David Em

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David Em
David Em, Transjovian Pipeline, 1979,
Digital Image
Born 1952
Los Angeles, California, USA
Nationality American
Education Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
American Film Institute
Known for Digital art

David Em (born 1952) is an American computer artist.

Life and work[edit]

David Em was born in Los Angeles and grew up in South America. He studied painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and film directing at the American Film Institute.

Em created digital paintings at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (Xerox PARC) in 1975 with SuperPaint, "the first complete digital paint system".[1] In 1976, he made an articulated 3D digital insect at Information International, Inc. (III) that could walk, jump, and fly, the first 3D character created by a fine artist.[2]

David Em, Aku, 1977, Digital Image

With his 1977 art work Aku, Em became the first artist to produce a navigable virtual world at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), where he was Artist in Residence from 1977 to 1984.[3] He also created digital art at the California Institute of Technology (1985 – 1988), and Apple Computer (1991).[4] Em has worked independently since the early nineties.

Scope of work[edit]

David Em Glacier.jpg
David Em, QED, 1998, Digital Image.

Em's art is difficult to categorize. His work spans multiple media, including all-electronic virtual worlds, filmmaking, photography, and printmaking. He has also worked with live performance and theater.[5] Most of his work exists outside of the mainstream art world.

Stylistically, Em's art has connections to Surrealism, abstract painting, and experimental film. There are also often landscape and architectural elements. Some pieces feature geometric components, while others are organic in nature.

He says he "makes pictures with electronic light” and "sculpts with memory instead of space.”[6] He also "evolves images so that they grow into and out of each other”.[7]

Some of his early works done at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the 1970s have deep-space related themes. In the 1980s he incorporated light effects reminiscent of the French Impressionists,[8] and in the 1990s he introduced otherworldly lifeforms into his work. In the early Twenty-First century, an apocalyptic element appears in his imagery.

His art has been exhibited at the Centre Pompidou, the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Seibu Museum in Tokyo, the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. His work has appeared in popular media, including the covers of Herbie Hancock's Future Shock, Sound-System, and Perfect Machine albums and an electronic version of William Gibson’s Neuromancer.

Continuing his connections with NASA and CalTech, Em curated an exhibition, "The Shape of the Universe," November 30, 2011 at Pasadena City College. The exhibit featured recent deep space photographs and computer simulations.[9]

David Em presenting "The Shape of the Universe" 2011


  1. ^ Perry, T. & Wallich, P.:"Inside the PARC: The Information Architects", Pages 68-69, "IEEE Spectrum", October 1985
  2. ^ Sorensen, P. "Computer Pictures", "David Em Modern Master" May 1988
  3. ^ Nelson, Ted "Creative Computing", "Report on Siggraph '81", March 1982
  4. ^ Haggerty, M. "IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications" page 4 "Computer Painting in a Different Light." Nov. 1992
  5. ^ Michie, Donald and Rory Johnston. “The Creative Computer”, Viking, 1984, pp. 139-140
  6. ^ Deken, Joseph “Computer Images: State of the Art,” , Stewart, Tabori, and Chang, 1983, page 133
  7. ^ Wands, Bruce. “Art of the Digital Age”, Thames and Hudson, 2006, page 48
  8. ^ Trachtman, P. "Smithsonian Magazine" "Impressionist with a Computer" 1988.
  9. ^ http://www.pasadena.edu/artgallery/exhibition.cfm?ID=15314

Further reading[edit]

  • Bradbury, Ray (1984). "Em Squared". David Em at OCCA (exhibition catalogue). Orange County Center for Contemporary Art. 
  • Gardiner, Jeremy; Malone, Seamus; Lambert, Nick (February 24, 2009). "Interview with David Em". Computer Art & Technoculture. Los Angeles. Retrieved 2015-05-06. 
  • Kleiner, Fred S.; Mamiya, Christin J. (2004). Gardner's Art Through the Ages (12th ed.). Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 
  • Ross, David (1988). The Art of David Em. New York: Harry N. Abrams. 
  • Zelanski, Paul; Fisher, Mary Pat (2007). The Art of Seeing (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall. 

External links[edit]