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Chromatic Markings: Lammetje's Calx

Collage of four test outputs of Calx, Jeroen Lam

Calx by Lammetje is scheduled for release in collaboration with Atelier on December 4th, 2023, on fx(hash). It is part of the Atelier group show, Outliers. When I had a conversation with the artist, I discovered not only how much the two of us have in common, but also how individual experiences shape the perception of an artwork and, in my case, made me come from ideas of prehistoric cave paintings to mankind’s universal desire to leave a mark on the world.


Artist Background

Lammetje (Jeroen Lam) is one of the more prolific creative coders who has published his art on fx(hash) since the early beta days. His abstract style and recognizable palettes made me like and collect several works, and every now and then, Jeroen would gift an iteration to me when our occasional online conversations touched on his recent projects. Without having met, I felt a connection to the person behind the lamb avatar on a human level.

Fast Friends

Working with Atelier for the Outliers group show meant that I got the chance to talk with Jeroen about Calx, his latest artwork and contribution to the event. I happily took the opportunity to get to know him better, and as we met during a video chat, I realized that we have quite a number of things in common. For starters, we conveniently live in the same time zone (he lives in The Netherlands, I am in Germany), which made finding a suitable time rather easy—quite contrary to the loops all at Atelier have to jump through when trying to have trans–Atlantic conversations. But I digress!

Test output of Calx (palette Terracotta Haven), Jeroen Lam, 11/2023

Lammetje and I are of comparable age (I turned 47 literally as I write these lines) and find ourselves at a similar stage in life, a stage at which taking care of the kids (and the kitchen) seems to have somehow reached the top spot of our list of daily priorities. Our shared age also brings with it a shared history of learning to code on 8–bit home computers and of having played the video game classics of that era. Jeroen’s first computer was a Commodore C16 that he got when he was 10 years old, and his favorites from back in the day include Pengo, California Games, Moon Buggy, Double Dragon and Outrun.

I have fond memories of playing some of these, too, and especially remember sneaking into my hometown’s single video game arcade with a friend to (quite literally) beat the never ending onslaught of villains in the Double Dragon arcade machine. And guess what Jeroen told me that he has crafted in his free time? A retro arcade machine, basically from scratch! This is not even his most impressive physical project: when Lammetje showed me pictures of the amazingly detailed cartoon–style racing car beds that he made for his kids, I realized that he seems to be the kind of person who always has to build something, no matter whether from, wood or code.

Test output of Calx (palette Burgundy Sunset), Jeroen Lam, 11/2023

Natural Born Coder

As an award–winning web designer and developer for nearly 25 years, Jeroen thinks in code and works with it as his main medium. His creative process usually starts with an idea for a few lines of code, aiming for a specific visual effect that fits the theme he is exploring. Then, he consecutively adds more and more details until the result matches his initial vision. In our conversation, Jeroen likened this process of refining the rough edges to the work of a digital sculptor, and pointed out how it is a constant in the creation of his art.

This consistency in methods is mirrored in the artworks’ visual consistency. Each iteration in every project feels like it was an especially fitting example of the respective project’s aesthetic, and Jeroen himself told me that it is something he pays special attention to.

When I asked him about the sources of his inspiration, he quoted (besides video games, movies, nature, and drawings of his children) an iconic single–line generative artwork that has served as an educational piece for creative coders since the days of 8–bit home computers. I didn’t know about it before, but some research revealed that it first appeared in the “Commodore C64 User’s Guide” in 1982. There even exists a book from 2012 that uses the full code as the (rather unwieldy) title and explores the algorithm in great detail.

This is it:

10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1));: GOTO 10

Sample output of “10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1));: GOTO 10”

When run, it generates a maze-like pattern on the screen, a result of the random selection between two PETSCII characters (205 and 206) that represent diagonal lines. I had to fire up my VICE C64 emulator and try it myself immediately, and the simplicity of the code and the complexity of the output it generates is really amazing. It’s a perfect example of how a simple rule set can lead to intricate and unpredictable results, a concept that lies at the heart of generative art. Lammetje’s reference to this iconic line of code highlights an appreciation for the elegance of simplicity, something he pointed out to me.

The Project

For this particular project, Calx, Jeroen’s creative journey started with the idea of a network of lines connecting pixels of the same color. At a first look, the title Calx (lat. for chalk, limestone, calcinated substance) along with the spirited lines of the outputs, quickly evokes images of chalkboard drawings and writings or of sediment layers, something that does not feel too far fetched.

When talking about the way it all came together, Lammetje humbly focuses on the visual appearance and some of the technical background.

Yet to me, there is more to Calx than this obvious visual analogy. And as the often paraphrased saying goes: Once an artwork is released into the public, the artist loses their control over its interpretation.

So let’s have a look at Calx from my personal point of view!

The Urge to Leave a Mark

When I look at the way the lines evolved from the straight strokes of earlier iterations to the more elaborate and more colorful ones we see now, I have to think of the increasingly fluent markings of a student perfecting their writing on a blackboard. This evolution strikes me as a symbol of an individual’s journey of learning and mastery (probably the artist’s).

The way these lines resemble writing also speaks to the essence of the project: a digital manifestation of the age–old human impulse to leave a mark, to communicate, to express oneself.

Test output of Calx (palette Silver City), Jeroen Lam, 11/2023

This desire, this urge to leave traces of our existence seems to be essential to humanity, and one of the first things that I felt reminded of when I saw some of the project's more muted palettes (especially Twilight Haven) were pictures of prehistoric paintings found in caves all over the world.

The hues of soft purple, dirty white and aged yellow in essence looked much like the pictures of drawings in the caves of Chauvet that I had recently seen in one of my kids’ junior science magazines. Unfortunately, I can’t show that image here for copyright reasons, but after a little research, I came up with one from the Bhimbetika Rock Shelter in India that captures the ancient atmosphere and the character of the mostly mysterious markings pretty well.

Cave Painting at Bhimbetika Rock Shelter, Nikhil2789, 12/2008, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

As a whole, Calx appears to me as an exploration of human interaction in the world, of our desire to manifest ideas in a way that invites others to observe and engage.

The manifestation of this concept in a digital artwork feels like witnessing history come full circle: our ancestors once used chalk drawings as one of the most ancient forms of visualization, and Lammetje's latest project feels like the continuation of this primal creative expression.

Test output of Calx (palette Twilight Haven), Jeroen Lam, 11/2023

Let me invite you to explore your own ideas of how Calx represents a universal human need to be seen and to leave a permanent mark on our world.


Release information:

Calx on fx(hash) Lammetje x Atelier

on 12/4/2023 at 17:00 CET

200 editions


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