Jonathan Yeo uses VR to paint sculpture
Jonathan Yeo, famous for his animated and hypnotic portraits of everyone from Tony Blair to Cara DeLevigne has, for the first time, used cutting-edge technology to ‘paint’ a sculpture. Yeo’s virtual 3D self-portrait was then cast in bronze, realising a modern dream in an ancient and concrete medium and beautifully linking the old and the new.
It is this marriage of the traditional and contemporary that made Yeo’s piece so perfect for the RA exhibition ‘From Life’, where the sculpture was displayed. The exhibition, which explored the evolution of creating art from life marked the 250th anniversary of the RA, and celebrated the merging of the past and the future.
Yeo’s sculpture, titled ‘Homage to Paolozzi’, is the product of a unique collaboration. Google installed their unique Tilt Brush software in Yeo’s London studio after he visited them in California. This enabled him to make the brushstrokes he has used on canvas through the air, which were then realised in 3D. “Effectively what I was making was painted sculpture” Yeo described. But, at this stage Yeo was unsure how to use this technology to create work. Enter Otoy’s LightStage scanner.
Otoy, a leading special effects company, were able to create a hyper-detailed 3D rendering of Yeo’s head: and exploration could continue. the “eureka moment” arrived when Yeo imported this scan of himself into Google’s software and from this, he “painted” a virtual sculpture of himself, representing the first time these two technologies came together.
Finally, Yeo took this 3D painting to Pangolin, a world leading sculpture foundry in Gloucestershire who cast the self-portrait in bronze. Yeo was able to capture a sense of permanence, turning this piece from a virtual drawing, to a concrete object that could last thousands of years.
Yeo paints in a beautiful studio that was previously owned by Scottish sculpture and painter Eduardo Paolozzi. A pioneer of pop-art, Paolozzi’s love of the mechanical can be seen in the Vorticism that runs through Yeo’s portraiture. This ‘Homage to Paolozzi’ takes Yeo’s fascination with the modern to a new level, and is a glorious tribute to Paolizzi’s avant-garde imagination.
Yeo bravely stepped through the process that led to the realisation of this extraordinary piece with no map or guarantees. It is a stunning tribute to the fearlessness of creativity, and the possibilities that open when an artist is able to take a risk! In his words “I’m used to making paintings where I know how it is looking as I go along. With this project I instead had to take all sorts of gambles on processes and materials and I only got to see the final sculpture for the first time as it was cast in bronze at the foundry.”
Every brushstroke in virtual reality is exactly the gesture I’m making in the air with my hand. It’s a direct expression of me: the perfect tool for a self-portrait. – Jonathan Yeo
From the mirror, to the photograph, Yeo sees this as a natural step in the evolution of portraiture as an art form. He understands himself as situated within the ancient history of portraiture, and his use of 3D scanning as part of a timeline that does not deny its past but builds an exciting future.