On Black Magic (Storyboard P) & My Portrait of Greg Tate

Nettrice Gaskins
3 min readJun 25, 2022
“Black Magic” production still

The last time I spoke to Greg Tate was at the Schomburg in NYC where I saw “Black Magic” street dancer Storyboard P dancing in the lobby. Both of us had been talking about Story in our lectures and writing about his performances. I wrote an essay for a group exhibition that referenced poetics or how artists like Story use the emergent properties of things (ambience, aura, texture) to write with nature. In Flyboy 2, Greg compared Story’s movements to motion pictures, specifically the black frames that are invisible to the naked eye:

When I was there initially Story was dancing and that’s when I recognized him. Then, I saw Greg standing near the entrance and I knew he would be as excited as I had been about seeing Story in person. I said, “Hey, Greg. Guess who’s in the lobby?” When I told him who it was Greg immediately started walking over to where Story was standing. We were both drawn to and intrigued by Story’s black magic:

When I learned that Greg Tate had transitioned I created a portrait of him using Deep Dream Generator. I added all the layers and effects as I did for the other portraits in the “Gilded” series. These images counter anti-blackness using artificial intelligence or AI, with a hidden algorithm that applies unique effects. These works explore specularity or shine, which adds an illusion of depth — the amount depends on how dark the subject is. It’s the kind of hidden ‘black magic’ that Greg Tate recognized in Storyboard P and, in turn, I tapped into a form of that magic to create Greg’s portrait.

“Greg Tate” mural in Brooklyn. Courtesy of MoCADA.

Algorithms are, in fact, texts or codes that tell computers what to do. However, in an artist’s hands these instructions take on new meanings. The hidden algorithm manifests poetics through its simulation or generation of ambience, aura, texture (see above). On the surface of the image we see the emergent visual properties: the way in which the machine creates specularity. At night, the mural still shines:

Night time view of the Tate mural. Courtesy of “rubinbooty”.

I talked about my use of specularity (shine) in the creation of AI-generated portraits with one of Greg’s collaborators, and they thought Greg would have liked what I was doing. When people talk about poetics they are not thinking about computer code but it is text/language. Artists can create or write with it, so I think the term still applies. When I think about “black magic” or specularity/shine as an emergent property of art I look to creators who write with their bodies, objects, and code. My portrait of Greg Tate celebrates his approach to poetics (in text and music) that is bound to a chain of events and continues to inspire others to this day.



Nettrice Gaskins

Nettrice is a digital artist, academic, cultural critic and advocate of STEAM education.