Kansas Series

The Kansas Series of paintings that I am embarking on are modelled upon satellite photos of census tracts of farming land in Kansas. The distinctive circles in these grids are formed by pivot irrigation.

These photographs resemble methods of abstraction that I have deployed in previous paintings but also feed into a particular set of American modernist techniques. One of these is the grid. Notably imported into America during the war years by Piet Mondrian with Broadway Boogie Woogie and similar works.

The grid is more usually considered as a key aspect of US city planning, but what the Kansas tracts reveal is to what extent the rural landscape of America is also informed by the grid. Which brings us to the 70s Land Art movement and Robert Smithson, whose theoretical consideration of the romantic sublime in the landscape countered the 19th Century aesthetic imagining of nature with an anti-sublime that foregrounded the artificiality of landscape and its industrialisation.

Parallel with Smithson and his concern with landscape, in the portraits of Chuck Close we see the human face broken down into modular units, like myriad tiny abstracts sharing the same canvas. While it is not one of his gridded paintings, Close is also well-known for his near-photographic realist depiction of the composer Philip Glass whose composition also echoes this ethic of the grid in American modernism.

“We’re not in Kansas anymore” says Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, when actually it is impossible to escape Kansas. The Wichita Lineman in Jimmy Webb’s hit single, best known from its Glen Campbell interpretation, hopes to take a small vacation, but as we know Kansas is actually eternal: he’s always still on the line.

Hope you enjoy this series as it develops.

Systematic Paintings series

Scans of all of the Systematic Paintings so far are now archived here:

Monuments of the Lower Mur

On those odd moments in the small hours when I haven’t been able to sleep I have been reading Robert Smithson interviews. When I was younger I did this with Carl Jung. Which led to interesting lucid dreaming experiences.

Earlier today I was wandering along the building work on the new hydroelectric facility on the River Mur, observing the earthworks and construction work, having a little internal conversation with Bob Smithson’s ghost as I walked.

He would have been an unusually informed walking partner: local geology, tectonic strata and the like would have punctuated the space (or non-site). His Monuments of Passaic is filled with these sorts of concerns about edgelands and new sorts of unregarded (sub)urban spaces. But we would have had common cause comparing notes on such matters as the use of river paths for local cyclists on Central Park and the Grand Union Canal. Their ideal and historical uses compared with contemporary deployment.

I crossed the river at the third completed hydroelectric dam down towards Feldkirchen, near the airport. Bob would have made a half-amused wince at Flughafen Graz, like you see on statues of saints, carrying the emblems of their martyrdom. His death in a helicopter accident almost fifty years ago still not quite comfortable. I’m unsure how he’d react to the Roman ruin on the landing strip; his concerns were usually more Mayan than European.

We could disagree on that at the Hells Angels bar just up the road over a quiet Puntigamer or two.

Morning Aphorisms

  • Appeals to human nature too often act as an affirmation of our limitations; a catalogue of what we don’t have. They represent a failure to step out into the dark, go down to the 24 hour garage, and bring back ice lollies and a packet of Rizlas for everyone.

  • Dirty Harry tells us that a man has to know his limitations. However when one’s limitations are the six chambers of one’s revolver, the inability to follow department procedure, and a disinclination to observe suspect’s rights, there is a deliberate arbitrariness in operation.

  • There are times that one must say to the human spirit, “dammit, Harry!” and demand its badge and gun, and tell it that it is off the case, and that’s final. There are times that the human spirit shd take the rest of the day off. Make it the rest of the week!

    (Yeah, I know I’ve elided human nature and the human spirit here, but bear with me, I got the district attorney on the line giving me hell over the handling of this case. He wants to see results. Yesterday.)

  • When the Buddha tells us that if they don’t have a choc ice at the garage he’s fine without; he totally expects us to go a mile further up the street to the Esso where they have a bigger range or frozen products. However, when the Buddha comes out of our bedroom, and our wife is in the bed wearing nothing but a cheeky grin; everything is exactly as it seems.

    These are the two types of truth and we can only know them through direct apprehension of the Buddha nature.

  • When the Lord said, “set aside yr ox and yr ass, leave yr home and family, even unto the third generation – no, you can’t quickly take a wee before we go – and come with me.” Turns out he was being a total dick because trains are only one an hour & we’d missed the previous one.

    (Final one is the variant on the previous one found in Gospel of Thomas from the Nag Hammadi fragments)

  • The Lord said, “leave yr ox and yr ass, yr father and mother, yr brothers and elders, and come with me. Oh, and bring yr sister and yr battery-powered bong, there’s a good lad!”


Turned out that pointillisme wasn’t for me. Words suggest themselves to you to accept or reject. You put in the hours for a while. Am I a pointilliste? You make a thousand dots. A thousand more. Zali Krishna – pointilliste, is that a thing? You put it back down again. Why is there even that frenchified e at the end? It wasn’t you.

Avoids the obvious pun and moves on.

Other broader words assail you on yr way from place to place. Happiness. Freedom. Am I happy? You try on a smile and walk it around the place. Happy Krishna, is that what they’ll call me? It becomes a lot to live up to. I want to be free of that. Am I a free man? You become quite unhappy with the expectation of it.

Humming Me & Bobby McGee for a bit helps. At least you know y’re not Janis Joplin.

If you could become free of words that grasp, without that being a conceptual conceit in itself, well, y’know… that’d be alright, wouldn’t it?

