William Latham is sipping fizzy pop in his living room. The curtains are closed. The room is dimly lit by two lamps standing over the room’s centrepiece: a table with a laptop, an iPhone and a desktop PC.

There are computer-generated Cibachrome prints propped up against the walls. Over in the kitchen, the two Ronnies – a pair of budgies – tweet at my arrival.

When Latham hands me a cup of tea and starts to explain the mathematics behind the images, the idea that this sleepy terrace in Hove could be an epicentre for pioneering computer art does not seem so absurd.

He describes his work as “Darwin meets art”. He uses software modelled on nature and evolution to create complex shapes a human could never match.

Experimenting with nature

He is, essentially, playing God.

“We are stealing geometry from nature and using it to create our own evolution. It’s like an evolution that might occur on a different planet or galaxy, though we don’t have gravity in our evolutionary space.”

He prefers to call himself a gardener. “The central premise is the artist is like a gardener. You decide what breeds, what evolves. So you are designing the way evolution should work within the system. You can then make selections.”

His Mutator code allows him to breed an infinite number of extraordinary forms using geometry.

“What happens is we create one, then breed variants. I pick one then breed again. So you have asexual and sexual reproduction. You can inbreed. It’s a bit like breeding dogs.”

The centrepiece of a new retrospective opening at Brighton’s Phoenix Gallery on September 7 is the Mutator Triptych. Three projections on the wall of a dark room will be controlled by the audience on iPads.

“High art has always had the idea that you are the public and I am the artist; you receive what I deliver. We have always tried to blur that boundary.

“The idea here is the public become like gardeners as well. They can share in the creative process.”

His long-term aim is to reach a point where computers make the artist redundant. “That would be a success,” he laughs, Frankenstein-esque.

“Modern art is in a rut. It is doing the same thing over and over again. If you could get a computer to make aesthetic decisions, one would learn about how aesthetics works in humans.”

The forms he creates are organic but because they are generated by a computer, the results generate tension in the viewer’s mind. "It’s a bit odd. You don’t normally associate this type of image with computing.”

His mutant shapes are like cyber shells and fossils, alien organisms, a sort of deep sea life 2.0. He has devoted his life to the concept.

“The best art is always in tune with what is happening culturally. Andy Warhol’s screen prints were at the time when billboard advertising was taking off.

“Readymade and cubism were arguably a result of the First World War, so art and culture are quite closely linked.

“My feeling is bioinformatics and computing is where the interesting stuff is happening. As an artist, you need to position yourself as close to that crossroads as you can.”

Complexity of computers

For Latham, the human genome project is the interesting stuff. “I guess the idea is that humans will eventually redesign nature – Nature 2.0.”

After enrolling in the Ruskin School of Drawing at Oxford University in 1979 and training for three more years in fine art at the Royal College of Art, he called IBM.

An ex-nuclear physicist and mathematician picked up the phone and invited Latham to the office.

When he took his handmade drawings and rolled them out on the office floor, his now long-term collaborator, Stephen Todd, then working on a modelling editing tool, was suitably impressed.

The situation at IBM at the time was a “renaissance scenario”, with people from different schools exchanging ideas, all focused on computer science.

“Computers allow phenomenal complexity. As a craftsman, there is a limit to the amount of things you can weave together. That is what makes my pictures look like nature. Humans can’t make that level of complexity or subtlety.”

He left his position as a research fellow at IBM to go it alone. He designed an app 22 years before the rest of the world. He worked on projects such as the Sony Playstation 2 game The Thing before “selling [his] soul” to Hollywood to work in the film and games industry. He also designed album sleeves for The Shamen and Robert Miles.

He is now a professor of computing at Goldsmiths university in London. Mutator 1 + 2, his first major exhibition in the UK for more than 20 years, is Brighton Digital Festival’s leading show.

Work from his early days doing evolutionary drawings in the mid-1980s will be hung beside the computer-generated Cibachrome prints, video art and the digital triptych.

Latham will be looking forward to the public’s response: until his work is complete, the one thing a computer can’t do is pick its favourite.