Eleanor Kent Biography

Eleanor Kent




Painter, printmaker, and pioneering technology-based visual artist Eleanor Kent was born in San Francisco, California, in 1931, into the noted philathropic Kent family. Based in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, the family patriarch was William Kent, a California Representative who helped establish the U.S. National Park System in the 1910s, and who donated the land that would become Muir Woods National Monument. This environment led to Eleanor's interest in humanity-based themes in her artwork and overall work ethic.

Kent's formal college education began with earning her Bachelor's degree in English at San Francisco State University. In the mid 1950s, while working as an elementary school teacher, she began taking painting and drawing classes at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). There, she bulit social and working relationshipps with artists such as Ruth Asawa, Nathan Oliveira, Frank Lobdell, and many more. In addition to painting, she also began exploring printmaking, a medium that would influence her later matrix-based tech art. 

In the 1970s Kent began experimenting with color copy machines as an artistic medium, Xeroxing found natural objects such as bones, lace, feathers, and cracked eggs to print onto fabric, paper, and other materials. This led to an interest in early computer software programming and its artistic possibilities. Being one of very few artists to begin exploring these possibilities, she began reaching out to other creatives around the world by becoming involved with the Artistamp 'mail art' movement. Her use of Xerox to create prints on postcard-sized matrices made her a go-to for artists hoping to learn her techniques, and her home became a hub of artistic exploration utilizing her leased color copier.

In the 1980s she approached programmers in Silicon Valley about collaborating, and was invited to test Apple's then-new graphics tablets and Vectronic's "Koala Pad". She taught herself BASIC, an early PC coding program written for Apple IIe, and began working in pixelated imagery which she printed as Cibachromes. 

Eventually Kent found an overlap in digital and physical artwork, translating pixels into crochet and other fabric- and wire-based jewelry and sculpture. Among her mediums was military-grade electroluminscent wire, crocheted into body jewelry that would illuminate the wearer. She worked with mathemathical formulas to create fractals, curves, and triangles, and to form patterns in various media. She would become a member of the San Francisco Women Artists organization and helped found Ylem: Artists Using Science and Technology. 

Kent was known for opening her home and studio to artists interested in using machines and computers that, at the time, were too expensive to be widely available, and frequently participated in shows and events that highlighted the possibilities of global positive change through technology. In 2007 her electroluminescent crochet would become an element of the on-going, world-wide collaborative, Crochet Coral Reef, an artistic response to climate change, and hers remains the only illuminated portion of the traveling exhibition. 

Elenor Kent died on July 14, 2014, in San Francisco.

Selected Exhibitions:
1980: CopyArt, San Francisco
1983: SIGGRAPH 1983: Real Time Design, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
1987: SIGGRAPH 1987: 2D Art Show, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
1987-1997: Artistamp Exhibitions throughout California and in Moscow, Russia and Budapest, Hungary
2007: Crochet Coral Reef traveling exhibition, opening at the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburg, PA; on-going; Mail Art, an Exhibition of Artistamps and MailArt Archives, SomArts, San Francisco, CA

Selected Collections:
School of the Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Museum of Fine Arts, Budspest