Behind BOC (HK)'s AI art series: Interview with Grace Chan and Henry Chu on the creative process

In 2018, an AI-generated portrait in the Old Master style shook up the art world when it was sold at Christie’s New York for a staggering US$432,500, over 40 times its low estimate of US$7,000. Ever since, AI artwork has burst into the mainstream, getting all the hype and attention in the art market.

Recently, Bank of China (Hong Kong) hopped on the bandwagon and became the first local bank to participate in AI art creation. Joining hands with the bank are Miss Hong Kong Grace Chan and new media artist Henry Chu, who created three unique pieces of AI art on the key themes of Bank of China’s blueprint for the future – "Beyond Digital”, “Beyond Green” and “Beyond Border”.

On the occasion, The Value caught up with the artists to learn more about the creative process.

Grace Chan (right) and Henry Chu (left) working with AI

AI Art Creation: Combining the Power of Three

The three AI paintings are entitled Quadtree of Dawn, Quadtree of Summer and Quadtree of South – Quadtree comes from the data processing method adopted this time; while dawn, summer and south all symbolised the beginning and rise.

The whole creation was a collaborative effort between Grace Chan, Henry Chu and AI. Both artists and entrepreneurs, Grace and Henry first put their interpretations of the three themes "Beyond Digital”, “Beyond Green” and “Beyond Border” into words, and input them into the AI program to produce the first draft.

“The works were first created by AI, then I embellished them and made adjustments,” added Henry. “This time, we made use of a Quadtree analog program and combined the key words to form the border, which accounts for 14% of the original drawing. It seems to be an insignificant detail, but it is the power behind AI.”

Quadtree of Dawn, based on "Beyong Digital"

The Process: From wrestling to letting go

“It was actually an interesting topic,” said Henry. “At first, we tried to ‘fight’ with AI. I wanted to take the lead in the process, but gradually I started to think: If AI program is so powerful, why not let it go?”

Henry remarked, “I believe such situation will arise in the future. Yet, AI is only a tool – the soul of an artwork still comes from human. There are times when a burst of inspiration suddenly comes. We, however, are very often distracted by the time-consuming tasks in the creative process. And that’s when AI helps – it handles the tedious jobs and allows us to focus on our own creation.”

Chan added, “We have accepted AI as part of our lives but at the same time, we need to give it enough room to shine. I never thought AI could achieve so much in art – now it’s an eye-opener.”

Quadtree of South, based on "Beyond Border"

The Inspiration: The limitless possibilities of our future

As parents, Henry and Grace are concerned about the future not only for themselves, but also for the next generations. “I want to build a better, happier and an ideal future for my children. This is where my inspiration comes.”

One example is Quadtree of Dawn, which presents the theme of “Beyond Digital”. Grace said that the key words chosen were “Intelligence”, “Hope” and “Efficiency”. She described, “If one word had been different, the painting would have changed utterly.”

Quadtree of Sumer, representing “Beyond Green”, was Grace’s imagination of the future – an urban oasis. “After starting my own family, I became more conscious of the whole planet’s sustainability.” Henry continued, “The colour palette I have chosen for this painting was green. While Grace and I are looking to the future, we care about the environment we live in. I believe technology can improve efficiency, which helps reducing waste and unnecessary pollution.”

The third painting, Quadtree of South, is based on the theme of “Beyond Border”, with the bridge in the work visualizing the connection between different places. Before the pandemic, my family used to travel a lot. My son was excited whenever he crossed the Tsing Ma Bridge, which links up the downtown to Hong Kong International Airport. For me, bridge means connecting the world,” explained Grace.

Quadtree of Summer, based on "Beyond Green"

The Future: What happens when the hype is over?

When it comes to the future of AI art, Henry thought, “With new technology comes new form of art. For instance, the invention of camera brings the art of photography, where artists no longer have to capture a moment through paintings.”

“With computers, digital and interactive art emerged. So I think every time a new technology is developed, it generates a new wave. Just like wave in the ocean, it comes and goes in a hurry. After the tide is out, we know what’s worth staying.”