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Interview with Scott Blake
by Geoff Pitchford

First, tell me a little about your background as an artist.
I was born 1976 in Tampa, FL, got my first skateboard when I was 9, and my first computer when I was 12. I began doing graphic design for my friends in punk rock bands, album covers and flyers. In high school I did video animations for a student produced news TV broadcast.

Next, the obvious question. How did you first begin making art with bar codes?
I started making art with barcodes right before Y2K, inspired by the year 2000 computer bug, and threatening digital apocalypse. Bar Code Jesus was born in Photoshop, by pixilated style mosaics with simple shapes. I was inspired most directly by Roy Lichtenstein benday dot paintings. I first tried circles and then squares. The tile patterns morphed into a cluster of lines, and before I knew it, I was staring at a bunch of bar codes. I added some numbers at the bottom of each tile and that's how my fascination with bar codes began. Believe it or not, I did not discover Chuck Close's mosaic paintings until a year after I made my first bar code portrait.

Along the same lines, the irony, at least it seems to me, is that most art tries to avoid becoming too commercial, yet bar codes are the most universal symbol of commercialism. Is this relationship something that you intentionally play on or is purely coincidence?
I intentionally focus on the commercialism of religion, politics, and yes art too. I'm interested in making art about what has already been bought and sold. I like creating paradoxes in my work. As a computer artist I am in the business of selling pixels. It just made sense to make digital art representing zeros and ones. I love making art that is about the process of making art. The content of my work, is the content of my work.

Whats the process you go through when starting a new piece?
I collect all the relevant bar code information from places like Barnes and They publish all of the basic bar code numbers for free. All of Arnold's Terminator barcodes, all of Oprah's book club ISBN codes, and all of Elvis's CD barcodes. I then use Google image search to find the perfect face on the web. I mix all the elements together in Photoshop using the use the magic wand tool and pattern fill. I make complex Action scripts to position, scale, and rotate each bar code into place. It usually takes me about 2 months to complete one of my Bar Code Portraits.

Is there any significance to the people you choose in your work?
I choose people that I have never met, but somehow I still I know them. The perfect example is Jesus. Nobody alive today has ever met the dude, but we all know what he looks like and talk about "What Would Jesus Do" 2000 years after his death. I am also looking for archetypes of consumer culture. People that represent more than just a pretty face. I am interested in icons that really aren't people at all.

One of the stigmas behind computer generated art is that it is somehow less artistic or creative when compared to more traditional forms of art like paintings or photography. Have you encountered people who take your art less seriously because its generated by a software instead of a brush?
My own father, who is an engineer for General Electric, used to think that because I work on computers it can't be 'real art'. I'll admit that the modern computer can do an insane amount of work, but I still have to turn the dumb machine on and use my hands to type in all the thousands of lines of code to make it do what I want it to do. Whenever humans invent a labor saving device we usually turnaround and find new ways to make the old work more complex. Every artist uses there mind and body to make something special. It started with a burnt stick in a cave. The paint brush is certainly the most traditional of artistic mediums, but nothing should stop people nowadays from making art with whatever the hell they want. By any means necessary is a good place to start when thinking about new art tools.
When I first started working on the program for making portraits out of bar codes, I aimed to get the entire computer process down to one button. It took me six months to make that one button finally work, and when I pressed that magic art button it then took the computer four days to render the portrait. I know it is a little macho to brag about rendering times, but it gives you an idea of how much work goes into a one of my portraits. The computer is a tool, just like a paint brush or a camera, it is what YOU do with the tool that makes it artistic, not the TOOL itself.

Overall, what do think about the role technology has in art?
No matter what new technology is available, we will always be limited to doing what we can do, with what we have, wherever we are. I do not limit myself to any one particular medium or technology. I am definitely drawn to some tools more than others. I am excited by technology that helps us communicate better. Especially interested in the role that technology has in religion. How can a computer hooked up to the Internet help me achieve spiritual enlightenment? And forget about GOD for a second and how is technology bringing me closer to my next door neighbor (who I really don't care about). How is technology changing what is really important in the world instead of just making new ways to fall into old traps.

You recently did a portrait of Martha Stewart behind bars, tell me about the role the news and pop culture plays in your work.
I had planned to bar code Martha Stewart long before she got in trouble with the law. Bar codes are flawless and boring just like Martha Stewart's brand of living. Martha used to just be a white version of Oprah, but after Martha got busted and went to jail, I felt like I had no choice to barcode her. I was actually looking for someone, preferably a female, to balance out my series of Bar Code Criminals including OJ Simpson, Charlie Manson, and Mumia abu-Jamal. Who would have thought that Charlie and Martha would ever be remotely comparable, but now they are forever going to be remembered behind bars. Like and unholy church of consumerism, my portraits are arch angels/devils of pop culture. I'm glad I waited because Martha ended being a perfect example of the things you own end up owning you.

Your art is more than portraits, you've done bar code clocks, bar code wind chimes, etc. What other projects are you planning in the near future.
I've made other digital portraits using images of Ecstasy pills downloaded from the web, remix flags from around the world, and enlarged title cards that are critiques of the gallery/museum art world. I am considering taking my art on the road, going on tour in a van like a punk rock band. Playing a bunch of small gigs in bars across America just to get my art seen.

Posted on Soul Coffee website, August 2005
Brandon Native Turns Barcodes into Works of Art
on TBO News website
by Rod Carter
Tampa, Florida
June 2010
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
in Daily Mail Newspaper
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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