Characteristics of the the computer graphic work of Roger Coqart

Roger Coqart (1931), pseudonym for Roger Kockaerts, is a belgian artist, working and living in Brussels.
From the middle of the 1950's Roger Kockaerts was committed to experimental autodidactic studies of photographic techniques which later developed into creative photographic work, influenced by Otto Steinert's Subjective Photography standards.

Professional research activities at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (Free Brussels University) favored his approach to digital computing from the beginning of the 1970's onwards. The hardware permitting graphic output at disposal was a Wang 600 system with cassette as well as floppy disk storage which was equipped with an incremental Wang 602 plotter. The exclusive language of this system was not the most elegant form of program publication, and exchange of programs was limited to owners of identical machines. Since the quest of Roger Coqart is not one of technological perfectionism nor a thirst for sophisticated software, but the pursuit of objectivity in the construction process of geometric abstraction, this elementary equipment was most satisfying. The urge to use a digital computer to create artwork was dictated by his curiosity to know if he, eventually, could experience the same sort of magic as witnessed by developing a photographic image.

His first computer generated structures, made in 1973, appeared in a series of 52 pictures in which a plain grid provided the background for a configuration of 50 identical squares whose relative positions were determined by means of a computer program generating pseudo random numbers.

fifty squares

For each of the 52 pictures the random generator was triggered differently so as to break of the sequence of computation in ways to assure variety in the configuration of squares, which strongly suggested some crystalline clusters. In order to test the degree of disorderliness produced by the random generator, a statistical study of the entire project was performed. This first series of grid structures participated at the 1974 international ISELP exhibit "Art et Ordinateur" in Brussels and was the incitation to continue the exploration of grids as an art medium.

Grids and patterns derived from grids have been used in artworks since the beginning of civilization. In ancient Egypt the grid was an ingenious and simple way to maintain proper proportions for figures no matter their scale. This method for establishing size relations for the human body remained a traditional device afterwards. Islamic art makes use of non figurative compositional structures of which the grid is often the basic element. During Medieval and Gothic times, grids were used as a transference device from a sketch on paper to large painting surfaces. The underlying idea of transferring information from one grid to another has a long history in both mathematics and art. In Op Art, one way to create visual illusions of motion or image fluctuations is through repetition of points or lines. Today, grid design is a fundamental skill of any web designer.

In the case of Roger Kockaerts who, for his computer generated artwork, has taken the pseudonym of Roger Coqart, his grid structures are to be considered as autonomy works of aesthetic nature. The resulting geometrical grid compositions embody the idea of order without which the greater concept of unity cannot be grasped.

However complex a composition may be, viewing is not apt to be demanding, in the case of figurative pictures at least. The characteristic response to patterns and grids is scanning, which is a more anxious kind of viewing. It contains an element of unsatisfied search, since it implies a restless refusal to focus on details and an attempt to grasp the characteristics of the whole display.

The grids Roger Coqart generates are all based on the alignment of simple square elements which are divided by bisecting and diagonal line elements.

line elements used for grid structures

For each grid composition a matrix is designed which contains information concerning the number of line elements, their sequence and relative positions. The density of the grid is determined at the conceptual stage. The grid is plotted line by line after the introduction of the chosen sequence or the number of line elements to be traced in one module. Random numbers are used to determine the direction of the lines to be traced, their starting point and the sequence in which they are to be traced in each of a series of the squares. The choice of the number of elements in each square depends on the predetermined program.The random numbers are used here in a statistical sampling procedure in order to take advantage of the properties of combinatorics as a means of attaining a definite structural order through objective handling of geometric line elements.

random grid

Indeed the range of possible permutations of the encoded line elements offer a wide variety of entirely different pictures. The use of statistical sampling excludes human intervention and insures the objectivity with which the work is executed. Digital computers offer the most effective way of dealing with this kind of strict unbiased approach. Each composition containing an identical matrix will thus be completely different and can be seen as a statistic valid example of the possible designs. In most instances the grid compositions have square dimensions and may be presented in the cardinal positions, from square to diamond.


commonly used grid types

Two very different grid types are conceived: the distribution of randomized arrangements of simple line elements form an uninterrupted chain of line elements offering a plain wirelike structure, while the use of the regular alignment of small squares in rows and columns, which in turn are divided by line elements, gives access to a composition where the grid formed by the small squares seem to lie in the foreground.

