Size Matters

Size matters. A robot creates dimensionless paintings—how?

In 1680, artist Giovanni Antonio Fumiani was commissioned to paint the ceiling of the San Pantalon church in Venice. Instead of the traditional fresco painting technique on wet plaster, he painted on canvas. The artwork consists of 44 separate canvases covering a large ceiling. Fumiani worked on it for 24 years, and it is said that he was so overjoyed at its completion that he fell from the scaffolding and died.

Modern technology would allow such a task to be completed much more quickly and safely, but artists are still reluctant to take on large paintings. The reasons are the same as they were centuries ago: limited space and time. However, Giovanni Fumiani came up with an excellent idea to overcome the challenges of canvas size, and we have perfected and developed a way to save both time and effort.

My name is Vladimir Tsimberg, I am the founder of Robohood Inс. We developed a technology that allows an industrial manipulator to paint real oil and acrylic paintings on any surface. In this article, I will tell you how we have used this technology to free ourselves from the constraints of canvas size and traditional art studios, allowing us to paint artworks of various scales and express ourselves fully, even in limited spaces.

"The Martyrdom and Ascension of St. Panteleimon," 20x50 m

By Giovanni Antonio Fumiani © Wikimedia

Size has always mattered – large canvases brought in considerable wealth, facilitated the realization of incredible ideas and paved the way to fame. Until the 19th century, however, there were only two major patrons for enormous paintings: the aristocracy and the church. The former wanted portraits, while the latter wanted icons and biblical stories.

According to the requirements of classical painting, not all scenes could be depicted on a grand scale. A large painting had to have a significant meaning. Characters in such works were limited to saints, great military leaders, high-ranking individuals, those in authority, or simply the wealthy. On such a canvas, a painting could depict important historical or religious narratives with complex, crowded compositions. If not, please refrain from painting, the Church asked.

“Marriage in Cana of Galilee,” 6,77x9,9 m

By Paolo Veronese © Wikimedia Commons

Creative impulses are hard to contain. It’s no wonder artists grew tired of being confined. They wanted to tell and show more, and enormous canvases were the perfect way to do it. When Gustave Courbet painted “The Burial at Ornans,” a real scandal erupted. The painting covers an area of 21.04 square meters, the equivalent of fifty-one of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” paintings, and such a canvas size did not suggest a depiction of the routine of provincial life. The disparity between subject and scale puzzled viewers, fellow artists, and critics alike. Claude Vignon, searching for meaning in Courbet’s work, wrote: “Imagine a canvas of eight or ten meters that seems to have been cut out of another canvas of fifty meters”.

"The Burial at Ornans," 3,15x6,6 m

Gustave Courbet © Google Arts & Culture

When the narrative veto on enormous canvases was finally lifted, painters faced other obstacles. Churches, aristocratic mansions, and palaces had large rooms where unconventionally sized paintings could be brought to life. Often, artists were invited to work on-site to complete commissions.

Sometimes they outdid themselves, and the commissions proved so massive that the patrons did not know where to hang them. Cézanne, for example, said of Théodore Géricault’s painting, “You can’t hang ‘The Raft of the Medusa’ in your bedroom.” Except maybe in parts. The practice of reducing finished paintings was widespread. This happened, for example, with Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch.” Because it was cropped on three sides, the composition lost two figures on the left, the top of the arch, the balustrade, and the edges of the steps. Did it make sense to create something on a grand scale with parts removed? Certainly not. The work was done, the money was received, and what happened to the painting was the patron’s concern. Artists had other concerns.

For example, when Gustave Courbet was working on the famous “The Burial at Ornans,” he complained that his cramped studio couldn’t accommodate such a gigantic work - he couldn’t step back to see the whole painting.

Contemporary artists face the same problem. There are no longer any prohibitions or rules regarding size or subject, but for many, the small studios or apartments in which they work act as a barrier to creating paintings of non-standard sizes. There is nowhere to place a large canvas, but such a painting is still a statement and a way to attract attention, as well as earn money - for yourself or charity.

