the end of everything

“Everyone, deep in their hearts, is waiting for the end of the world to come.”

― Haruki Murakami, 1Q84


This is an experiment. An attempt to try and make sense of it all. A running commentary if you will of my inner ramblings as they relate to creative pursuit, and dare I declare in these superficial times, an intellectual curiosity.

I have to confess there are considerable degrees of rambling, which in the final analysis (if there were such a thing) equate to a pursuit of understanding that I don’t know I could do without. It’s taken me an arduous length of time to get to the point where anyone might be reading this now, in part because I haven’t been sure of what commentary I might make that was and is both representative of my work, and the internal/external drives lighting the way for my erratic (neurotic?) thought. Internal, external… whenever I make attempt to visualise this for just a moment, it unfolds into an immediate expanse of space and time stretching out in all directions, posing endless questions of I, we, and everything in between. Questions of ‘I’ and free will deeply intertwined.

In the technological age of shortened attention spans, such philosophical inquiry would be frequently dismissed as irreverent and unnecessary. So why then do I find myself travelling this divide so often? What questions am I hoping to answer there, or am I perhaps just searching for new questions? This blog (let’s call it then) is going to be my attempt to bring to the surface a journey I’ve been on for some time, as I believe have we all to some varying degree, even if consciously unaware. An attempt to communicate what lies beneath.

I don’t want to start out giving the impression I’ve got this all mapped out and with self-serving deception am aiming to have you on the hook for x, y, or z within a time frame… I’m presently in the dark as to where this might go. What I can say for certain is that as my work has been evolving, I have come to the point where to procrastinate on writing about it any further would feel detrimental (as much as I like to procrastinate). I’ve journaled a significant body of project/work ideas over the last three years in particular, in part as a process of investigation in trying to figure out personally ‘what’s next?’. Present circumstances have helped clarify some of these ideas and explorations, to where I can now begin to approach them in the public domain. I will direct people here as a point of reference, and include a portfolio both of previous (and occasionally disowned/destroyed) works, alongside works currently underway. I’ve always had a hard time with bios and portfolio in general, I think largely because I’m always looking to evolve away from where I’ve been, so this will go some way towards mediating that, and the desire to show something of the present. A documented work in progress if you will.

Hello, and welcome, fellow human…

I began setting up this site earlier in 2020. I wanted to create a portal that allowed me to openly reflect on my working practice, which near always inadvertently involves lengthy reduction of the working parts, intellectual, mechanical, or otherwise. Reductionism be necessary before holism in order to move beyond the superficial. I knew I wanted to first start with the question of ‘What is Art?’, even if by no means a new question. It does seem to me that the more profound questions aren’t new at all (perhaps the sciences notwithstanding), rather they’ve been asked time and again, finding new context as attitudes, cultures, and perceptions change. Some of these questions repeatedly appear historically unanswered, their importance once again drawing debate. We are unquestionably in such a time, faced with a disturbingly increased polarisation of beliefs. The concept of belief is itself shifting radically upon landscapes of increasingly immeasurable influence. This for me again touches on the question of what it is constituting the internal and external. What for example is bearing influence upon us in any given moment that we are largely unaware of?

As of writing, I’m currently camped out in a purposefully secluded spot in Mexico, having journeyed out here in January of 2020. I had no idea at that time what would unfold almost as soon as I landed. My reason for coming here was somewhat ironically to ‘isolate’, though I had no way of knowing to what degree that would soon be pressed home.

Before arriving in Mexico I’d spent a few months in Europe, following almost a decade living and working in China (Chengdu, Sichuan Province). Without delving too deeply here, my final year or so in China had been one of resistance. Resistance to leave the place I had (almost) come to call ‘home’, and to the shifting attitudes towards cultural pursuit, increased censorship, and an underlying feeling that radical change might be urgently necessary. I struggled for a long time with accepting certain realities, watching countless friends fall back home after conceding to the pressures anyone faces when attempting anything out of the ordinary. Stubborn rock that I am fully capable of impersonating, I continued working in my own lane until finally concluding that I might after all be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Without being too flippant, I can at least say I believed this perseverance to have been necessary at the time, because the very thing I had found myself exploring intellectually above all else was means of communication, or more importantly its points of failure. I had purposefully chosen to not learn the language, reinforcing my experience as an outsider. Fully aware that this was in a practical sense to my disadvantage, what fascinated me as time went by was my heightened sense of observation, though I concede without question to having forgone the opportunity for deeper discussion on many occasions.

