Interview with Tom Moody by Cory Arcangel

Posted by Cory Arcangel | Fri Oct 28th 2005 9:26 a.m.

+Commissioned by
Interview with Tom Moody, by Cory Arcangel

+ Editor's Note: The following is an interview of Tom Moody, conducted by
Cory Arcangel, over several emails. Below are their bio's, followed by the
interview, which touches upon blogging, fandom, defunct hardware & software,
music, code, studio processes, and their shared appreciation for the

Tom Moody is a visual artist based in New York. His low-tech art made with
MSPaintbrush, photocopiers, and consumer printers has appeared in solo shows
at Derek Eller Gallery and UP&CO and numerous group shows. His weblog at <
begun in February 2001, was recently recommended in the Art in America
article "Art in the Blogosphere," and his web video "Guitar Solo" made its
live audience debut this month in "23 Reasons to Spare New York," curated by
Nick Hallett at Galapagos Art Space in Williamsburg, NY.

Cory Arcangel is a computer artist, performer, and curator who lives and
works in Brooklyn. His work centers on his love of personal computers, the
internet, and popular culture. He is a member of the artist groups BEIGE +
R.S.G. His work has shown recently in the Whitney Biennial of American Art,
The Guggenheim Museum, New York, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the
Migros Museum in Zurich, and Team and Deitch Galleries, in New York. Aside
from gallery installations, most of his projects can be downloaded with
source code from his website... Future
projects include the music group Van Led, a self produced version of MTV
cribz, and various assorted computer hacks.

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Cory: One of the things I think is interesting about you is that you seem to
have done so many things. From being a fan of your blog over the past couple
of years (is there a word for this? blogfan? RSStailgater?....anyway....), I
have learned in bits and pieces that at one point or another you were a
painter, a DJ, and also a critic for more traditional art magazines. As far
as I can tell, you did this all at the same time. Is it possible to connect
the dots to give a bit of pre-blog background about yourself, about how you
came to each?

Tom: I double-majored in English lit and studio art at the University of
Virginia; I DJ'd all four years and was Program Director of the student FM
radio station, WTJU, the last two. Painting or being an artist is my main
focus, but my original interests are mostly all still going strong. After
college and a year of art school at the Corcoran in DC I moved to NY and
painted, without a clue of how to access the art scene. I tried to get into
SVA but applied too late for the fall semester. If I had gotten in, Keith
Haring would have been my classmate (!).

Then I moved to Texas, where I originally grew up. I exhibited work, wrote
art reviews for a Dallas zine, and to shorten a long story, that writing
eventually led to a Dallas Morning News freelance gig and covering Texas for
Artforum. Music took a back seat but one of my regrets was turning down a
radio show on KNON-FM--I wanted to but didn't have time. I wrote tunes on
the Macintosh but found music too time-intensive to produce at that stage.

I moved back to NY in 1995, had my first solo show here in '98, and wrote
regularly for Artforum, which helped me get a sense of what was here. I
exhibited at Derek Eller Gallery and Uscha Pohl's UP&CO space and actually
sold work during the dot-com era, but by 2000 the first wave of what I'd
call viable computer-made art also began to implode. A show I co-organized
at Cristinerose Gallery called "Cyber Drawings," which also included Claire
Corey's and Marsha Cottrell's work, got enthusiastic press response, but a
certain momentum was being lost as potential collectors watched their
businesses go south. Around this time Annika Sundvik and John Lavelle, who I
met through the gallery world, opened a restaurant in Chinatown called Good
World Bar & Grill. I DJ'd there for the better part of 2000. I started the
blog in 2001, and started seriously making music again last year.

Cory: Digital Media Tree seems to also have an interesting history. It is a
custom-built blog community which has many members of which you are one.
Running your blog on custom built software is actually quite rare, so I am
curious, how did Digital Media Tree get started?

Tom: Digital Media Tree is the brainchild of Jim Bassett, who wrote the
software and has been the low-key, creative, officially-unofficial webmaster
since 2000. It is a blog collective and quite active, with all of us
commenting on each other's pages and posting to public and private group
pages. My invitation to join the group came from artist Bill Schwarz, who
has a page at There are features
at the Tree at I haven't found in other blog packages, such as the ease of
configuring pages with "use your own html" options, and the ability to spin
off an infinite series of customized pages, as blogs or fixed pages. I'm too
lazy to learn CSS, but actually prefer my page's under-designed html look.

Cory: It seems Bill was right-on by inviting you 'cause, looking through
your archives, you jumped really quickly into blog format. You were
reviewing shows, posting your own work, and even posting political
commentary. I am not sure where I am going with this...basically what was
your first impression of the blog format? Why didn't you restrict yourself
to one topic? And also, what was your motivation in posting your studio
process (a traditionally private practice) to the web?