To paint “The Journey of Humanity” in 2020, artist Sacha Jafri was going to rent a hangar from Emirates Airline but ended up completing this massive work in the empty ballroom of the Atlantis Hotel in the United Arab Emirates because of the pandemic.

 "The Journey of Humanity," 1600 m2

By Sacha Jafri (с) CFP,

Sacha Jafri used 1,065 brushes and 6,300 liters of paint to create the nearly 1,600-square-meter painting, working alone for 18 hours a day. Jafri originally intended to divide the enormous canvas into 70 pieces and sell them individually, with the proceeds going to charity. In the end, the entire painting was purchased for $62 million.

A large painting attracts a lot of attention, but what about those who have trouble renting a hangar?

When our robots started painting, we were also limited by space and canvas size: 40x40 cm was the maximum we could afford. That’s when we tried assembling a large canvas out of “mosaic pieces”. This way, each segment would be easier to paint and store, and then the complete picture could be assembled using special fasteners.

To realize the idea, the robot worked with our consulting artist Alexey Golovin to paint a portrait of Christ. Robohood created a creative algorithm that allows an AI-driven manipulator to paint images that closely resemble the artist's style. The large-scale work consists of 64 canvases, with a total size of 3.20x3.20 meters. We divided the digital version of the portrait into elements and uploaded each one into the robot's program, allowing it to use its robotic hand to paint each part. The result is a massive composition in which we did not use an easel or ladder to reach the various sections.

“The Portrait of Christ,” 3,20х3,20 m

By Robohood x Alexey Golovin

For many centuries, composite paintings such as diptychs, triptychs, and polyptychs have been popular with artists from the early Renaissance to the masters of Pop Art. One of Andy Warhol's most famous and extensive works, "Marilyn Diptych," is a two-part painting consisting of 50 portraits of the actress.

"Marilyn Diptych," 2,90х2,05 m

By Andy Warhol © Wikimedia Commons

Warhol used the silkscreen method, but imagine if each Marilyn was painted with traditional brushes! The color and negative parts would be composed of separate canvases, and the artwork would be done not by a printer, but by a robot. By solving a problem as old as museum dust, we not only found a way out, we discovered a whole new concept of art, a fresh perspective and understanding of the global through the small parts!

It’s not that a human can’t paint individual elements of a large painting and then put them together. We have long since entered a new creative era, and reimagining the old is an integral part of it. Today, technologies allow us to create a new generation of art, accessible in entirely different formats, both physical and those we cannot touch with our hands, such as NFTs. Not only the form but also the formats, methods, and tools are changing. The robots of Robohood are instruments for the creation of new art. They make it possible to make huge, actually, dimensionless paintings composed of small canvases.

Each segment contains the meanings and possibilities that new technologies have provided to art. Detail is heightened on such a canvas. Looking at a portrait up close allows us to immerse ourselves in the details, creating a sense of intimate interaction with the artwork and revealing aspects that might have escaped our attention if we had left the painting at the robot’s maximum size of 40x40. We see the influence of artificial intelligence, robotics, and machine learning created not just to improve what we use, but to change the world that surrounds us.


By Robohood

I also mentioned how Giovanni Fumiani worked on painting the ceiling of the church. It was difficult to find a single canvas of the required size, so the painting “The Martyrdom and Ascension of St. Panteleimon” became a kind of composite picture consisting of 44 canvases. Fumiani had to paint each one separately and then assemble all the details on the ceiling. If he had used a robot, he could have painted several larger church ceilings in 24 years, working on several projects at once. Time and small studios are problems that the Roboartist has moved to the background of the modern day picture it’s painting.

The absence of size constraints provides incredible flexibility and creative freedom, allowing for the creation of large-scale paintings even in limited workspaces. This approach can change the way people perceive and create large artworks, helping them differentiate their work from others and adding an interesting conceptual component that is critical to contemporary art.

Robohood technology allows artists to focus on the creative process, experiment, and create amazing works of art in large formats without worrying about the technical aspects. I am very pleased that we are part of shaping a new culture and pushing the boundaries of art in the most incredible directions.

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