This decision to remain ‘outside’ found it’s roots in my having left Vancouver, Canada, for China in 2010. It became rapidly apparent what little I knew of the place and its people, and at the same time how much of what I’d been told was false. Leaving Canada after four years felt like breaking out of a conceptual bubble. This is in no way a comment on Canada, or indeed Canadians. It is an observation on how deeply we can be influenced by environment. When a message is presented over and over, it very quickly secures a confirmation bias that appears to receive diminishing challenges over time. It has always stood out to me over the years when acclimating to new surrounds that the repetition of an idea or belief will perpetuate verbatim, often carrying with it a surprisingly assured stance. Like mythology and folklore, whispers are passed as wisdom. It’s also interesting to witness how these beliefs will frequently fall flat when challenged with only subtle, logical inquiry.

Apt then that my departing solo show of work in China would be titled “Failure To Communicate”, exploring social and cultural biases within language. That I was doing this by way of the English language was all part of the joke, but nonetheless one worth exploring, even if for my own amusement. In many respects it was this personal amusement that I’d been slogging it out for in the last year or so in China, yet again staring bankruptcy in the face (the medicine for focus if ever there was one), determined to verify for my own sake that I was unquestionably, unavoidably committed to my work no matter the consequences. The philosophical question of internal vs external had become a daily practicality.

Worth noting are some of the issues I faced in the months leading up to my departure, specifically with regard to visas. Little did I know at the time the fallout from an unintended one day overstay on my expiring resident visa (created by the visa office), would detonate into a sequence of events to include four days fighting to stay ahead of the ‘mafia’ controlled Chinese Embassy queue in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (don’t ask, just google it), two subsequently declined return visa applications (first in Hong Kong, and then again in Bangkok), several blocked WeChat (Chinese social media platform) posts from the initial Hong Kong protests (perhaps explaining my first visa denial in ten years), and multiple international flights in and out of China as I took advantage of the available 144 hour transit visa (available on entry to certain ports within the mainland). As I wrapped up both studio and apartment, together with any outstanding affairs, I ended up taking a total of four transit visas, to the increasing dismay and confusion of customs officials, and the local police station to which I had to report to on each entry. Somewhere in that mix was a declined China bound flight from Dublin on a technicality, which upon later investigation would turn out to be an airline error. The writing was clearly on the wall.

Time to move on…

So, following a brief stint in Europe I headed to Mexico for something different, and to sit down and start curating the sea of ideas I’d journaled in the last three years or so into something tangible and cohesive. That you’re reading this now, or at least that I’m writing it, is evidence that I’ve made some headway. I should herein sing the praises of keeping a tab on ‘ideas’. I’m positively not the first to recommend it, but I do think it’s a very underrated habit as a creative resource. I’ve gotten past the initial habit of questioning whether or not an idea is worth recording (more or less), instead returning to my notes periodically to discard anything that no longer resonates, or edit further anything that still stands up to scrutiny. This practice came about from an earlier idea to begin journaling my daily internal chatter, eventually evolving into a series of ‘five word prose’. The purposeful reduction of noise into a fixed form continues to be something I enjoy engaging with, and will undoubtedly continue to feature in forthcoming works.

Descendence (2019)
Acrylic on Paper
50 x 50 cm
Edition of 10 +2 AP’s

In light of these recent events, and in tandem with questions I’d already been in the practice of posing to myself before arriving in Mexico, the question of ‘What is Art?’ to my mind now holds new poise. Forced isolation has had me swinging from the rafters of this very question, covering the spectrum between ‘who gives a fuck anyway?’, to the firm belief that Art has the power to pose important, albeit subjective questions for its audience. And I say ‘subjective’ in contemplation of the internal/external forces placed upon us that might influence objectivity. What perfect time then to (again) be asking what then is art capable of, and why am I/we compelled to it.

Russian author Leo Tolstoy (War and Peace, Anna Karenina) wrote the book ‘What Is Art?‘ in 1897, which coincidentally to the point of communication was first published in English, on account of apparent ‘difficulties’ with Russian censors. Tolstoy dismissed the idea of ‘beauty’ as an inherent quality, suggesting “Art begins when a man, with the purpose of communicating to other people a feeling he once experienced, calls it up again within himself and expresses it by certain external signs”. He didn’t appear to be rejecting the aesthetic, but he did place greater importance upon the emotions conveyed by a work. So far so good…

German philosopher, et al. Theodor Adorno on the other hand, in his posthumously published ‘Aesthetic Theory‘ (1970) placed greater importance upon an art-forms ‘truth content’. Adorno is heavy reading, his writings are at first impenetrable, which makes his question of whether or not modern art could survive a ‘late capitalist world’ all the more amusing, if ever we try having a conversation about truth content as it relates to the art market present day. Even the term ‘late capitalism’ itself has evolved to represent ‘contradictions’ within business practice.

