Sunday 26 April 2020


About a year ago I spent some time doing a residency in SHIFT in Cardiff. SHIFT was a brand new and exciting art space in the centre of Cardiff, supported by the arts organisation & charity Axis. The space was absolutely huge, having been an underground Virgin Megastore back in the day. I instantly wanted to make use of the environment to make some large scale works, but it took me a little while to actually make any. I focused on smaller works and using the size to better understand my subject matter and composition before eventually sizing up to larger pieces. I’m happy with how that body of work turned out, and how it helped me realise what I wanted to get out of landscape painting.

During this time I experimented with an idea that I had left simmering on the back burner. I’d always been interested in the unusual (and disturbing) crossover of violent materials and children. I’ve written about this quite a bit, particularly regarding The Troubles in Northern Ireland and the freshly apparent glorification of ‘the good old days’ by kids. It’s something that has always been a big part of my work, and when exploring the historic violence in Northern Ireland using video game software, I found there was an inherent link between simulated online violence by kids and the real-life violence that influenced so many.

With this small project, I want to make something that bridged that link whilst also using new technology. I had a few ideas from before about using the idea of a balaclava in my work after seeing a piece by Paul Granjon–that had absolutely nothing to do with paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland–but it inspired me to use it as an object because it's such an iconic and thought evoking symbol.

I actually don’t like using Snapchat, but it has featured in my work and influenced my practice a fair bit. I suppose I referenced it most directly in a project emulating Willie Doherty in a lighthearted series of live online ‘performative’ pieces, and there is some similarity with the work I did with #rambo. I did personally use Snapchat for a few months when it came out but pretty soon after I gave up and stopped updating or checking it. I know it's super popular with kids, I imagine in part due to the 100% inaccessible UI that makes it inoperable to the boomer generation, a bit of an ‘anti-Facebook’. I thought it might be interesting to create something along the lines of a face filter that used a balaclava, and Snapchat’s relatively simple filter-making software allowed me to do this.

When starting this project I found it drew out some parallels between IRL activism, online anonymity, gaming culture, privacy, oversharing and illegal activities. Why not use a balaclava to hide your identity for online activities? I suppose the V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes mask would be more appropriate when referencing these issues, but as someone from Northern Ireland, it's hard to move past the image of a balaclava and its inherent implication.

As it stands, I might break this work out for an exhibition some time. I understand it is possible to use geofencing to localise a Snapchat filter for events and such, or do I have a device in the exhibition with Snapchat locked in for people to post their own balaclava photos? Or why not both? Maybe a running feed on a display of people’s filtered faces when posted on social media and tagged with a specific hashtag. The balaclava model might need a little more fine-tuning and tweaking but the overall concept and execution is solid. Now to work on a face mask & ventilator filter for this COVID-19 pandemic…

Sunday 1 March 2020

Randomly Generated Landscape Paintings

I’ve been working on this project since my Masters but only recently shown any of the outcomes to the public. You could say that this represents the ‘physical object’ outcome of my Digital Border work, as it stemmed from the same randomly generated landscape game that I made using Unity 3D.

My process with Digital Border was to create these unique landscapes using a Perlin Noise algorithm. I then added in generic game objects from found online sources and created these little narrative-driven vignettes that were ‘photographed’ in-game. The photos were reproduced as 9x16cm acrylic glass on aluminium, emulating the language of a mobile phone screen. I also recorded a few and replayed as video installation work (see my exhibition in Nantes and also my MFA show).

During this time, I was using the same algorithm to generate landscapes with the idea of producing physical work of charcoal on paper with them. I made perhaps 10 or 15 works based on this but never uploaded them or shown anyone. They were purely run as tests–and I was happy enough with them–but my focus was on digital work at that time.

I’ve gotten back into painting since then, so I decided to expand on my simple charcoal sketches and developed them into full-blown paintings. This came from a random opportunity in Splott Market. I was having a look at the car boot section with a friend of mine and came across a load of floppy disks that were going for free. I instantly knew I had to paint on them, and that paintings derived from digital source imagery would be perfect for them.

Also, painting on floppy disks? Sure–why not? I had someone comment that they were reminiscent of Richard Higletts little landscape paintings on old paintbrushes, and I didn’t think about it but there is a familiarity there and I really like Higlett’s work. I had a bit of trouble figuring out how to best approach the surface for painting with oil. I initially tried to mimic canvas with a heavy gesso crisscrossing but then I realised how much I actually hated painting on canvas. I dipped the disks in generic varnish a few times to prepare the surface and found that this worked much better.

I applied the same approach to preparing the wooden panels for painting. Rather than gesso (which I normally do) I found this gave a fresh and interesting flat surface for painting on. My favourite will always be painting on sheet metal or MDF, but this worked well too. I might try some varnish with canvas at a later date and see if it give that amazing smooth finish that I love.

So from these initial charcoal ‘en plein air’ sketches evolved a body of work around the same subject matter and with cool & unique paintings on 3.5” floppy disks. They were recently shown at a View from the Edge in M.A.D.E. Gallery in Cardiff, with other works by landscape painters with unusual approaches to the subject matter. 

In the past I've made some work exploring plein air painting with digital images. I found the act of working from 'live' sources than working from photographs breathes extra life into the process and the introduction of random chance and change adds to the immediacy of the paintings. When I painted from in-game DayZ, there was always the danger of an incoming Zombie or enemy player ruining the scene. The environment forced my hand to make quick decisions about how to approach the work, and I enjoyed this freedom and embraced immediacy of painting like this.

I’m currently revising making paintings from webcams. This was a series I’d only made a few pieces for, and I look forward to exploring the process again and seeing what new outcomes arrive.