Artist Spencer Sloan Turns Up Digital Noise to Create Glitch Art

Once movie stars, reality-TV subjects, and singers become a sensation, sometimes overnight, we see their faces everywhere we look—on billboards, in magazines at the supermarket checkout stand, and on TV. Artist Spencer Sloan takes images shot by paparazzi and transforms them into colorful fragmented pieces, creating what he calls “conceptual glitch art.”

In a piece he created for the new Dolby global headquarters in San Francisco, Sloan started with a high-resolution image of actress Charlize Theron and digitally manipulated it with image-scrambling apps on his iPhone® to create an abstract. He titled the piece Charlize Theron—pushes a cart full of groceries in Los Angeles, January 5, 2015, borrowing the title from the caption under the online photo.

“[Dolby and I] both work in the digital realm, and we both deal with glitch, but what I do is the inverse of what Dolby does,” explains the artist. “Dolby works to reduce digital noise; I work to amplify digital noise.”

Similar to the way Dolby noise reduction filters signal to render a cleaner sound, Sloan breaks a digital photo down into bursts of color, shape, and line. You won’t find the actress’s face anywhere in the mural, which runs 10 feet across and 8.5 feet high—“it’s by far the biggest glitch piece I’ve made,” says Sloan—but you will see something startling and new.

When he started to experiment with glitch apps like Decim8 on his iPhone in 2012, Sloan says he took a paparazzi picture from a celebrity magazine website, ran it through the app a few times, and “was pleased with the outcome.” He continued the process daily, scrambling each digital image with the app, refining it with photo-editing software on his Mac®, and posting it on his blog. “People started to respond to them in positive and unexpected ways,” says the artist, “so I figured I had to keep going.”

How does Sloan know when a piece is done? “I get a feel for when it’s taking a certain direction,” he says, “and I try to fill up the screen as much as possible, to make the image fuller with each change—without having it turn into digital mud.” Within a few minutes of working on the piece, he’s started to transform the paparazzi shot into something beyond what the photographer originally captured.

Sloan thanks Dolby for the opportunity and challenge to create this piece: “It is an honor to be asked to be a part of this project, with this amazing group of artists that I respect and admire.”

A native and resident of Atlanta, Georgia, Sloan most recently displayed his work at the city’s Swan Coach House Gallery in a group show called But Is It Photography?