Visual Arts | WIP

WIP: Justin Watson

A year ago, we were busy at Finch Lane Gallery installing our 35×35 exhibit, a showcase for Utah’s young artistic talent. Then the closures hit. (The exhibit only opened to the public, in a limited way, in June.)  A year since the closures, we have decided to check in with the artists from 35×35 to see what they’re working on now in our WIP feature.

Thomas Cole’s “The Oxbow” + petrochemical plant

The combinations seem perverse, unholy — Claude Monet’s “Poppy Field at Giverny” and a plastic manufacturing plant; a delightful landscape painting by LeConte Stewart and a decomissioned chemical agent disposal facility in Tooele; a Georgia O’Keefe and the Facebook Data Center in Eagle Mountain. But the results are somehow mesmerizing.

They are works from Justin Watson’s “Synthetic Nature” series, where he trains Generative Adversarial Networks (neural networks) to reconstruct and mix images through a training/identification process. “The works are framed around the sublimity of famous art historical landscapes interwoven with the current reality of human designed manufacturing, data harvesting and resource extraction facilities,” the Salt Lake City artist says.

“The series is one integral aspect of an exhibition that examines how our perception of history shifts, expands, erases and interpellates through new media.”

Implementing neural networks has been part of Watson’s practice for a long time: in graduate school (University of Utah, ,2014-2016) he was running Convolution Neural Networks to register and recreate texts based on his writings. “I feel this is a continuation and evolution of those crude initial investigations. I view this series as one piece of the larger scope and concept of the exhibition; the curiosity of synthetic mark+image making has been circulating through the contemporary artbworld for some time, but I am more interested in critiquing synthetic vision and how it alters human perceptions of reality and leads to historical mitosis and distortion.”

You can view more of his work at and


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