Pixels of Meaning: An Interview with Artist Petros Vrellis

Within the geometric artwork, there is a partially visible portrait of a baby – Petros Vrellis

Greek artist Petros Vrellis is challenging the notion that art and computer science are incompatible. With master’s degrees in both Electrical Engineering and Art Sciences, Vrellis combines these two passions to create what he calls “Algorithmic Art.”

The latest work by the artist, titled “Out of All Things One, and Out of One All Things,” is a visual exploration of the ideas of the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Vrellis pays tribute to Heraclitus’s doctrine that “everything changes, and nothing remains still,” as well as his observation that all things are “connected and not connected, converging by diverging.”

Vrellis delves deeply into Heraclitus’s ideas through his art, posing important questions about the possibility of forming meaningful images from seemingly unrelated ones. Can a combination of irrelevant images give rise to more than one new image? While these questions may sound irrational at first, Vrellis has developed an algorithm that lends credence to the ideas that drive his creative process.

Within the geometric artwork, there is a partially visible portrait of a girl and a portrait of an old woman – Petros Vrellis

Vrellis explains that his algorithm dissects images into fragments and then combines them in a way that reveals new, previously “hidden” images. A video posted on Vrellis’s YouTube channel demonstrates how the algorithm works, providing a more vivid illustration than a written description alone.

Vrellis provides several examples of image combinations that can be generated using his algorithm, including:

● A portrait of a baby that transforms into three geometric art images
● A portrait of a child created from three geometric art images, which can also be rotated to form a portrait of an older woman using the same pictures
● A composite image of a baby, adult man, and older man, formed by combining six geometric art images
● A portrait of Jesus made from nine mugshot photographs sourced from the archives of Australia’s “New South Wales Police”

For those who wish to explore more of Vrellis’s art, they can follow him on Instagram or subscribe to his YouTube channel for updates and additional samples of his work.

The Creative Mind: A Candid Conversation with the Artist

How did you become interested in Heraclitus’ philosophy, and how did it inspire your artwork?

Although the presentation videos may suggest that Heraclitus’ philosophy was the inspiration for my work, unfortunately, this is not true. Let me explain the reason for this small “misunderstanding.” All of my works are experimental, mainly in terms of the medium used. I never know the form of the final result from the beginning, and any kind of intention for meaning is impossible in advance.

In this particular case, I spent three years in uncertain searching, without a specific goal, until I discovered something that excited me. I found – without expecting it – a completely virgin “new means” of expression, the ability to hide images within other images. Very soon, I realized that this finding could be used to visualize the concepts of unity/multiplicity, coexistence/convergence of opposites, and other related philosophical ideas.

Only then, and with the certainty that “everything has already been said,” I searched for philosophers from throughout the history of thought who have dealt with these ideas, to end up with the first of these, Heraclitus. It surprised me greatly that these concepts were formulated for the first time 2,500 years ago. And I found the combination of these ideas with contemporary experimental art fascinating. So, to return to your question, this work is not inspired by the philosophical ideas of Heraclitus, but it pays tribute to them.

Can you explain how the algorithm you developed deconstructs and blends images to create unique visuals?

It is quite difficult to mention many technical details. It suffices to say that today the code (written in the programming language C++) has exceeded 5,000 lines. However, the central idea is simple. To use the easiest example, let’s say we want to create an image of a baby from three images of geometric patterns. The logic of the algorithm is to influence each geometric pattern image as little as possible so that the sum of the three pixels of the patterns produces exactly the corresponding pixel of the baby’s image. Thus, as long as the changes in the pixels of the patterns are relatively small, the patterns remain recognizable.

How did you choose the images to use in your artwork, and what do they represent to you?

Having mourned the loss of my parents and having the joy of having children myself, the themes of life and death have been constantly on my mind for the past few years. Therefore, the faces depicted are both young and old, all interconnected through the same geometric patterns.

I chose geometric art as my “primary material” because, for reasons I cannot explain, it provokes a spiritual elevation in many people. Perhaps that is why it is considered “sacred” art in several cultures.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that no face is real. They are “synthetic” images created by blending dozens of other images of real people, emphasizing the universal value of the ideas presented.

Do you see your work as a commentary on the concept of impermanence and the idea that everything is constantly changing?

Yes, of course, that was my intention. Along with the concepts of impermanence and constant change, I would also add the dominant concept of the “unity of all things”. “Everything is connected,” said Heraclitus, millennia ago. A deafening truth that is silenced.

We all experienced the “unity of all things” to the highest possible degree as embryos and infants. We were entirely dependent on our mothers, with limited motor, sensory, and cognitive abilities. The concept of the “individual” body was unimaginable. We were “one” with the “whole”. Gradually, as we grew up, our primitive experiential truth of unity faded away. From the earliest years of our lives, it was gradually obscured for various reasons: economic, class, racial, and countless others.

However, a thinking person will not have difficulty realizing that everything is connected: people with each other as a species, as a society, animals, insects, trees, plants, everything that exists on our planet, all are an indivisible whole with the universe.

Can you describe your creative process when working on these pieces? How much of it is planned versus spontaneous?

The majority of the creative process is unplanned. As I mentioned earlier, I spend a lot of time experimenting with new technologies. Usually, these explorations are futile… However, sometimes I am fortunate enough to discover technological breakthroughs that excite me. For example, in this project, the technological breakthrough is the ability to hide images within other images. This, by itself, could be a good “magic trick,” without expressing anything more meaningful.

Then, the next stage begins: the search for meaning, that is, how to use the possibilities of the discovery to highlight a spiritual theme. What concepts could it support, what images would fit? Only this last stage of searching for meaning is carefully planned, compared to the uncertain, vague, and extremely time-consuming first stage of experimentation.

What do you hope the audience’s response will be to your artwork, and what message do you wish to convey through it?

To be honest, it’s a challenging question. Primarily, I want the viewers to move beyond the superficial “magic trick” and reflect on the cyclical pattern of birth, youth, aging, and death, and how they all interconnect within us. However, my ultimate goal is to challenge the conventional notion that our world is fragmented and disconnected, and to emphasize the concept of the unity of all things.

What do you believe is the role of art in helping us comprehend complex philosophical concepts such as the unity of opposites and impermanence?

As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” By observing an image depicting a girl and an elderly woman made up of the same patterns, one is prompted to reflect on the notion of opposites and their transience. However, while I do not wish to diminish the value of this work, it can only provide a starting point for further investigation. It can serve as a “click” that inspires contemplation, study, and experiential learning.

What were some challenges you faced while developing the algorithm for this project, and how did you manage to overcome them?

I encountered numerous technical difficulties while developing the algorithm, such as slow processing speed (the initial algorithm was 1000 times slower than the current one) and issues with optimizing the representation. These challenges were tackled through persistent effort, spending a significant amount of time on corrections, redesigning, conducting countless on-screen tests, and performing hundreds of trial prints. Additionally, taking breaks and allowing myself moments of mental rest and reflection was crucial to overcome obstacles that required intellectual breakthroughs.

What are some of the other philosophers that you admire, and how have their perspectives influenced your work?

While my work pays tribute to Heraclitus, it is not directly inspired by him. I greatly admire other philosophers as well, such as Epicurus for his perspective on life and death, Plato for his recognition of the limitations of our senses to perceive reality, and Bertrand Russell for his deconstruction of the framework of human logic.

What’s next for you and your artwork? Do you have any upcoming projects or exhibitions you’re excited about?

At the moment, I don’t have any plans. I’m not a professional artist, and my involvement in the commercial art world is limited. Currently, my hope is that the presentation videos for my latest project will reach as many people as possible through the internet.