Modern inventor Paul Kirby and visitor discuss painting by robot Dulcinea

Paul Kirby’s Journey to Inspire Through Fusioneering

Posted on November 19, 2021 in Fusioneering

Paul Kirby says he hardly looks at the finished works of Dulcinea, his fully-automated painting robot. Why? For Paul, the journey to making each painting is more important than the outcome.

The Road Less Traveled

In Paul’s youth, his mother painted constantly—an easel always set up, the air in the house softly scented with the smell of oil-based paint. Paul had different interests, but like his mother, he enjoyed working with his hands. Building, assembling, and creating: these were the activities that occupied the young Paul Kirby. To his mother’s chagrin, he couldn’t even be sent to his room as a punishment, for there was all too much for him to do among his blocks, Lincoln Logs, Erector sets, and the like. Paul even built his own ham radio in his bedroom when he was just a kid.

It should therefore come as no surprise that right out of high school Paul was hired to the Hewlett-Packard Company, whose labs he worked in for four summers while earning a BS in electrical engineering from UC Berkeley. Upon completing his degree, Paul was commissioned an officer in the US Air Force, going as far as to receive a medal for technical contributions to the US military. Paul later earned his MBA at Harvard.

It was on a Harvard campus bridge, on a crisp October night in 1977, when Paul realized what he wanted to spend the rest of his life doing: discovering and nurturing a beautiful intersection between art and science.

Where Machine Meets Art

Paul wanted to marry his love of aesthetics and the painted image with the new, cutting-edge technologies that were becoming increasingly prevalent in the world. Inspired by the works and life of Leonardo da Vinci before him, Paul began learning as much as he could regarding machine fabrication, robotics, computing, and—of course—art. After more than a decade of study, development, and refinement (and a second decade for additional, evolutionary features), Paul had created Dulcinea, a fully-automated robot capable of producing large, impactful paintings brushstroke by brushstroke. Dulcinea does not copy and doesn’t receive any help in touching-up her work; she only creates original, one-of-a-kind, abstract pieces of art. In Dulcinea, Paul had achieved the magical realization of combining his two greatest passions: art and science. “Fusioneering,” he called it. The feeling of personal achievement was so great that Paul realized something else: the feeling had to be shared.

Dreams to Come

It was while giving a demonstration and discussion about Dulcinea to at-risk highschoolers that Paul, again, had one of his great epiphanies. Paul had asked the students what activities they enjoyed when they were younger, and one girl replied that she liked “playing in the mud.” The rest of the girl’s peers snickered. In an attempt to save face, she replied that she had an interest in computing as well. Paul, excited, told the girl that she could fuse her passions by becoming an archaeologist or anthropologist and use modern data and computer technology alongside tactile methods for uncovering our ancestors’ secrets. Just as Paul had done, this girl could have her cake and eat it, too. The highschoolers’ eyes widened; their jeers replaced with excitement. In their minds, the gears were already turning: how could they, too, find a fusion of their passions? In this moment, Paul Kirby discovered Dulcinea’s greatest purpose: to inspire others to follow their dreams.

Paul is often asked if he’d like to see Dulcinea’s art in a museum, but the display of the works is secondary to the ultimate goal. It’s for this same reason that Paul doesn’t spend much time observing the pieces once they’re complete. The inspiration of others to follow a path of fusioneering to find fulfillment is the most powerful thing one of Dulcinea’s paintings can create, and the greatest work of art Paul has achieved is not something that one can hang on a wall, but rather something that lives in the heart.

It is Paul’s most sincere hope that you can be inspired as well.

Are you interested in hearing the complete story of Paul and Dulcinea? Watch the video (nominated for Best Short Film at the 2021 Vail and Portland Film Festivals) for more info.

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