Thursday, January 25, 2018


Follow Me, Says the Tree Oil on canvas 61 x 76 cm 2017

Regular readers know of my interest in the age-old transcultural/religious tree-of-life symbol. Follow Me, Says the Tree combines my interpretation of a tree-of-life with a few of my other interests. These include thinking about how landscape is mediated in the 21st century - the age of cyber and digital technologies, drones, perpetual war and the 'everywhere war'. 

The tree-of-life is a symbol of life - for the existence of life. But, how is human existence affected by accelerating developments in technology, particularly surveillance technologies and weaponised [or weaponisable] technologies? In other words, those technologies that deploy scoping capabilities to monitor, surveil and target. 

I attempt to reveal invisible scoping signals, transmitted and received by airborne drones. I do this to demonstrate that landscape is insidiously mediated by new but unseen signal topographies. These new topographies not only mediate landscape, they also influence, to a greater or lesser extent, how humans operate and live in the landscape and environment. For example, in some places in the world - war and conflict zones - loitering airborne [often weaponised] drones create a persistent fear of the sky. This fear is fueled by a drone's ability to quickly turn from monitoring and surveillance to scoping to target - for a kill. 

I have written this previously, but in an age where Voyager 1 travels in interstellar space, to have people on planet Earth afraid of the sky is an indictment on all of us. I will leave you to think more about this. Indeed, there is a lot to think about!

In Follow Me, Says the Tree I have depicted an eye painted in the sky. Its pupil in a shade of night vision green. It is an unblinking false eye, with 'lashes' that appear to be more like components from a computer circuit board. The signals that radiate from the eye penetrate through a surveillance net which is scaffolded by a night vision green CLOUD* - a false cloud. 

The eye is clearly not an eye, with all the connotations of human sight, insight, imagination, vision, dreaming, tears and laughter. The eye is a subterfuge - it is not an eye-in-the sky - it is a SCOPE-IN-THE-SKY. It  targets its prey with a precision that is aided and abetted by persistent surveillance.

However, what of the tree? It also penetrates the net of surveillance and the CLOUD, by reaching upwards towards the stars. It re-establishes perspective - the kind that can take humanity's endeavours into interstellar space. The tree's branching appearance contrasts with the clean lines of surveillance and targeting signals. Randomness, or seeming randomness, is presented as a complex decoy - but isn't that just LIFE! The tree not only erupts through the surveillance net, it also send roots underground. Where there's life there's hope it seems to say. Follow me, and life and existence will be ok. 

But, while life may continue into a contested future, it may not be human. 

There is more to say - I know! Again, I will leave this up to you. 


  • I was asked to write a visual essay for Dialogue: Taking Politics Outside the Box, an e-journal located in the School of Political Science and International Relations, University of Queensland. New Landscapes in the Drone Age was published last week.
  • Early alert: Cosmological Landscapes solo exhibition at Dogwood Crossing, Miles, Queensland, Australia: 28 March - 22 May. It is well over two years since my submission was accepted and the show is nearly here! More news about the show coming soon. 
  • I am on a panel "War Art: Museums, Militarisation and Militantism", to talk about my paintings, at the International Studies Association annual conference in San Francisco, in April. 
  • Plus other exciting events are planned in New York and the UK. Shall keep you up to date as things fall into place. 


Thursday, January 18, 2018


Fig 1. Beautiful One Day: Unreal the Next Oil on canvas 30 x 40 cm 2018


I was thrilled to be asked to write a visual essay for Dialogue: Taking Politics Outside the Box, an e-journal located in the School of Political Science and International Relations, University of Queensland. Excited to say that New Landscapes in the Drone Age was published this week.


The new landscapes I refer to in my visual essay [mentioned above] are not just those of the land, but also the sky and space. In the drone age, in some places around the world, the sky is colonised by loitering drones -  nodes-in-the-sky, not eyes-in-the-sky - and the invisible signals they receive and transmit, to and from land and space-based assets. That airborne drones can, in many instances, quickly turn from surveillance to attack mode, makes the sky a militarised contestable place, a potential battle-space that extends from land, into the atmosphere and beyond. 

Fig 2. New Clouds Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017

Drone Swarms 

Recent developments in drone swarming technology* multiplies the impact of the scoping nature of drones. Technologists, roboticists, AI developers, and others associated with drone and autonomous systems research, study animals, such as birds and bees, to examine swarming and group behaviour. Nature provides insights, and researchers, using algorithmic processes, attempt to create systems that mimic nature's characteristics. Machine learning means that more advanced robots/systems can also learn as they interact with each other and 'experience' the world around them. Airborne drones are essentially flying robots, with increasingly autonomous systems embedded into their various functions.

I am interested in how landscape is mediated by drones and their invisible signals. I write about this in my visual essay New Landscape in the Drone Age. In this post, however, I focus on drone swarms, and the potential mediation of the skyscape.