Tom: I had my own site, and a site devoted to science fiction writer Doris
Piserchia (, up and running
a few months before joining the Tree so my basic rules of navigation were
already in place: no splash pages, images must load quickly, assume no
surfer will stay longer than .5 seconds so you better deliver, etc. The
range of my blog content emerged within the first six months. Looking back
at the "attack on America" posts from fall 2001, I was still apologizing to
an imagined art readership for all the political ranting. By the end of the
first year I knew the blog was going to be based on desire, passion, whim,
or whatever you want to call it. That I'd post what I felt like and let the
content emerge from that process.

Cory: Ok, so let's talk about your work. I did a studio visit a while back,
and the work that I remember being the most interesting in person was your
inkjet and MSPaint work. What is your fascination with personal computer
software and hardware? When did you make the switch from paint-paint to MS
paint? Why? Also is it true that your previous job had a role to play in
this transition? I remember you mentioning this once to me.

Tom: I started using MSPaintbrush, actually an older version of MSPaint, on
my first permatemp job in NY, which had a lot of downtime. The computers we
used didn't have Photoshop back then (around '95-'96). Actual painting was
giving me health problems--everything from turpentine poisoning to
repetitive stress injuries--and over a period of a couple years, I gradually
phased it out and started channeling everything I'd been doing previously
through this one dumb program. I liked the idea of Paintbrush as a "found
art tool"--it seemed genuinely exotic within the still slightly medieval,
hand-crafty art world but also didn't buy into the whiz-bang futuristic
assumptions I hated about so much computer art. I figured almost everyone
had fooled around with one of these early programs and could intuitively get
that I was doing something more elaborate with it. That didn't necessarily
turn out to be true, but that was the intent.

Cory: I love this post from your blog (, talking about your
pre-computer work: "I mean, I like the ability of avowedly maximalist work
to upset people. Collectors prefer elegant black and white abstractions that
fade into the background, and the bad kid in me wants to make something
they'll totally hate. And these are bad--there are a lot of degraded,
half-finished pin-up girl drawings you can't see in the scanned polaroid,
and bug-eyed caricatures, just the worst stuff. I'm compelled to do this
kind of work (still) but once it's finished and I step back and look at it,
I sometimes wish I hadn't." Do u still agree with this?

Tom: The work I did before moving to NY was packed with imagery, much of it
unfiltered and kind of nasty. In the passage immediately prior to that quote
I talked about getting "minimalist religion" on moving here, referring to
all these studio visits I had with artists who said "You've got to start
breaking this down into its parts, figure out what matters to you, open it
up..." Otherwise--and I came to agree with this--the content would just be
that we all live in a haze of information and conflicting signals, blah
blah. The critiques made sense to me, and I ended up isolating the
tripped-out, spherical abstractions, slightly pitiful but well-drawn
portraits of media babes, and weird cartoons into separate bodies of work,
each drawn in Paintbrush and printed out on xerox paper (and later EPSON
home printer paper). I guess the point being you don't have to fill up a
picture to annoy collectors.

Cory: So, if I am understanding this correctly, all your visual art is done
on MSPaint?

Tom: It's actually Paintbrush--I know I'm a nerd on this subject. Paint
ships with all Windows-equipped computers now, Paintbrush is the earlier
version. It's abandonware but I still use it. I recently emailed the .exe
file to drx of Bodenstandig 2000 and he was really happy to get it! I wrote
a long blog post about why the earlier version was better before Microsoft
"improved" it. Mostly it's in the handling of shading with the "spraycan
tool"--you get much richer intermediate values. In answer to your question,
it's my main drawing and painting tool. I use Photoshop for resizing and
printing but I've never warmed up to painting in it--I like seeing the
pixels, especially with a photorealistic rendering; it's literally edgier.
Those spheres I do aren't made with a gradient tool, they're all hand-shaded
in Paintbrush.

Cory: There is a lot of talk about craft on your blog. You have stated that
you started to use MSPaint(brush) primarily because it was exotic and you
felt that the process was accessible to a wider art audience. Did the idea
of craft ever enter into this transition? What are/ were the various
hang-ups, and the advantages of using something like MSPaint in terms of
building a craft?

