Saturday, March 28, 2020


On The Edge of Fury: A Landscape for Our Time Oil on linen 30 x 40 cm 2020

On The Edge of Fury: A Landscape for Our Time just happened! I am actually working on another painting Machine Unreadable, nearly completed. I started to prepare a new canvas so that it would be ready to work on next week. But, I could not stop - and - On The Edge of Fury: A Landscape for Our Time is the result. This type of thing happens reasonably often, especially when there is a lot to think about. And, at the moment, with COVID-19, there is a huge amount to think about - and worry about. This kind of rapid creation also happens when I've worked intensively for some time. It's like a release valve. I consider it a normal part of the creative process, a kind of waxing and waning of intensity. 

I wanted to create an image of turmoil, to reflect the effects of a world changed by virus. As I was pushing the paint around with a brush, pouring paint from a container and tipping the stretcher up and down to make the paint drip and flow, I suddenly thought of my childhood landscape. I've written about this landscape before [please see images below for links]. I grew up on my parent's grain farm on the flat naturally treeless black-soil Pirrinuan Plain, outside Dalby, on the fertile Darling Downs, Queensland, Australia. As we danced with endless horizons and relentless skies, distance consumed us. In stormy weather the sky seemed to overtake the landscape. With nothing to obstruct our view we could see where lightning struck the Earth, we could watch clouds rolling wildly and strips of rain pouring on parched soil many kilometers away. The unobstructed flat horizon and the unfolding distance revealed everything. 

As I was playing with the paint, I suddenly painted a horizontal line across the painting. This is the flat horizon of my childhood, the marker of distance that made me who I am. The painting felt right, it spoke to me about how landscape informs us, if we a willing to watch, listen, smell and feel. With my painting, a tension between calmness and calamity offered a way to think about the effects of the virus. The flat foreground could, on the one hand, be a future of calm reflection about much needed societal change, but, on the other hand, it could also be the past. It's certainly not the present! The sky tumbles uncontrolled, maybe not only reflecting the present, but also a possible future. The flat horizon seems to suggest we have a choice about how this future might expand before us. 

The tension between land and sky is exposed in the nakedness of the flat landscape terrain - no hills, no trees, no houses. The storm, a metaphor, appears ominously ready to devour the calmness. Would this mean a future foreclosed? However, the storm is equally exposed, its fury obviously raw and hot. The flat exposed horizon demands attention, possibly offering hope as it holds the fury back, giving us some time. The horizon is a metaphor for the world to meet the fury of nature in honest and compassionate ways. Are we brave enough? I think we need to be.

Life depends on it.


*Below are some images of the Pirrinuan Plain, plus three other stormy paintings!

Me with my brothers Wilfred and Douglas, many years ago. The sky is stormy, although not wildly so. We had some very welcome rain.
 Me in 2015 on a trip back to Dalby and the Pirrinuan Plain. Note the flat horizon, and the rich black soil. Cotton, mainly dryland, is now farmed in the district. It was not a crop grown during my childhood. Back then it was mainly wheat, corn, sorghum.

A very old photo of the Pirrinuan Plain. Probably taken in the 1930s-1940s by my grandfather.

Stormy Weather, Where? Oil on linen 120 x 150 cm 2013

Storm Oil on linen 85 x 150 cm 2012

Sunday, March 22, 2020


Earth's Pulse Oil on linen 80 x 200 cm 2005

As regular readers know I am very interested in ideas of existential risk, particularly posed by emerging technologies. I have attended talks and read quite a lot about existential risk generally, and pandemic is one of the risks I am somewhat acquainted with.

AND, here we are in the midst of a corona virus global pandemic.

Back in January, when I was preparing for my trip to the UK to attend the Aesthetics of Drone Warfare conference at the University of Sheffield, the corona virus had reared its ugly head in China. By the time I left Australia in early February I was getting worried, so I went overseas with a few masks, alcohol wipes, gloves, nasal sprays and a bar of soap in my handbag. Yes, I was that strange lady wiping her table at the hotel restaurant, opening doors with my elbow, washing my hands vigourously. My young adult children thought I was mad, but they don't now! The motto of this story is, don't dismiss someone with an imagination prone to extrapolating burgeoning negative situations into catastrophe and disaster! Remembering, too, that this someone has studied history and researched topics associated with existential risk for quite awhile.

The role played by informed imagination in times of unfolding catastrophe is an interesting one. A vivid imagination can compel action to be taken, but it can also provoke a paralysis of action. Ultimately fearful reactions to an existing situation, and subsequent imagined thoughts about the future, can be productive or non-productive.

But, what are the benefits or dangers of not having an imagination? Do our leaders need to have  imaginations that responds to data, are informed by a knowledge of history, are open to the expertise of others from across the sciences, social sciences and humanities? Surely an imagination is required to even 'see' how multiple sources of expertise can interact in meaningful ways? Surely an imagination is required to extrapolate future possible outcomes from graphs that map historic and current data? An imagination surely must help determine how intervention can arrest dire trajectories? I would say an imagination is needed in order to undertake logistical planning!

And, ultimately we need people who can imagine a life after pandemic, possibly a life vastly different from pre-pandemic life. And, a reminder, difference does not necessarily mean worse. Nor, does it necessarily mean better. But, it might mean we have a choice. Let's imagine in compassionate ways that are productive and meaningful. Let's imagine in ways that disallow the paralysis of fear. Rather, let fear contribute as a driver rather than a brake.

Compassion oil on linen 100 x 100 2010

Earth's Pulse [top]
This painting, from fifteen years ago, has a graph-like appearance. It 'maps' the pulse of the Earth. How do you think its currently performing?

I exhibited this painting in Abu Dhabi at my 2005 exhibition at the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation. A Middle Eastern man dressed is swathes of white robes and a largish head-dress came to the exhibition a few times. I cannot remember which country he came from, but he had fought in Afghanistan. On one visit to the show we had a long conversation that involved discussions about a few of the paintings. When he looked at Earth's Pulse, before even knowing the title of the painting,  he said:

"This reminds me of my own mortality."

Now, I think that demonstrates an imaginative response!

As a studio-based painter I am used to working alone. With a couple of conferences cancelled I don't have much else to do, but paint...and be online! I am currently working on a painting I will call Machine Unreadable. Please check out my Instagram page for studio photo updates of work in progress. Hopefully, when the pandemic is over, I can get to exhibit some of my paintings!

In the meantime please stay safe, for yourself and others.

Showing Them Our Home Oil on linen 30 x 56 cm 2017
Me, with my three adult daughters. And, Earth, the pale blue dot.