In general, the final composition of each computer generated grid is executed as a black and white, negative or positive, analog photographic or photomechanical print, or hand painted on canvas or perspex. The grids in the photographic prints have the same dimensions as the computer printout while the paintings being on a larger scale, are very labor intensive, and may take up weeks of uninterrupted work. The slow workflow of the paintings is in paradox to the incredible speed of the computer generated matrix which gives the artist time to reflect on a more philosophical approach concerning his relative distance in relation to the machine.

handpainted grid on perspex, 100x100cm - 2010

The paintings, more specifically those executed on perspex, having their source in the seventies, are still, with the same enthusiasm, executed today. Each work, in its final dimensions constitutes an objective example of the immensity of the possible works in relation to the initial concept enclosed into the program. From the start no systematic exploitation of the possible variants of a given construction has been considered. On the other hand, at the level of the basic concept, a continuity between the chosen geometric elements and the conceptual logic has been observed.

The spectator interested by such configurations will, in a global lecture, discover different optical knots which are nervously explored in search of a more reassuring subject. If one persists to the study the tableau, different forms and signs in relation to sentiments, emotions and solid attachments will eventually be perceived. At

The perception of the symbol excludes the attitude of the simple spectator and demands a participation as an actor because a symbol escapes each and every definition and its perception is highly personal. A symbol is suggestive in the sense that one only sees what ones visual power permits to perceive. Without penetration nothing will be perceived.

Roger Coqart uses the generative drawing as a unique image or in combination with other images which may be drawings or photographs. The unique image then becomes a contemplative object where the symbol is omnipresent and which can function as a sort of mandala. In combination with other images a mutual interaction will be appear which facilitates the global lecture of the work.

Another project of the seventies was the creation of a series of computer generated structures in which elements could be permuted inside a random generated composition. Roger Coqart coined this with the term "permutable". The principle of the permutable reposes on the possible variation of geometric elements inside a structured composition. In the "Chromatic Square Permutable", a chromatic square composed of yellow, blue, red and green triangles is part of a larger square containing four identical chromatic squares which form a total of sixteen elements and which is accepted as the basic composition of the chromatic square permutable.

Chromatic Square Permutable Alphabet

A random number generator determines and codifies successively the number of elements to be shown in a given square composition as well as the size and color, or absence of color, of the elements in question.

In the chromatic square, the sum of two adjacent triangles form their resulting color: for example red + yellow = orange, etc… The addition of three or more triangles form grey, from light grey to black, according to the generated code number. In this manner, a series of 64 random chromatic squares were constructed, forming the original alphabet of this permutable project. The alphabet allows to construct structured combinations comporting several randomly determined chromatic squares. In a structured composition of chromatic squares, a multitude of other combinations are possible by varying the position of the chromatic squares as well as their orientation.

In another permutable of the same period, 90 computer generated geometric structures, of a general population of 72!(factorial 72), based on the elementary division of the square, were executed on white, grey and black cardboard in which resulting "windows" were cut out. The colored cut-outs may be oriented at will and superposed to form multiple (220) combinations as seen in following figure.

Renaissance permutable, 1975

During this initial period Roger Coqart created many personal contacts with other practitioners which contributed to his participation in a number of international exhibits and the publication of "Aspects: The Computer in the Visual Art" by ICSAC (Internationaal Centrum voor StructuurAnalyse en Constructivisme), based in Brussels. In this publication following eminent artists showed their current work and expressed their opinion concerning computer generated art and its probable future: Colette & Charles Bangert, Manuel Barbadillo, Klaus Basset, Groupe Belfort, Peter Beyls, Harold Cohen, Roger Coqart, Herbert W. Franke, Julius Guest, Sozo Hashimoto, Miljenco Horvat, William Kolomyjec, Ruth Leavitt, Robert Mallary, Aaron Marcus, Manfred Mohr, Vera Molnar, Duane Palyka, Reiner Schneeberger, Lillian Schwartz, Christopher W. Tyler, Edvard Zajec and Vilko Ziljak.