Tom: Hmmm, it sounds like I contradicted myself. When I said using that
particular computer program was exotic I meant in the sense that the art
world only just embraced *photography* as a legitimate medium, after decades
of resistance to it as a lesser art form. The computer still has the shock
of the new, or the shock of the bad in some cases. Art world folks know
painting, photo, and printmaking lore, but are less secure--myself
included--knowing what constitutes talent on the computer as opposed to some
easy-to-do technical trick. I thought because everyone had Paint or the
equivalent on their computer and had at least made a mark or spritzed the
spraycan, they could see that I was doing something more ambitious with it.
I was thinking of this guy in New Mexico who made perfect perspective
drawings using an Etch a Sketch. If I could draw La Femme Nikita from
scratch on this toy program and actually have people (well, guys) say she's
hot, then a landmark would be achieved for both Paintbrush and the computer.
The problem is I drew her so realistically people assumed I was running a
photo though a pixelating filter.

When I talk about craft on the blog, just to make it clear, I'm not talking
about drawing ability but things like mosaics and needlepoints that relate
to the computer on a much more fundamental image-making level, the grid
level. I love the cross-stitch patterns and beadwork you can find online
based on MSPaint drawings. In the late '90s I was impressed by the writing
of cyberfeminist Sadie Plant, who opened up for me a whole organic,
non-analytical way of looking at computation. She traces digital equipment
back to one of its earliest uses, as punchcards for looms, and talks of the
internet as a distributed collaborative artwork akin to traditionally
feminine craft projects At the time I was drawing and printing hundreds of
spheres at work and bringing them home, cutting polygons around them, and
then taping the polygons back together in enormous paper quilts. In my press
release for the Derek Eller show we called it "corporate tramp art."

Cory: Lets talk about what you are working on now..... recently you (and I)
were included in the Fuzzy Logic show of the Futuresonic festival. What did
you show there?

Tom: One of those quilts, which I'm still making. That body of work has been
shown quite a bit over the years but the Fuzzy Logic show was the first
where a surrounding dialogue perfectly fit it. Plant attended Futuresonic as
a speaker, and co-curator Jackie Passmore wrote about the art show: "the between the tools of handcraft and computer programming
indiscriminately, highlighting the oft-overlooked correlation between the
lo-fi art of handcraft and knitting and its digital descendant, the
computer. Fuzzy Logic celebrates the art of the microprocess: knitting
numbers, aligning loom and logic, weaving program and pattern." The quilt I
had in Fuzzy Logic was a little different in that I made a big Buckyball
from a scan of an old painting and hand pieced an Op art pattern drawn in
Paintbrush around it. What did you show?

Cory: Well, at Futuresonic, I showed an "Infinite Fill Blanket." People may
or may not remember that about a year ago, my sister and I put together a
show, at the gallery Foxy Production, all based around the paint patterns in
Mac Paint (called Infinite Fill patterns). It was a group show, and in the
end we had 93 people. Basically we let anyone in who submitted stuff that
was black and white and had patterns. So yeah, for this, at one point I
wanted to make Infinite Fill clothes. So Jamie went and bought this big
piece of fabric, and took it to the silkscreeners<>and they silkscreened a pattern
on the fabric. So to make a long story
short, the fabric never ended up getting to a fashion designer and became a
blanket, which I (for some reason) brought to Liverpool when I was in
residency @ the FACT center. From there it ended up in the show!

Speaking of the "Infinite Fill Show," you submitted a piece for it, which
was an animated gif similar to the gifs on your blog. I was interested in
knowing how having the blog has changed your art? For example, much of the
earlier work you posted to the blog was documentation, but now I am seeing
finished pieces, or "end files," meaning the file you post IS the art. I
would consider your mp3's in that category also....

Tom: The "Infinite Fill Show" also featured that "MacPaint meets repeating
pattern meets craft" theme that hardly existed in the late '90s. At least in
the gallery environment. The show felt new and fresh to me and I went a
little crazy writing about it on the weblog. Over the course of a few weeks
I did about 20 posts, with photos and some attempt to articulate a theory ('s review referenced psychedelia and goth but I wanted it clear
that, as you said, the operative buzz words were "Op Art" and "geek." I like
that you made it open call--that gave it some of the energy of Jim Shaw's
"Thrift Store Paintings" show at Metro Pictures in the '90s, combined with
what's out there now on the amateur web.

You are right about the change in my own work on the weblog. At a certain
point, if you know a few people are checking out the page it's tempting to
make work specifically for that setting. I try to balance different types of
writing and art, because the web screams for dynamic change. Animated GIFs
punch up the page, or annoy, depending on how you see them, just as they do
on the commercial web. The music has really taken off in the last year and
I've been pleased with the stats and supportive comments. After my early
experiments with MusicWorks on the Macintosh in the '80s, I've been blown
away to discover what you can do on a home computer now.

