A selfie of a robot going down a ladder

gulf region artist Agnieszka Pilat began her career as a classical illustrator and illustrator, spending her reclusive days in studio portraits. Originally from Poland, she struggled to break into San Francisco’s competitive art scene: galleries were uninterested in her work and felt isolated, until a local art collector approached her with a proposal. He was not interested in the dancers that she often painted, but he liked her style of expressive painting. He renovated buildings by day, and often kept ancient artifacts he would pick up from these sites in his office. He invited Pilate to come and draw him something from his collection of inappropriate things. That’s when she met her first mechanical subject: a “beautiful and antique” red fire bell.

That experience sent her career in a whole new direction. Suddenly, galleries took an interest in her work, and she started making some money.

“Drawing a machine has connected me more with people,” says Pilate.

Her penchant for old machines later took her to an accommodation on the plane USS HornetWorld War II aircraft carrier Alameda, California. There, she painted a series of pictures of the ship’s mechanical elements, including the exhaust pipe from a Sikorsky helicopter and the plane’s engine that she wrapped with Rosie the Riveter strips.

“These were real spirits, these machines,” recalls Pilate.

I started looking for opportunities at more tech companies in the Bay Area: Wrightspeed Powertrains, Autodesk and Waymo. At Waymo, Pilat spent months trying to paint the Lidar component of the self-driving car, but succumbed to frustration. As a portrait painter, I searched for history, character, and texture – traits I struggled to find in Waymo’s compact rooftop dome.

“It’s starting to get really hostile,” she said. “The way I think about new technologies, they are like teenagers. As a classical painter, your job is really to capture the core of the incubator, not the superficial. These machines, they had no soul.”

I felt a bitter personal failure, she says, but Pilate continued to look for an opportunity to bring new technologies to the board.

Courtesy of Agnieszka Pilat

I have watched videos of spot, the Boston Dynamics robot dog is so popular on Youtube, he was eager to meet him, maybe even draw him. An industry friend made an introduction on her behalf, and Boston Dynamics invited her to their 180,000-square-foot facility in Waltham, Massachusetts, for a visit. Her original goal was to go and “make one little sketch,” but that sketch turned into a year of sketches and dozens of encounters with some of the world’s most advanced robots.

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