The recently released short 7 minute film Slaughterbots presents a future where swarms of autonomous micro drones are used to control populations. Whilst fictional, it is stressed at the end of the film, that we already have the technology to create these deadly things - it is just a matter of time. Please read my visual essay A Droned Future response to Slaughterbots.  

So - to clouds.

Beautiful One Day: Unreal the Next [Fig 1] is a painting of clouds. Or is it? Positioned with some of my other recent paintings, the clouds may not be clouds at all! In New Clouds [Fig 2] and Swarm Clouds Brewing [Fig 3] you can see why. In these two paintings drone swarms attempt to mimic clouds. They camouflage themselves by mimicking nature, not only in swarm operation, but also in the subtleties of subterfuge and survival. 

But, you, the viewer, might be above the drone swarm-clouds, or you may be below them - maybe both places at once! Anything is possible in a quantum world. Your human vision, taking imaginational cosmic perspectives, turns the surveillance back onto the scoping camouflaged drones! Their subterfuge is revealed - exposed.

However, in New Clouds [Fig 2] one drone is targeted and attacked in a fiery blaze. This event leaves its mark on the skyscape. But, the significance of drone swarming technology is - if one drone is 'taken out', the others can re-calibrate and continue on their mission - whatever that may be. Therefore, taking one out seems futile...

False clouds?

So returning to Beautiful One Day, Unreal the Next [Fig 1]. The title of the painting plays with you...unreal could mean literally not real, or totally UNREAL-AMAZING-FANTASTIC-AWESOME! 

Maybe it means both? The game of disguise, camouflage, subterfuge working well...

[Fig 3] Swarm Clouds Brewing Oil on Canvas 36 x 45 cm 2017 

I am also interested in how clouds are used as a descriptive metaphor for THE CLOUD, which is not actually a singular entity, but rather, a series of mammoth data storage and processing systems - super computers. These systems built from physical hardware are, in fact, not housed in vapor, but in solid bricks and mortar behemoth buildings. 

But, that's another story, for another day!


* If you are keen to know more about drone swarming technology, just google it. There is a lot of information.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


Cosmic Dreaming: Simulation? Oil on linen 31 x 56 cm 2018

Continuing with my 'pale blue dot' interest, I introduce you to Cosmic Dreaming: Simulation? (Exo-Planets). 

I was thinking about recent discoveries of potentially habitable exo-planets [example NASA site] orbiting distant stars. And, I was thinking about the unlikelihood of humans retreating to alternative planets outside our solar system in the near future, let alone the not-so-near future. That there might be life [of some kind] on these distant exo-planets is certainly intriguing though. 

But, with regards to humans travelling in space, getting to Mars is difficult enough! Plus, Mars will be obliterated, along with the rest of our solar system, when the sun reaches its final demise in around 4 billion years. So, staying within the solar system is doomed! Getting to Mars, though, is a stepping stone for all sorts of reasons. 

I was also thinking about the urgent need to look after the planet we do call home - Earth. We need to look after the planet, its non-human inhabitants and ourselves in order to sustain life. No good having escape plans, to set up home on an exo-planet, if we perish before we develop technology that will allow us to retreat elsewhere. But, this may be our fate...

While I was thinking about planetary sustainability, I was also thinking about simulation and dreams. 

So, is my painting an image from a dream, where alternative habitable planets, other 'pale blue dots', offer tantalising refuge for a beleaguered human species? Or, is the painting an image of a simulation, perhaps a game...a way to dupe us into thinking there are alternatives? The painting is not a game though.

Regular readers know of my interest in contemporary militarised technology, ubiquitous surveillance and increasingly autonomous weapon systems. While Cosmic Dreaming: Simulation? (Exo-Planets) does not refer directly to weapons or surveillance, it is linked to my dronescapes. It is linked by the cosmic perspective I take in many of my paintings. This perspective allows the viewer to fly. For example, in Cosmic Dreaming: Simulation? (Exo-Planets), are you above, below or beside the three pale blue dots? Are you on another planet, or in a spacecraft? Or, are you a spirit, a ghost from the future, maybe 10 billion years time - long after our solar system existed? Or perhaps you are a downloaded mind transmitted, ad infinitum, along an energy wave of some kind? Are you caught in some kind of simulation? 

As a painting, Cosmic Dreaming: Simulation?(Exo-Planets)offers many alternative interpretations. But, for me,  the power of human 'vision', in all its permutations - sight, insight, imagination and dreams - is an overarching consideration. This painting is, therefore, a resistance to the insidious infiltration of technological scoping, disguised as 'vision'. 


Look again at that dot. (Sagan) Oil on linen 23 x 29.5 cm 2017

                                              Showing Them Our Home Oil on linen 30 x 56 cm 2017


Wednesday, January 03, 2018


Mountains and Metaphors oil on linen 80 x 200 cm 2005

   Queensland Landscape (Unreal) Oil on linen 50 x 90 cm 2017

In this post I have chosen four paintings I painted over a decade ago and four very recent paintings. I have coupled one older painting with one recent painting. These paintings resonate with each other, in uncanny ways, across the years. In fact, I found quite a few that did this, but four from 'then' and four from 'now' are enough. 

                              UNREAL LANDSCAPES - METAPHORS

So, above, I have posted Mountains and Metaphors and Queensland Landscape (Unreal). There are twelve years between them 2005 - 2017. And, I can tell you, I was not thinking about Mountains and Metaphors when I painted Queensland Landscape (Unreal). Yet, maybe at some subliminal level I was, because there are obvious visual connections. What I can tell you is that both paintings are inspired by the Bunya Mountains, part of the Great Dividing Range that winds up the East coast of Australia. The Bunya Mountains cut a majestic silhouette against the expansive rural Queensland skies of my childhood. I lived on a flat treeless plain where the mountains in the distant east beckoned with sculptural monumentality. The western horizon offered no such aesthetic - it was flat and endless, mirages often merging landscape and sky into one. 

Looking at these two paintings at the beginning of 2018 is an interesting experiment for me. Given that I referenced mountains as metaphors in the earlier painting, there is a kind of unreality attached to the image. This unreality is expounded in the later painting, where I question our experiences with landscape in a world mediated by technology. 

A mountain, when standing at its foothills, is a metaphor for something to overcome. However, when at the top of the mountain, it acts as something not only overcome, but revelatory. From the top you can look towards a new horizon, and back to an old one - horizon being a metaphor too! But, what happens when the mountains are simulations? 


Braid Oil on board 90 x 60 cm 2007 

Imagining the Post-Human Gouache on paper 42 x 30 cm 2016

I don't paint many portraits, well not obvious ones. But Braid (above) is a self-portrait, not of my face, but of the back of my head, and my long plait. Oh, and my heart too! Just over ten years ago my hair was a lot browner than it is now! My long hair is one of my distinguishing physical characteristics - apart from being very tall. 

I was looking through my paintings and it struck me that my 2016 Post Human series of works on paper, feature a 'figure' with a heart, or a simulation of a heart. The binary code accompanying the figures suggests some kind of simulation, proxy, or downloaded data. 

Am I painting myself as a post-human, my hair standing on its ends in horror, or is it excitement? The code 00111111 'screams' a question mark loaded with many questions. Why? How? Am I ok? Am I lonely?

Below, I Am A Post-Human  seems to have an answer!

My Future Post-Human Gouache on paper 42 x 30 cm 2016

I Am A Post-Human Gouache on paper 42 x 30 cm 2016

01001001 00100000 01100001 01101101 00100000 01100001 00100000 01110000 01101111 01110011 01110100 01101000 01110101 01101101 01100001 01101110 00101110


 Forever Connected Oil on linen 120 x 80 cm 2008

Crossing the Rubicon Gouache on paper 76 x 56 cm 2017

Forever Connected and Crossing the Rubicon both feature a tree-of-life seemingly reaching to the heavens. The tree-of-life is an age old transcultural symbol. It is shared by the three Abrahamic religions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. In Forever Connected I wanted to demonstrate the power of symbols to draw people together - I certainly experienced this when I exhibited in Abu Dhabi in late 2005. The conversations I shared, on a daily basis, with people from all over the region were triggered by my paintings where the tree-of-life echoed across the ages. 

With Forever Connected I was also referencing the story of Moses and the burning bush - the bush on fire, but not consumed by it. This story is also shared by the three Abrahamic religions. 

Looking at Crossing the Rubicon and Forever Connected together, I see that fire also links them. This has come as a surprise observation. The fire in Crossing the Rubicon indicates the impossibility of turning back. I've written more about this in my post for Crossing the Rubicon


Earth's Pulse Oil on linen 80 x 200 2005

Space Net Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017

Earth's Pulse and Space Net , painted 12 years apart, aesthetically resonate. The Earth, indicated by the round shape in both paintings, hovers in a cosmic landscape. Various signals or vibrations transmit to and from Earth. In Earth's Pulse these 'transmissions' seem to be cosmic forces, rhythms of the universe. In Space Net I was thinking about signals netting the planet, ricocheting from node to node, and occupying space using node-satellites.

Space Net speaks to the increasing prevalence of surveillance and monitoring technologies. Whereas, Earth's Pulse speaks to our hearts - in fact, in Abu Dhabi a male visitor to my 2005 exhibition at the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation, stood in front of this painting for a long time. He was a huge man, dressed in white robes - I am not sure which part of the Middle East he came from. He turned to me and said "This painting reminds me of my mortality."

Maybe Space Net indicates a kind of planetary life support, or heart bypass scenario - metaphorically speaking?

This experiment in searching for resonances between paintings created years apart has been really interesting for me. One could say that the present is always evident in the past, but there are other thoughts too. I hope you have enjoyed this uncanny - perhaps curious -  journey. It will continue!