Creative Commons License
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Black is Beautiful
by Sven Fortmann

Scott, to start with, please tell me a little about your life before barcode art... were you already working in the fields of graphic design?
I started doing graphic design for my friends in punk bands when I was 13 years old. I used to make flyers and cover art for 7 inch records and cassette tapes, working with Corel Draw version 3 back in 1992. When I was a risky teenager, I used to make fake manufacturer coupons complete with fake barcodes for all kinds of free stuff. My friends and I would also counterfeit back stage passes to get into rock concerts for free. A couple years later I started designing my own Satanic style t-shirts and sold them at local alternative clothing stores. "666% Evil" was one of my first shirts. After that I moved towards motion graphics, I worked as Digital Effects Assistant in San Francisco for several years. I even got my name in movie credits for the Disney Movie "Flubber" and Todd McFarlane's "Spawn" in 1998. In college I studied Interactive Design, Video/Film, and Printmaking. After all of my homework was done for school, I would work on my Barcode Art. I rarely turned in personal work in to be critiqued and graded for school. I started exhibiting my Barcode Portraits in my third year of college, outside of the university system. I used to turn my apartment into an art gallery for one night shows, called the Ghetto Gallery.

What do you find so fascinating about barcodes? Because it's this almost 'Orwellian' image? Because of its clearly defined shape and basic b/w imagery?
I stumbled upon barcode imagery while experimenting with halftone dot patterns. I was inspired by Roy Liechtenstein large comic book style paintings with the over sized benday dots. I was looking for black and white shape that could be repeated and modified to create gray tones for a digital mosaic. I first tried circles or dots and then squares, then rectangles. The tile patterns morphed into a cluster of lines, and before I knew it, I was staring at a bunch of bar codes. I assigned the numbers to describe each pixel's grayscale value and grid coordinate. That was November 1998, a year before the Y2K bug was set to go off. I was drawn to barcode imagery because they are a clear example of a binary computer system. In the world there are infinite shades of gray, but barcodes are black and white.

What are the criterias you chose from when it comes to picking another pop culture icon for your portrait series?
I choose people that are larger than life and have an easily recognizable face. I also prefer to have never met the person before, to keep my relationship with them tied to the mass media. I am fascinated with Forbes Magazine's list of the "Richest Dead Celebrities". Elvis is still #1, John Lennon ranks second, followed by Charles Schulz, George Harrison, Albert Einstein, Andy Warhol, Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss), Tupac Shakur, Marilyn Monroe, Steve McQueen, James Brown, Bob Marley and James Dean. If I had more time I'd like to do a UK series including The Beatles, Princess Diana, and David Bowie.

How long does it actually take to finish a portrait?
It takes me 2 - 6 months to make a portrait out of barcodes. I start by collecting UPC or ISBN numbers that relate to the person. I search online databases for DVDs, CDs, or books, whatever products I can find that relate to the celebrity. Next, instead of arranging the barcodes straight up and down, I like to create unique tile patterns to add extra dimension to each portrait. For instance, Ozzy's barcodes are being shouted out of his mouth, Marilyn's barcodes wave like curly hair, and Mao radiates like a sun burst (his nickname is "The Red Sun"). Eventually all the barcodes end up in Photoshop, where I record Action scripts to automatically place each mosaic tile. The whole process is far from perfected. I change my approach each time, try to find some new way to do it all over again. Finally, I got my barcodes to scan! I have been working on a video interface that reacts to each barcode that is scanned. Each Bruce Lee barcode plays a different kung-fu fight scene or scan Arnold Schwarzenegger barcodes to play corresponding movie trailers from YouTube.

Would you say there's an immediate thought-provoking level (on individuality or consumerism, e.g.) involved as soon as you integrate/create art with barcodes?
"Consumerism" is a big word, but I will say, barcodes can be used in a variety of ways to explore thoughts on consumerism. I have experimented with barcodes in all types of mediums, and each process shows a different aspect of this universal symbol. Barcode are a tangible technology advancement that we have all seen plenty of. I think barcodes symbolize the emerging digital world, all of the vast binary communications networks, and I'd even go so far as to say, barcodes represent the information age we currently live in.

Since you listed it amongst your Jeopardy dream categories, please tell me a little about your passion for skateboarding...
I started skateboarding when I was 9 years old, back in 1985, and have been riding strong for 22 years. I grew up in Tampa, Florida, and was there when the big skatepark opened in 1992. Seriously, playing with gravity, creating speed by pushing on a stationary cement wave is amazing. Unfortunately my ankles are getting a little crunchy, but I still enjoy long frontside grinds when I get the chance.

What's next for Mr. Blake?
I want to travel around with my art and setup at night clubs for one night shows. Inspired by touring punk rock bands, book signing events, and traveling film festivals. Who knows I might be showing up at a pub near you. I am also working on September 11th Flipbook project, and programming an online Chuck Close filter in my spare time.

Printed in Lowdown Magazine, August 2008
Brandon Native Turns Barcodes into Works of Art
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Omahan Creates Bar Code Art
on WOWT News website
by Brian Mastre
Omaha, Nebraska
September 2009
Scott Blake Interview
on Dixonfoma Website
by Dixon Cordell
April 2009
Amazing portraits of Elvis and Madonna made entirely from bar codes
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by Gavin Bernard
United Kingdom
May 2008
Scott Blake: Behind Bars
in Swindle Magazine
by Jason Filipow & Anne Keehan
Los Angeles, California
March 2007
Interview with Scott Blake
on Soul Coffee Website
by Geoff Pitchford
August 2005
Interview with Scott Blake
on FryCookOnVenus website
by FryCookOnVenus
September 2004
The Fine Art of Bar Codes
in The Reader Newspaper
by Jeremy Schnitker
Omaha, Nebraska
February 2004
Creating art one pixel at a time
in The District Newspaper
by Craig Oelrich
Savannah, Georgia
March 2003
Macro/micro, subversion, and celebration
by Alessandro Imperato
Savannah, Georgia
October 2002
Ecstasy Self Portrait Q & A
by Bonnie Molins
August 2002
Original Artist Statement and FAQ
May 2001
Barcode artist Scott Blake digitizes human expressions
on Silicon Prairie News website
by Andrea Ciurej
Omaha, Nebraska
May 2010
Omaha Barcode Artist Scans Famous, Infamous Faces
on KETV News website
by John Oakey
Omaha, Nebraska
October 2009
Black is Beautiful
in Lowdown Magazine
by Sven Fortmann
August 2008
You're not special
on DocHoloday website
by DocHoloday
August 2007
Get acquainted, Scott Blake
in Inbox Magazine
by Andrey Oaheeb
February 2006
Madonna Portraits Q & A
August 2005
Bring Your Bar Codes
in Art Papers Magazine
by Kent Wolgamott
May 2005
Email from "Jesus"
September 2004
Finding Form in Bar-Code Function
on TechTV Live
by Andy Jordan
San Francisco, California
October 2003
The Body-Mined Show Catalog
by Glenn Zucman
Long Beach, California
January 2003
Abrstraction, "Capitalist Realist",
and the system

by Alessandro Imperato
Savannah, Georgia
November 2002
Enrayer le code
in Etapes Graphiques Magazine
by Vanina Pinter
July 2002
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