Saturday, January 21, 2017


Through the Mists of Time Gouache and watercolour on paper 56 x 75.5 cm 2017

As regular readers know, my recent paintings have been influenced by my M. Phil research into contemporary militarised technology. Recent work has featured the figure of the unmanned air vehicle, commonly called the drone, often in juxtaposition with my interpretation of the age-old transcultural/religious tree-of-life symbol. 


This new painting Through the Mists of Time does not feature a drone. Rather, it focuses on humanity - unplugged from all cyber and digital technologies.

A result of my research focusing on contemporary militarised technology, is a counter balancing re-focus on questions associated with what it means to be human in the 21st century. That's why the tree-of-life figures so strongly in my work, with or without drones! The tree, as an age-old transcultural/religious symbol 'speaks' of all life and its systems. 

In Through the Mists of Time I wanted to place humanity, as represented by the male and female figures, in a cosmic seemingly timeless landscape. The figures seem to 'cast' a tree-of-life shadow, or new root system, at the same time as they project a tree-of-life into the sky - the endless future. A 'stream' of leaves gives the impression of time passing, the white oval shape alludes to renewal and birth, while the small round tree hovers like a fire fly, ready to illuminate, play, guide, tease. Small dots make up various parts of the painting - are they stars, new universes, energy particles, past and future histories? 

I am interested in investigating human agency in an age where unseen algorithms influence so much of our lives. I suggest that in an age of increasing automation, and developments in robotics and artificial intelligence, questions about human agency are important.

I was a fare way into completing this painting - and it did take some time - when I decided to re-read some of my Mother's and Grandmother's poems in their joint anthology Out There (1986). Well, one of my Mother's poems 'sang' to my new painting. In fact, I took its title from a line of my Mother's poem. The poem is:

Grafting Time
by Elsie Brimblecombe 
Published in Out There by D. E Ross [my grandmother] and Elsie Brimblecombe, Elise Publishing, Dalby, 1986.

If I squeeze the golden fruits
Of time, and suck the juice
Till from the leathered skins
The pith and core and rind
   fall free

The seed beyond the centre
Of that fruit will score
Their mark and drop
Beyond the pearly orchard gates
   and grow

There is this land crossed by days
And falling within the season's drop
Those fruits will bear
Upon the hour, the stop
And go of earth's frantic measure

But if I could graft the trees
Of time and from that union
Spring a growing season
Rooted in the current flow
I would grow and tree of life
   beyond record

A tree whose branches spread
Beyond our lives and those gone by
A tree which blossomed
Through the mists of time
And set its fruits to ripen
In the thinking of the wise.


Please check out recent and older posts for more on my work figuring the drone, the tree-of-life and cosmic landscapes.


Saturday, January 14, 2017


Shadowy Drone Play gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

What was I thinking about when I painted Shadowy Drone Play? The answer is, a lot of things. 

I was thinking about the literal shadow a drone might cast. Perhaps the dark blue drone is a shadow? But, it cannot be the shadow of the checked drone, because they are going in opposite directions. Is there another drone above us that casts this dark shadow? Maybe it is not a shadow at all? Maybe it is a drone, camouflaged against the blue sky - a droned sky. The checked drone mimics an expression of pixels, possibly camouflaging itself for virtual representation? Or is Shadowy Drone Play a 'screen shot' of a game or possibly a remote pilot's screen where the digital signal is disrupted and the image begins to break down? 

Are we looking down upon these two drones or are we looking up at them? If they are, however, on a screen  we could be receiving images from another drone who is beside them or a even a satellite image which has been rotated? Maybe we are seeing only two drones of a much larger swarm of them, our image received by another swarm member? Regular readers know how I love to play with perspective. 

The word shadowy has other connotations other than casting a literal shadow. Words like covert, secret, clandestine, furtive and stealth come to mind! Yes, politically charged! Maybe the pixelated drone is expressing some kind of stealth capability with the other drone as a decoy? Lots of possibilities. 

This painting is deliberately ambiguous! That's not a surprise. I like ambiguity, because it holds the potential to open out into possibilities I have not thought about - by you! 


