Kyle Hamilton, Machine Learning Lecturer and Artist

I think for me, art is about expressing some aspect of the human condition. If I can communicate through my art in a way that captures the imagination of the viewer, and engages somebody on a personal and visceral level, then I’ve succeeded. I want the viewer to feel like the work is about them. Having said that, not all of what I do is that serious – sometimes it’s just about the craft, and that has its place. Craft can also be expressive.

My name is Kyle Hamilton, I am an artist, and I teach Machine Learning at Scale at UC Berkeley’s Master of Information and Data Science program. I also do some consulting work for iQ4, an Ed Tech start-up, in both an artistic and technical capacity. I have always wanted to work somewhere at the intersection of art and mathematics. Teaching a subject that is heavily rooted in mathematics using visual tools and methods is exactly the combination I’ve been dreaming of.

I was born in Warsaw, Poland. After I finished my undergraduate degree, my nomad spirit, nurtured by my upbringing, took me from State to State in the US, and eventually over the pond to Dublin, with which I fell promptly in love. Life circumstances brought me back to the US, but as soon as I was able to, I returned to my beloved Ireland, for a time living in Bray, basking in the splendour of the Wicklow mountains and sea air. A few months ago, I bought a house in Dunlavin, a small village in West Wicklow, where I intend to remain put!

Outside of my job, I love art. I think I was always interested in art, but I knew I wanted to be an artist probably around the age of 12 or 13. At the moment, my “favourite” medium is drawing, but I love painting, sculpting, and really any form of expression, from writing poetry, to scribbling with a stick in the sand. Art is much more than the medium.

Some of the artists (and I use the term broadly) that have shaped my world view are Edward Gorey, David Bowie, Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, and Robert Hamilton of Ireland’s own The Fat Lady Sings! But there are many, many others who have had a profound influence on my life and my art.

I studied at the Cooper Union School of Art. Art school taught me to be rigorous, to think critically about my work, and not to take things at face value – when you think about that in the context of visual art, it’s actually quite profound. Context is as important as content. Cooper Union is one of the most prestigious art schools in the States, and as a result, I was surrounded by extremely talented and smart people, and I learned as much from their work as the professors.

One of my favourite paintings that I’ve done is called Chasing Meteorites. I love that painting from a conceptual standpoint, and the message it conveys – the freedom to chase the impossible, the idea of an infinitely vast universe as one’s playground, and the futility of it, all at the same time. It’s a bit like a flying dream. I had a dream when I was a child that I was flying and chasing pencil boxes which were flying through the air ahead of me. I had wanted this pencil box so much (I was totally fixated on it, obsessed almost), but it was too expensive. So I dreamt that if I caught one in my dream, then I could keep it when I awoke. But the harder I tried to fly, the more unreachable the boxes became! That’s the futility aspect of it. It’s a metaphor for so much in life, you could really go to town with it. I also love the idea of someone asking “what do you do?” and I say, “oh I’m a Meteorite Catcher”!

I recently did a small craft workshop for the Parents Group in Dunlavin – it was a great way to spend a morning, just chatting and de-stressing. I also volunteer at the local coderdojo teaching coding to school kids – the idea is to make it fun and creative, so in that respect, it’s an art.

I have a few projects that I’m working on, though not as actively as I’d like. I like working in series, so the term “project” actually lends itself very well to much of what I do. My latest series will be titled “Life on the sill” (or something along those lines). It is a series of drawings and water colours of various insects (mostly flies) from my window sills. When you look at these tiny creatures under a microscope, depending on the level of decomposition, they can be fantastically grotesque – the first time I looked at one magnified 20X, I actually had a physical reaction that took my breath away! In my mind, I project on to them a personality, history, relationships, hardships, and moments of joy. I have a few different styles, so these may end up in several series. Some are quite cartoonish, and others are more traditional.

Another project I have in mind is a joint project with my husband, who is a musician, which incorporates my drawings, his music and lyrics, and a data science aspect that captures the collective consciousness of (some part of) society at any given moment. This is still in nascent stages.

I definitely see similarities between my art and my current job. There is art in everything. I often use pictures to illustrate concepts – that’s not the same as making art, but having the drawing skills makes this possible. I’m also very interested in developing visual tools for teaching concepts that traditionally get taught with formulas and text, especially at the graduate level. Also, the field of data visualization and information visualization is rapidly growing and gaining momentum. It helps us understand vast and complex data at a glance, and helps us to deliver insights in a common and intuitive (visual) language when done well. And to do it well, one has to have the sensitivities of an artist as well as the data literacy.

Art allows you to express yourself in a way that is ambiguous. In other words, it is open to interpretation. For me, making art facilitates contemplation. I suppose it’s a kind of meditation. My advice to anyone looking to take up art is to practice, practice, practice. Raw talent is not enough. It is the combination of talent, technique, and patience that makes it possible to put on paper – so to speak – what is in your mind. Even if your art is entirely spontaneous, your work will benefit from learned and practiced skills. Grace, finesse, the “you make it look so easy” bit, it all comes from practice.

There is definitely more than tech. Now that the tech revolution is well underway, we’re recognizing again that it takes more than just STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) to make the world go round. In fact, we now have schools exalting their STEAM programs, which incorporate Art into the equation. People have been communicating with art since the beginning of human history, and that’s not going to go away as a result of technology. In fact, technology opens up all new opportunities for art and communication like we’ve only imagined in our wildest dreams just decades ago.

  • Show Comments

  • Wendy

    What a great read and great pictures. Artists who write about their work can seem abstract but this article is very life-based. Very fresh and accessible. I loved the bit about the physical reapone to insects, and attaching narrative to the sill bugs.

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