Gottfried Honegger
Pioneer of computer drawing

Gottfried Honegger (1917-2016) is considered one of the most prominent representatives of Concrete Art in Switzerland. Starting from his work as a commercial artist, over the course of several decades he developed an independent mode of expression in drawings, paintings and sculptures, which is essentially based on the recombination of geometric forms.

In contrast to other representatives of Concrete Art, Honegger turned away from the idea of having to control the entire composition. He consciously relied on chance as a co-creator of his works and developed a method all his own: "Given elements and random arrival." In doing so, he diced out colors, patterns, shapes and entered them into a square grid. In this way, a randomly generated picture gradually emerged. In 1969, Gottfried Honegger got into conversation with Peter J. Huber, then professor of mathematical statistics at the ETH Zurich, in his home town of Gockhausen (near Zurich). Huber told him about the possibilities of the large computers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and suggested to him to translate the manual throwing of dice into an automated program. He referred the technically interested artist to his doctoral student at the time, Beat Kleiner, who was conducting a statistical research project on the CDC 1604-A mainframe computer. Based on Honegger's random method, Kleiner programmed an application in the FORTRAN language that filled a given grid with randomly selected geometric shapes. These were put on paper by a pen plotter made by Calcomp. The use of the computer instead of the dice cup effortlessly produced hundreds of such drawings. From 1970 to 1972, this resulted in the first computer-generated drawings.

The resulting drawings are all originals based on the random principle. The calculation was done on the CDC 1604-A computer of the ETH Zurich. The dicing was simulated with computer-generated (pseudo) random numbers. The FORTRAM program first created a table of the (geometric) picture elements to be drawn for each picture. In a second step, this table was converted square by square into the drawing. The calculation time per image was a few seconds, the drawing (with a CALCOMP plotter 565) took more than a minute. Only after 1,400,000,000,000 images could repetitions be expected. In this sense, Honegger, along with artists such as Bela Juresz, Georg Nees, Vera Molnar, and Laurence Gartel, was a forerunner of art created by artificial intelligence, a pioneer of what is today called software, NFT, crypto, or digital art.
( Philippe Rey, 2022)