Sunday, January 08, 2017


 Sky - Drone - Net gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Surveillance is a hot topic. Cyber-hacking, data collection, Big Data, device monitoring, video surveillance, tracking by GPS systems, drone surveillance and lordy knows what other kinds! We have stories of the recent US election being influenced by another foreign country's surveillance, hacking, stealth! And, closer to home, after browsing the internet for holiday accommodation, I have social media sites advertising special deals in the very same places. There are some hot deals in Port MacQuarie!  Oh, and we now have a tracking device that we can attach to our cat, the one who thinks he is a person and sometimes a bird. This device can be monitored by a mobile phone. Even pets are subject to surveillance! Actually, this is going to make life a lot easier - I hope...

In this post I have two surveillance paintings. As regular readers know I am fascinated by the figure of the unmanned airborne military drone. Its surveillance, monitoring and attack capabilities are both sophisticated and alarming.There are many moral and ethical questions associated with remotely piloted unmanned drones, especially as autonomy in many of their operative systems increases. Political questions collide with moral and ethical ones. Various interests and debates seem to fall into a quagmire, but research and development into increasing autonomy, stealth capability, non-reliance on GPS or communications satellites etc continues. Politics, and definitely the law, play a game of constant catch-up!

In the meantime the public is subject to persistent surveillance. In some parts of the world ie: Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, this surveillance takes on life and death perspectives.

I imagine an array of signals forming a net across the sky. Here, I take cultural critic Mark Andrejevic's idea of "the droning of experience" and call our contemporary skies "droned skies". In my imagination the sky is diminished, its endlessness restricted as fear mingles with the signals to create a tight and opaque 'net' the obscures perspective, distance, imagination.

Now that does not seem such a happy note to end this post on!

Please focus on my two paintings Sky - Drone - Net and Swarm Surveillance. In both it is unclear whether you are above or below the net of signals. There's hope! 

Swarm Surveillance Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Monday, January 02, 2017


Scoping New Skies Gouache and watercolour on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Ubiquitous and persistent surveillance via visual and data monitoring creates a new layer of 'reality' whether we are consciously aware of it or not. Most people, however, are aware, albeit in varying degrees. People in Yemen, Northern Pakistan and Afghanistan are aware in an extreme way as they experience remotely piloted airborne drones that hover above their homes and territories. These drones provide surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence to other, mostly western authorities, in the name of activities such as counter-insurgency operations. These drones can also target and attack. In a way the sky falls in! 

People in the west are monitored and surveilled via their use of digital devices, their movements across the world caught on surveillance cameras, their cars tracked by GPS devices and so on. Perhaps, rather than a new sky it is a whole new world? If it a whole new world, it will have a sky of sorts...? But, maybe this new sky acts like a blanket, a mechanism of suffocation. After all virtual reality gives the impression of 3 dimensions, but this is an algorithmic instruction. Maybe the 'sky' really has fallen - into the reduction that lies between zeros and ones? Here it is sobering to think about a statement made in 1994 by cultural critic Paul Virilio, in an interview with visual artist Louise Wilson. 

These new technologies try to make virtual reality more powerful than actual reality, which is the true accident. The day when virtual reality becomes more powerful than reality will be the day of the big accident.(1)   

Scoping New Skies plays with all the thoughts expressed in the above paragraphs and more. 

In the painting, the drone scopes using co-ordinates, multiple electro-optical and data collection devices. It is also equipped with Hellfire and guided missiles. The tree-of-life sits atop a planet, maybe Earth? The tree's roots seem protected by the arced dome-like shape of the planet, but...maybe its actually more interesting than that? Maybe the dome is a kind of cosmic protector - one that the drone's surveillance systems cannot penetrate or even detect? The cosmic sky is a reminder that there is a universal space beyond the drone-space, and the orbits of GPS and communications satellites currently used to support a drone's operation. 

And, there's more...
But, I'll leave it to you now!

1. Paul Virilio. Interview with Louise Wilson "Cyberwar, God and Television: Interview with Paul Virilio", C Theory, December 1, 1994.  


Please check out another 'sky' post and painting NEW SKY 


Please check out my last post A VISIT TO THE AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL