiaroscuro – the tonal contrast between light and shadow - to create the effect of three-dimensionality, producing the illusion of mass and volume, and gives the impression of organic creatures.

William Mapan, Dragons #398, 2021. Released on fxhash.

The artist’s inquisitive mind sees him draw inspiration from the world around him. His acclaimed series Anticyclone is inspired by his fascination with the sky. Anticyclone refers to a weather phenomenon (defined as a large-scale circulation of winds around a central region of high atmospheric pressure) but is very much an emotive work. It is instilled with a sense of movement and flow, with a gestural quality rarely associated with generative art.

William Mapan, Anticyclone #5, 2022. Released on Art Blocks.

A diverse array of artistic influences inspire Mapan, including the pioneering computer-generated algorithmic art of Vera Molnar and Manfred Mohr, and the textile art of Anni Albers. Mapan’s rigorous approach to colour speaks to his admiration of Paul Klee, whose highly influential colour theory made a deep impact on him. This is especially apparent in the harmonious use of colour in Distance, his 2023 series of computational artworks generated randomly on chain. The artwork is directly inspired by Klee’s iconic 1914 watercolour In the Kairouan Style, Transposed in a Moderate Way. Distance, Mapan reflects, is about contemplating perspective in his art and life. Like many of his other artworks, it is imbued with an expressive quality.

Left: Paul Klee, The Kairouan Style, Transposed in a Moderate Way, 1914. Right: William Mapan, Distance #146, 2023. Collaboration with LACMA + Cactoid Labs.

Mapan also acknowledges the influence of Klee’s compositions. He regards the underlying logic of the grid interrogated by Klee as being akin to the x and y axes inherent in code-based art. Mapan’s deep rooted fascination with the building blocks of digital space are similarly apparent in his 2022 piece, Murmures d’un Carré (Whispers of a Square). Inspired by the first verse of Paul Verlaine’s poem “Je devine, à travers un murmure” (1874), the work combines a transparency and opacity to evoke the idea of a whisper. A whisper that, in this case, pays homage to the pixel: a building block of the digital realm. This unique artwork looks like it was created by paint or charcoal, but it is generated from code. A code which took Mapan months to finesse by continually adjusting and reloading the page until he was confident with how each individual output looked. Mapan’s process is an iterative one that relies on trial and error. Equally as important is his use of randomness; it leads him to find surprises in the liminal spaces between structural order and dynamic chaos.

Mapan continues to excite and evolve with each new work. Whilst continuing to experiment with new concepts and techniques, his work remains an exploration of the relationship between perceived tactility and the intangible, it is an invitation to reevaluate digital materiality.

William Mapan, Sketchbook A, 2023. Work in Progress.

William Mapan

William Mapan is a digital art pioneer, currently based in Paris. With a background in software development, he combines computer science with his passion for pigment, light and texture. One of Mapan’s most notable works is his 2021 Dragons series, in which he shared a portion of the works’ ownership with his collectors during the process of creation. He often combines contrasting ideas which...
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Melanie Lenz

Melanie Lenz is the curator of Digital Art at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Based in London, she has over 20 years’ experience of curating, commissioning, and delivering creative projects. Specialising in digital arts and culture, Melanie co-curated Chance and Control: Art in the Age of Computers (2018-2019) and has published papers on early computer art in Latin America, gender and technology...
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