From Pandemic-Era Plant Obsession, AI-Generated Flowers Sprout
San Franciscans went crazy for plants during the pandemic. And now you could say a similar passion for flora has crossed over into the virtual world, with NFT flower shops suddenly popping up everywhere.
You can catch the botanical bug for virtual flowers at Oakland gallery Mercury 20, where artist Andrea Brewster’s archival giclée prints of AI-generated flowers are now on display.
Brewster is an expert in “hyperbolic” or three-dimensional tattoos, but was eager to experiment with artificial intelligence and flowers in her artwork after learning that two of her ancestors were both budding naturalists during the 19th century.
The result is a collection of whimsical flower images made through Brewster’s interactions with the AI image generator Midjourney. She calls them Unlikely blossoms.
Brewster is not alone in taking this new frontier for a subject that has been a recurring motif since chiaroscuro still lifes. Last year, a San Francisco-based NFT artist sold one of his works, a depiction of flowers encased in a dazzling square, for $3,900, almost as much as a coveted monstera plant. Earlier this year, famed Japanese artist Takashi Murakami debuted a collection of NFTs featuring his signature pixelated flowers. Even the decidedly mainstream 1-800-Flowers got in on the act, giving away flower-inspired NFTs for Mother’s Day. Then this past summer, renegade Japanese botanical artist Azuma Makato launched Meta Florist, a virtual flower shop where you can buy NFT bouquets.
You may have seen some mysterious signs for the brand in SoMa more recently, and if you’ve ever been around Verse: The art of the future, now at the Palace of Fine Arts, you may have seen a sprouting Avatree meant to fight climate change. Clearly, the pandemic plant obsession may have some life left in it.
To produce her images, Brewster typed in strings of words related to botanical illustration, and the AI scraped a data set of 5 billion images to create an illustration based on those text cues. Sometimes a stray pencil or text appeared randomly, but for the most part Brewster was pleased with the outcomes. From there, she combed through hundreds of images to narrow her selection to display to 10, focusing on images that had a delicate quality like flower petals with dragonfly-like wings to underscore the fragility of the natural world.
By experimenting with AI, Brewster feels like a next-generation explorer, much like the female botanical artists of centuries ago whose drawings documented the natural world and gave it new scientific and artistic meaning. Even as the specter of plagiarism haunts the AI-generated art world, Brewster approaches the medium with tempered optimism.
“There’s a kind of sense of adventure and something new and wonderful and magical,” Brewster said. “And to me the AI has the same kind of quality. Like, we’re on the precipice of [a] brave new world, and it’s amazing and scary.”
‘Unlikely Blossoms’ at Mercury 20
📅Until January 28, 2023
📍475 25th St., Oakland