Melding the familiar and the alien: the otherworldly hybrid images of Markos Kay

Markos Kay, a Cyprus-born multidisciplinary artist who is currently based in London, is creating a rich body of generative art that combines a certain human sensitivity with forms that feel fascinatingly alien. This sensitivity is one of the things that sets his practice apart from the endless stream of artificial intelligence (AI) art one can find across social media. Many of Kay’s works present glimpses of artificial life evolving organically, upon planets not unlike our own.

‘aBiogenesis #1’, 2022 | Markos Kay | STIRworld
aBiogenesis #1, 2022 Image: Markos Kay

The artist discusses his creative process, telling STIR: “My approach to digital art is very much concept-led, it’s all about having a big idea and then finding ways to bring it to life. I have volumes of sketchbooks filled with concepts which organically develop over time. A tiny fraction of these have eventually been realised as digital pieces.” For Kay’s AI-driven methodology, the artist generates thousands of images and then makes a selection, which is fed back into the image-generating tools he uses in order to create more complex iterations. These iterations are then combined and developed in the image editing software Adobe Photoshop, and are subsequently re-fed into an AI image generator for further refinement, thus creating a feedback loop between AI and traditional digital tools. Through this process, Kay directs his AI tools towards an outcome that is the sum of his original vision for the project, combined with the AI image generator’s own input, by repeatedly introducing images to the loop until he is satisfied with the result.

‘Vessicles’, 2022 | Markos Kay | STIRworld
Vessicles, 2022 Image: Markos Kay

Kay holds a Master of Arts in Communication Design from Central St. Martins in London and, alongside making his visual art, also works as a lecturer at Chelsea College of Art and Design and the University of Greenwich.

‘Moon Plant’, 2022 | Markos Kay | STIRworld
Moon Plant, 2022 Image: Markos Kay

Exploring Kay’s oeuvre, one may find themselves wondering how and from where these strange and fascinating hybrids might arise and what sort of environmental conditions could accommodate such beings. Take Moon Plant for example: Kay’s piece mashes together forms reminiscent of a mushroom and a plant, with its bulbous head extending into what appears to be an organic, circular shape reminiscent of a moon. Images that resemble eyes are a recurring motif within the artist’s work; they are somehow too richly detailed and often too large, creating a slight sense of discomfort that can be difficult to define. Perhaps it is the feeling one would experience upon being confronted with a seemingly benign alien lifeform: a sense of fascination, offset by a slight fear of its implications.

‘Organicity #1’, Markos Kay | STIRworld
Organicity #1 Image: Markos Kay

As AI-generated art proliferates, so too does the presence of AI across professional sectors, as in writing, for example. There have been many concerns within and beyond the arts community as to our collective future, and some commentators – who have taken to platforms such as Forbes and IoT For All to voice their concerns – worry about a possible reduction in the need for humans to perform tasks. Kay remains optimistic when confronted with these fears, and explains that AI can only make certain decisions within set parameters, the scope of which is ultimately left to human discretion. He reminds us of the Y2K millennium bug crisis, where tech commentators stirred up fears over possibly worldwide computer failures, and in fact only minor issues occurred.

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Light Scatters, 2023 Video: Markos Kay

The visual artist has enjoyed a flourishing career at the intersection of AI and art, having exhibited and engaged with other artists and galleries across the world. However, in 2016, Kay became disabled, and later largely housebound, due to the chronic neurological condition ME/CFS. While he may no longer be able to share his work and views with the art world in person, Kay’s creative spirit remains unbroken, and he continues to make art despite his disability.

Portrait photograph of Markos Kay | STIRworld
Portrait photograph of Markos Kay Image: Markos Kay

Against these odds, the quality of Kay’s unmistakable digital art speaks for itself. ME/CFS, for all the pain it causes Kay, has also prompted him to prioritise his creative preoccupations: “Because of my disability, I have very few hours a day to myself as most of my time is spent lying in bed in darkness enduring a lot of pain. For that reason, I have been focusing more on my own work rather than working on client projects.” Kay is currently developing an animated TV series and a large-scale immersive experience that are both based on his work and interests. In the future, he would like to expand his artistic vision to feature films, the video game industry and virtual reality experiences. “This may all sound very ambitious, but as a seriously ill person, I have nothing to lose!”

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