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St. Vincent College display integrates computer program codes, art designs

| Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015, 8:12 p.m.
Roman Verostko (left) talks about his art (shown back) with St. Vincent College President Brother Norman Hipps, OSB, during a reception held at the St. Vincent Gallery in the Robert S. Carey Student Center.
Kim Stepinsky | for TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Roman Verostko (left) talks about his art (shown back) with St. Vincent College President Brother Norman Hipps, OSB, during a reception held at the St. Vincent Gallery in the Robert S. Carey Student Center.
Artist Roman Verostko (art shown back) signs a catalog for St. Vincent monk Brother Martinho Zevallos, during a reception held at the St. Vincent Gallery in the Robert S. Carey Student Center on Thursday evening, October 22, 2015.
Kim Stepinsky | for TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Artist Roman Verostko (art shown back) signs a catalog for St. Vincent monk Brother Martinho Zevallos, during a reception held at the St. Vincent Gallery in the Robert S. Carey Student Center on Thursday evening, October 22, 2015.

Artist Roman Verostko compares the leverage and power harnessed when chopping wood with an ax to the same power created when programming a computer.

“If I had that hatchet or that ax in hand and I went ‘whack,' things happen,” he said last week during a lecture at St. Vincent College. “That is tremendous power in a machine, a very simple machine.”

Verostko, 86, of Minneapolis grew up in the village of Tarrs in East Huntingdon Township and attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, graduating in 1949 when he became a monk at St. Vincent Archabbey.

Now an exhibit on the Unity campus showcases his career. Works are on display through Nov. 22 at the St. Vincent Gallery.

His code-generated imagery, now known as algorithmic art, began with his aspirations as a writer and illustrator when he studied at the art institute.

Before leaving St. Vincent in 1968, he started creating synchronized audio-visual programs for spiritual retreats.

A musical idea becomes a score, a type of code, Verostko said.

“How did that code get there? How did all of that happen?” he asked during the lecture.

In the same way, he and colleagues in the art world were part of a movement to integrate electronics and art.

Verostko said he wanted to harness the power and leverage of computers, beginning with “Echoes from the Cloister” in 1969, a 30-second computer-generated animation of a cube bouncing around the screen.

“I wanted to make the computer autonomous,” he said. “Just like I have human automatism, I wanted my computer to have automatism.”

With only a few lines of code, the computer could work to generate something in place of a human, as in 1982's “The Magic Hand of Chance,” using coded sequences that never repeat.

“It's like that hatchet: ‘Wham!' You could do tremendous leverage with that mind machine,” Verostko said.

Many later works in the exhibit showcase what Verostko calls “pen plotters,” drawings made by pens attached to a machine programmed to move via computer code, beginning in 1986. Those works show swooping organic lines and thousands of lines twisting together — one after another — to form shapes.

“We are all immersed in a world now that is controlled by machines more and more, we have to understand what that is,” he said. “I'm not here to preach. I'm here to say, ‘Pay attention.' ”

After the lecture in the gallery, Emma Hamling, a St. Vincent senior art education major from New Haven, Conn., said Verostko's work is pioneering as computers and design are more integrated now than ever before.

“I think he's so revolutionary for what he did,” she said. “I just think the blending of the technology and the art speaks true even now, even though he started this in the '80s.”

Classmate Joni Mulvaney, a senior art education major from Bakerstown, said she was impressed by the use of inorganic machines to establish organic forms in his art.

“I think it's amazing how he blended something that is a digital thing, but it doesn't have a digital appearance, which is outstanding,” she said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or sfederoff@tribweb.com.

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