Tolstoy made note of the fact that in his view, the development of art as a profession was “hampering the creation of good works”. He also stated “The professional artist can and must create to prosper, making for art that is insincere and most likely partisan – made to suit the whims of fashion or patrons”. Tolstoy has been quoted innumerably for good reason, ever relevant with eloquent yet simple wisdom in musings such as these:

“Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for right thinking…”

I do very much like Adorno’s positing ‘truth content’ as the way in which an artwork “simultaneously challenges the way things are, and suggests how things could be better, but leaves things practically unchanged”. It is to my mind perception itself in relation to the work that gives rise to the possibility of some new discovery or understanding, without which remains only the aesthetic. Adorno also suggests as a function, that art be “the social antithesis of society”. My personal take on that is the need for art to both highlight and question an accepted norm, without forcing any conclusions.

I THINK (2017)
Acrylic on Paper
50 x 70 cm

New 2021 Limited Edition available (below)

And so then to free speech… I will include below a link to the accompanying text I’d written for ‘Failure To Communicate’ (2019), as it touches on both the question of language and debate as means of interaction. I’m genuinely horrified by what’s been unfolding over the last few years, and more intently so by what’s happening this year specifically. For the longest time I’ve felt adamant in my rejection of the political, and whilst I still firmly believe the entire political landscape as we know it is institutionally corrupted (and thus defunct and void), I have begun to feel it necessary to address some of the issues raised within the arena on a humanitarian level. And no, I’m not about to do that here now, I am talking only in terms of subject matter, and the potential origins of its instigation (which is often something else entirely).

Free speech does feel more at threat today than at any time I can recall, and I grew up in the 80’s when political correctness began to chastise many an artist for daring to challenge the status quo. It’s impossible to cover the implications here now as they relate to the appreciation (and validity) of art, but even at a cursory level I have to wonder if an inability to appreciate art form doesn’t also find its roots in the inability to freely express, and thus remove the subsequent debate that might stem from such expression. Perhaps this is what Adorno was alluding to in suggesting the passing of ‘modern’ art in a modern world. The art of seeing has been stripped away and replaced with rhetoric.

Above images taken whilst in Hong Kong (on a failed visa run), June 2019, during the initial protests against China’s extradition treaty being written into HK law. That law and many others have since been passed with sweeping effect for Hong Kong’s ‘former’ sovereignty. Final image is of a street art piece titled ‘Trumped’ I’d made in Chengdu, China, 2017.

If I had to give an answer to ‘What is Art?‘ I would have to say it’s a space in my head that I have been forever compelled to explore in order to feel alive, and above all, engaged with the world in which I live. An insulation to the chaos. If I were to answer the question again in some future, I might have a different answer, but only slightly.

Perhaps I should end this first entry here… My intention has been to open a door and take a step, the latest in a very long journey cast over considerable time, with the hope of expressing a concern for the things I continue to witness affecting us all. I mentioned my time in China here because it was those last couple of years that solidified my need to ‘be involved’, and not just produce work that was purely aesthetic or commercial. The more intellectually involved I am in the process, the greater urgency and necessity I feel towards artistic expression, and I intend to extol that in writing here. This experiment of mine then will seek to chart that expression, and perhaps too might urge you to do the same, unrestricted and unabashed.

With love in these crazy mixed up times. Until next time, be well.

Shameless Product Promotion
Causeway Bay – Hong Kong
June 2019


Please feel free to leave a comment below and engage, or reach out to me directly;

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Thanks for reading!


The quote at the header is from Haruki Murakami’s ‘1Q84’, a book I have not read, but the quote itself (used many times I’m sure) appears at the beginning of ‘The Big Short’ (2015), which I found myself watching again recently after reading an article on ‘CLO’s’ []. The 2008 financial crisis was a test run… and no, I’m not wishing for the end of the world (though philosophically speaking what would it matter anyway?), but I am hoping in vain for the end of the world as we know it.

‘Failure To Communicate’

Leo Tolstoy

Theodor W. Adorno (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Whilst writing this I have been listening to (amongst other things) Brian Eno’s ‘Thursday Afternoon’ (1985)

This was written over three days, between a Sunday and Tuesday.



  1. mighty v


  2. 07/03/2021

    A very interesting read Brendan. A brutally honest expression of the current circumstances and your real journey through thought and collective experiences both past and present. To be free is to create. With all the AI technological progress thats underway maybe art could well be the last bastion for humanity! I look forward to the next chapter in hearing Brendans life story and searching questions of thought and sentience we all should ask ourselves. Those old and very relevant (especially in the 21st Century) human questions and philosophies about existence and purpose including Descartes translation of “I think therefore I am” and a subtle nuance of “I am because I have that need to think” go hand in hand. Lets hope the many human drones walking around this planet can learn how to feel a connection to life again through art as that could in my opinion be one of the missing piece for many in our short and passive lives.

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