Technology is increasingly becoming a heavily leveraged tool for many artists around the world. One such artist truly taking advantage of 3D printing as a canvas for hand-drawn sculptures is Niels Salventius, or simply ‘Salventius’, a Dutch artist commonly known for his in-the-moment line portraits, which have recently been the focus of a collaborative collection with the global clothing brand Zara.
A few weeks back, Salventius was garnering attention online for videos he posted showing the process of using his Oculus Quest to virtually sculpt a collection of chairs based on his signature line drawings. As I watched him outline the shape of a chair with his hand-held controller, and saw the abstract shape being formed in real-time, it was clear that 3D printing was the only way to accurately materialize these objects. A few more minutes of scrolling through his pages proved that he was already of that thinking, and had already 3D printed multiple prototypes.
Digital art exists, and it has proven to be of value, but it is still not possible to fully engage with it. Considering this, Salventius asked himself how he could hold his digital works, and if they were as beautiful in reality, to which the answer is 3D printing, and digital manufacturing generally – currently the most suitable way to turn digital designs into sculptural artworks.
“The possibilities with tech are endless,” said Salventius during our interview, referencing how, thanks to virtual reality, he is able to scale a small room of portraits into a giant cathedral, and back again. “The main appeal of VR, in combination with 3D printing, is that I can make hand-drawn sculptures. I don’t think there is any other technique that enables this.”
A common challenge artists face when pushing the boundaries of what currently exists, and what is yet to exist, is that many producers will say that, if the work is too abstract, it is not possible to create it. In the case of Salventius, it was no different. He told us that many 3D printing service providers across Europe were unable to print his design, but that Shapeways in Eindhoven, using SLA technology, had no problem printing the smaller ones. After asking his Instagram followers to help him print the chairs true-to-size, Francesco Ciriello from ArchiMED, an Italian digital fabrication service provider, was the one to bring them to life.
An interesting element of 3D printing, and one that is almost only appreciated within the world of art, is that the technology so accurately fabricates the ‘mistakes’ in the design. For example, when Salventius creates his chairs, he does so in the moment, and in one movement, without touch-ups – leaving many opportunities for things to go ‘wrong’. “I love really the fuck ups,” he said, noting that he also leaves the striations (or ‘fingerprint marks’) on the final pieces, which accentuates the production process. This approach captures the organic, free-flowing, in-the-moment nature of the chairs, the designs of which are almost perfectly produced in 3D afterward – warts and all.
For more case studies of artists using 3D printing to elevate their practice, see how Atang Tshikare created a 3m-long, 1,000+ piece wall-mounted sculpture using desktop 3D printers, and how Agnès Geoffray partnered with AddUp and FRAC Auvergne, and to forge lace sculptures from 19th and 20th-century models using laser-fused steel powder.