Behind the Mask

I’m fairly convinced that my conscious and unconscious swapped over. Some time in the late 90s. It’s probably not such an uncommon occurrence. It’s less dramatic than it sounds: it was most likely just agreed that the unconscious was doing most of the driving in any case. I think I can even pinpoint the exact weekend when it happened. There’s not really space to go into the details here, and in practice it probably makes little difference, but it might explain why the nonexistence of the unconscious has recurred so much in my writing.

Sure, it looks pretty alarming in narrative terms: so what am I?

This creature from the psyche who ambushed a twentysomething Zali Krishna and ate him?

I mean for one thing that creature is also Zali Krishna, and for another it was over twenty years ago: you never met the guy! Because of course this is only a way of talking about the thing. For someone else with a different model of the self, they might describe it as the day they accepted Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Whatever works really. No-one asks what happens to the unredeemed residue of christian.

I find it interesting that in German the word for “christian” is “Christ”. You literally become a Christ. A eschatological singularity, a noosphere, where at the End of Time everyone is Christ. In those terms it makes PKD’s little amphetamine cosmologies seems pretty tame.

To return to the original problem: if it’s about explaining what you are, this swapover between conscious and unconscious is a useful device.

Do I feel like an animal? No.
A machine? Not quite.
An angel? Not today.
The guy who crept out of my own head to fix stuff? That fits.

And what happened to Zali Krishna from the twentieth century who you replaced, you thieving bastard?

Uh, as far as I can make out, he’s eating crisps and reading magazines. Is there something he can help you with? He’s pretty busy at the moment.

Afterlife Query

At the point of death you enter a database query interface for yr entire memory. People who talk about life flashing before their eyes failed to disable the linear fastforward mode. Go into the non-linear mode and it’s far more revealing. You could relive every single fish curry you ate, or all of the best thunderstorms, maybe even a non-subject specific howling laughter search. Sure other people go through all their worst break-ups and rush hour commuting, but this is where you get the heaven/hell distinction.

From this vantage point of paused time, the purpose of life would be to stack the database with material that you could happily examine in non-linear forever. Paying attention becomes very important. If you didn’t notice it; it’s not in there. Imagine it as a space capsule travelling to a distant star with a huge VHS archive in the hold. If its entirely stocked with recordings of Later With Jools Holland: essentially, you’ve blown it.

Bad Actors

I look forward to the next era of recreational pharmaceutical reality. Not because I want to take them myself; I’ve exhausted the limits of that particular strategy. But what I enjoy about these eras is the design freedom that they afford. Eras that are dominated by geek culture tend to have really bad heroic motifs everywhere. In spite of what Joseph Campbell might tell you; no-one who has any sense gives a flying fuck about heroes.

There are broad and impressionistic vistas that open up when deep hallucinogenic cultures come to the fore. In themselves they are probably tedious in the extreme at close hand, but the opportunities for geometrical experimentation, mesmeric clusters and hypnotic spaces, and the opportunity to use colour in what might be described as a theosophical manner are useful for a certain sort of practitioner.

Quite apart from the potential for design opportunities, the last time this sort of Golden Age landed, there was a utopian scent in the air that reduced street violence to virtually nothing, partly because those lads who might have wanted to stomp you were more interested in whether you might be able to procure ambrosia of heaven for their afternoon orgy. And what could possibly go wrong there?

End of the day, we bounced back and ended up at the worst of all possible worlds. Where once the street was full of customers for new vistas, now it is a tabloid spread of inane debating teams who barely understand the puppet strings that pull them this way and that.

It’s as if somewhere along the line we opened the wrong door.

New Beige

Hot Summer

I returned to the eternal Holloway Road in a dream. I was missing a lot of buses to a lot of destinations, no matter where I positioned myself with regards to the bus stops. Then again, I’m not sure that it had been established where I was supposed to be going. This hadn’t set itself up as a dream where I was late for school or late for work. It may have been late in the evening because I told someone how bad a particular fried chicken outlet was, before leading them there so that they could enthusiastically order several items from the menu. Then again fried chicken on the eternal Holloway Road is an all-day feast.

Everywhere was filled with artifacts that carried two texts: the first text was banal to the point of infuriating, the second text was deeply sad. They might have been books or vinyl albums, but I suspect that they were everything.

One thing that they weren’t specifically was comic books. There was at least one of them, an intensely bad Star Wars spin-off in a bad imitation Jack Kirby style. It was full of explosions and chases and near escapes. I tried to explain to Hugh Metcalfe how very bad it was, but the more I told him, the more enthusiastic he became about the whole thing. As with the fried chicken shop, there was no way to warn people about the tawdriness of the goods on offer.

Meanwhile the sun-drenched pavements of the eternal Holloway Road were a racetrack of supercharged Jamaicans and Irishmen. You had to keep your wits about you to avoid colliding with them. And still the buses wouldn’t stop at the bus stops, or at least wait for long enough for you to establish where they were going. One of the supercharged pedestrians followed my spouse all the way home. I found the weighted truncheon in the chess set where it is usually kept, along with the medals for military service in Belfast, and I waded out of the front door to pursue the brute, but he was already gunning the engine of his long low Cadillac, and speeding off across the well-kept suburban front gardens of the neighbourhood.

“And don’t come back if you know what’s good for you!”