Digital artist Claudia Rafael on painting with code

The Berlin-based digital artist works with AI and AR to create surreal portraits and filters. She talks to us about ethics, beauty, and the exchange between analogue and digital

“I’m always into using these tools in an emancipist way, and not abusing them,” says Claudia Rafael, whose visual practice nowadays is built around technologies like AI and AR. The Berlin-based digital artist and art director cites how AI can be employed to anticipate health conditions, but recognises how the fields she is interested in have more harmful or even malicious applications.

“When we talk about medical stuff, [AI] knows two weeks before that a person might get a stroke – so artificial intelligence can save lives. This would be an emancipist way [of using the technology]. And of course, you can abuse artificial intelligence and do deepfakes and fake news and stuff like this, so this is why it’s very important to be always critical with these new tools,” she says. “But it’s also very beautiful what new possibilities are coming up in terms of filters.”

The face filters many of us instinctively think of – usually some combination of buffed skin, doe eyes and slimmed facial features – have drawn mounting criticism in recent years, given the harmful impact they have on people’s self-esteem (especially young girls) and our broader concept of beauty standards. Earlier this year, the ASA brought in a rule that brands and influencers must not apply face filters to imagery concerning a beauty product, so as to not falsely exaggerate the effects of the product. However, little seems to have realistically curbed the prevalence of such filters, which have been linked to facial dysmorphia and have begun to dictate the types of cosmetic surgery people are seeking.

Rafael’s engagement with the tech sits firmly in the realms of fantasy – think fluid shapes, kaleidoscopic shades and contrasting textures and compositions – and is clearly striking a chord. She recently collaborated with producer Robert Dietz on a dreamlike video, on top of other music-based projects for the likes of Beats By Dre and record label Innervisions. She has also garnered clients in the editorial space including Vogue, Dazed Beauty, Crack Magazine and The Native, and then there’s her series of portraits made with AI. In essence, she sees her practice as one dedicated to expanding conventional ideas of beauty, not compounding them.

Top and above: AI beauty portraits by Claudia Rafael drawing on imagery by artist Mat Maitland