Cory: Yes, I have been quite interested in the music.... It seems, right
now, the web is perfectly geared towards this... I mean u can basically sit
at home, upload some music, and because your blog has a built-in audience,
basically get that music out the door right away. About one of them ( Talk to me
about those weird techno synth pads that come in a pitch shift all over the
place! Awesome.

Tom: They come from a software synthesizer called Absynth; I find most of
its presets kind of arty but that one is too lush not to use. It has some
kind of gating effect that changes it depending on what's playing in the

Cory: What are your influences for this music? They sound quite studied,
actually. They make me think of my first rave experiences. Do u know what
you are going for, or do you just play around until you get something you
like? They are also quite a bit more advanced than even I remember when you
started, which is amazing. Are you interested in the idea that people can
basically hear you develop your sound?

Tom: That first work you heard was done with my old Mac SE, lock grooves,
beats from turntables, etc. I'm doing almost everything on the PC now, and
have learned quite a few new tricks in the past year with a sequencer
(Cubase SE) and various softsynths. I'm not too conscious of the evolution,
glad to hear it, but I'm obviously not self-conscious about trying out
things in public. Knowing there's an audience, however small, means I'll put
in that extra twelve hours to make the thing as tight as I can get it.

One thing I omitted from my bio was that, in my "tweener" years, I traveled
around Texas with a boys choir, performing Benjamin Britten carols, mostly
to church audiences. At age eleven I sang the countertenor in Britten's
"Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac": I sucked as Isaac but I learned it. I've
been involved with music my whole life but never particularly cared about
playing it; what I'm doing now is composing and letting the machines do the
manual part. Fortunately, electronic music provides an arena where you're
*expected* to be both composer and performer. In my college DJ years I was
airing Can, Ralf and Florian, Tony Williams Lifetime, Iggy Pop's The Idiot,
etc. My jaw dropped, in the early '90s, when I first heard breakbeat
'ardkore rave stuff. I couldn't believe how good it was--it was like all my
influences grew up (and sped up).

Cory: I like this one ( Where is
the drum machine from? What is the name of that eerie piano sound? That
sound is great and got lost in the post-rave era. Where are the drum samples
from? (Sorry for everyone reading this to get so technical, but after
studying music for so many years, I no longer have the ability to talk about
music normally.)

Tom: The drum beats are from the Vermona DRM1, a German-made beatbox from
the late '80s. I downloaded a demo with individual hits and snipped the .wav
files to make a kit, which plays in the drum sampler Battery. Every two
bars, the drumming speeds up: that's a Cubase effect called "midi echoes."
The eerie piano is a "house pad" that ships with another softsampler,
Kompakt--it is really pretty and definitely has that rave sound. I have no
problem using presets as long as the surrounding context shows some thought.
Sampling opens up a whole historical dimension in music, it's a pity we have
to use licensed materials now or get our brains sued out, but that's another

Cory: So yeah, basically, even doing this interview was hard for me, cause u
do so much. i mean, you are a critic, have a visual art practice which is
somewhere between real and virtual, and also u are constantly making music.
So, i mean, woah, you are all over the place. I think my practice is
similar, and recently when i lecture about my work, the whole point of my
lectures is trying to have people see the thread that holds it all together.
Does a similar thread exist for you?

Tom: Well, there's good "all over the place" as well as bad. When I got to
New York I had some interesting studio discussions with artists about
forcing yourself to do one thing. Obviously it makes for a smoother ride in
the art world, which still seems to have only one model--the driven Mondrian
or Pollock working toward a signature style, which, surprise, surprise, fits
into the market's need for a streamlined identifiable product. Despite all
the curatorial talk about cross-disciplinary practices, the monomaniacs have
an easier time of it. A painter I talked to quite a bit, in the '90s, is a
terrific cartoonist, musician, musicologist, and writer, and at a certain
point he made the conscious decision to begin channeling his energy and
interests through his painting, trusting that all his content would come out
through that one activity. And it worked for him--he's had a great career.

But there are different ways to be a monomaniac. The artists I admire most
are all multiple stylists: Polke, Kippenberger, Picabia. For all my supposed
diversity, I cycle back again and again to certain things: the lo-fi, the
love/hate relationship with technology, some kind of squirmy vortex image
(or sound), an arrested-adolescent eroticism... I'm for the irrational and
against narratives, despite my use of them as a critic. My abstract work is
quite focused, paradoxical as that sounds, and is getting more so, but these
other activities may be increasing the noise-to-signal ratio in the short
term. Sometimes it feels like the only thread is the urge not to have a
thread; I take it on faith there's an overall direction even I might not be
aware of.

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