Tabor Robak

(Portland, Oregon, 1986 - )


Tabor Robak was born in Portland, Oregon in 1986. He received a BFA from Pacific Northwest College of Art in 2010, where he combined classes from the school’s graphic design and fine arts programs to form his own digital art curriculum, as no comparable major yet existed.[1] Describing his education and early interests, Robak recalls: “When I went to art school, I hadn’t yet made the connection that I’d be using my computer skills for art. My computer skills were something that had been developing since I was a kid. My computer has been like my best friend my whole life, you know? I was using very early versions of Photoshop when I was a kid, doing weird commercial jobs since I was 13. So, a lot of my skills come from actual applied use. But when I entered art school, I thought I’d be a painter. I like the action, the directness of it. By senior year, though, I realized what set me apart from my peers was my ability with computers.”[2] Robak continued to pursue commercial applications of his digital and artistic abilities and found success as a graphic designer, working for prominent brands including Nike, Adidas, Canon, and T-Mobile.[3] For these companies he retouched images in Photoshop, created vector illustrations for instruction manuals, and worked on animations for TV shows.[4] However, he ultimately preferred the autonomy afforded by working in fine art. In his own words, “It wasn’t my love of art history that made me want to be an artist, it was my need to do my thing and have a community that supports it.”[5]


As he settled into his artistic career, Robak’s work came to frequently include generative animation—visual imagery that is not specifically created and controlled, but rather arises from software that produces unpredictable results out of broader parameters and possibilities. The artist first explored techniques along these lines in 2010, and the approach soon became central to his practice. As Robak recalls, “For my first NY solo show in 2013, three of the four works shown were generative: 20XX, Algos, and Free-to-Play. At the time I lacked the hardware to display them running in real time, so each work was essentially screen captures of generative iterations rendered to video.” By 2016, Robak was able to install works with live software so that they perpetually generate new imagery and do not repeat on a pre-recorded loop. [6]


The creation of generative animation is technically demanding, and working in this form has drawn Robak away from the more tangible manipulation of images that can be found in software like Photoshop and toward the development of software in itself. The artist finds that “I need to really think about the architecture of the software early in the process. It’s no longer a linear thing. It’s this living thing you have to treat nicely—like, if you pack it too full of files, it’s not going to open, or it’s going to crash, or it’s going to get bugs… Moving giant files around and waiting months for something to render is the opposite of creativity. It feels like death, because at any moment something could go wrong. It can be terrifying. Rendering is also one of the most intense things for the computer to do, so there’s a literal risk of your computer melting. I mean physically melting.”[7] The upside of these potential frustrations is that Robak can create a work that takes on an intelligence of its own and yields imagery that he could not have created through a more directly controlled process. Artists have long explored the productive loosening of control in other media—Jackson Pollock’s dripped paint and Man Ray’s experiments with photographic abstraction make for two prominent examples. By pursuing a similar direction through digital technology, Robak likewise accesses essential qualities in the materials that he is working with. He describes his process by noting that “It’s all about controlling the randomness. When I’m working procedurally like this and something perfect comes together randomly, that is so much better than a perfect moment where I’ve designed and placed every pixel just so.” [8]


Within this process, Robak mixes visual elements and styles drawn from video games, internet browsers, and other digital environments to dazzling and slickly polished effect. The very density and speed of his aesthetic calls to mind the distracted and unmoored side of present-day pop culture, mass media, and digital overindulgence. The artist’s physical presentation of his imagery also often involves arrangements of multiple screens that are somewhat sculptural in themselves, drawing attention to screens as crucial components of both Robak’s work and the contemporary culture that it reflects. From there, through his titles and manipulations of pointedly chosen of source material, Robak’s individual works have included critical portrayals of advertising and branding, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, banking and capitalism, and more.[9]


Robak’s work is included in the collections of many museums, including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 2020 he mounted a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia in the form of an 80-screen video installation titled Megafauna.


[1] Jeff Davis, “In Conversation with Tabor Robak, The Link, 23 May 2022, https://medium.com/the-link-art-blocks/in-conversation-with-tabor-robak-4c6b976084a6.

[2] E.P. Licursi, “TABOR ROBAK: THE NEW OLD MASTER The American Artist Working on a Computer-Generated Frontier,” SSENSE, 6 July 2017, https://www.ssense.com/en-us/editorial/culture/tabor-robak-the-new-old-master

[3] “Tabor Robak,” Artuner, https://www.artuner.com/artists/tabor-robak.

[4] Davis, “In Conversation with Tabor Robak.”


[6] Davis, “In Conversation with Tabor Robak.”



[9] Sarah Tanguy, “Tabor Robak,” Sculpture: A Publication of the International Sculpture Center, 30 April 2020, https://sculpturemagazine.art/tabor-robak; Kriston Capps, “Tabor Robak: Von Ammon Co.” Artforum, summer 2019, https://www.artforum.com/print/reviews/201906/tabor-robak-79972.


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