Cover of "Aspects …" publication

From the 1980's on, his passion for creative photography incited Roger Coqart to create a number of diptychs in which a photograph and a computer generated image were in symbiosis or paradox to each other in order to form works with a conceptual-semantic character. In these pieces combinations of the available letter, cipher and mathematical symbols are used semantically with photographic images.

Phi, or the Use and Relative Importance of the Golden Ratio, 1981

In 1985, Michèle Minne, at that time Art History student at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, wrote e a dissertation about Roger Coqart , being a pioneer of computer art in Belgium. She wrote: Randomness is a constant in the work of Roger Coqart. It appeared in his artistic work well before the introduction of the computer en seems to pay a role as catalyzer in his approach. On the role of this factor in his creations, he states that in computer generated work the random elements in a given program are carefully filtered and canalized in order not to destroy the equilibrium of the composition. The notion of randomness is in fact exploited in relation to its diversifying power which is necessary to sustain the interest of the spectator.
Since his first pieces on the square and randomness and, concerning the participation of the onlooker, Roger Coqart links in with the artistic concerns of the avant-garde of the seventies which reacted against the passivity of the onlooker and wanted the latter's active participation. The "permutable" invites the onlooker to take part in the creative process by combining the elements of the alphabet as he sees fit. This game implies a physical participation on the part of the onlooker who touches the various elements by putting them next to each other, but it also leads to a psychological participation of the onlooker who, by doing so, explores the scope of his perception and his sensitivity to the forms and colors. The poetic-conceptual diptychs are more hermetic and require the onlooker to take part on a more intellectual level. At best the onlooker manages to establish semantic connections between images and signs. These are eye winks which Roger Coqart destines to a cultivated and knowledgeable public who recognizes allusions to his anterior work or to the belgian cultural context. A third type of participation (sous extend) ethical messages accessible to very human being who reflects. We can conclude that Roger Coqart's work is particularly demanding to the public.

Homage to the Daily Bûl: "Quoique vous fassiez vous êtes ridicule", 1981

Johan Swinnen, Professor of History and Theory of Photography and New Media at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and at the Sorbonne (Paris), writes about Roger Kockaerts (Roger Coqart): On studying Roger Kockaerts' oeuvre, we felt we could apply to it the term "Belgitude", which was coined at the beginning of the 1970's to describe Belgian literature. Indeed in his conceptual montages, we have discovered a regional aroma, something belonging to Belgium: a mixture of influences. Chance, eroticism, humor, irony and humanism are the keywords of his work. These notions remind us of the characteristics of a pictorial movement that grew up in particular in our country: surrealism. In his desire not to take himself seriously and to adopt an ironic and poetic view of our society, Roger Kockaerts can claim to have something in common with Ensor, Storck, Spilliaert and Alechinsky. We think that, by paying homage to the heirs of Belgian Surrealism, Roger Kockaerts is thus expressing his regional identity. It is also a way of recognizing that artists are influenced by the context in which they create. We believe that Kockaerts thus created an oeuvre that could only have seen the light of the day in this way in Belgium in the ninety seventies and up until today. This process is particularly original and stands out from international production as a whole.


Bibliographic references.

Roger Coqart, Computer Graphics: Grid Structures, Leonardo, may 1978.
Roger Coqart, Aspects: The Computer in Visual Art, ICSAC, Internationaal Centrum voor Structuuranalyse en Constructivisme, D/1981/3419/1, Brussels, 1981.
Michèle Minne, Deux pionniers de l'art informatique en Belgique: Peter Beyls et Roger Kockaerts, dissertation ULB, Brussels, 1985.
Johan Swinnen & Luc Deneulin (ed.), The Weight of Photography, Academic and Scientific Publishers, ISBN 978 90 5487 704 2, Brussels, 2010.