A Broken Land

Don Quixote

In 2023, I began working on a series of figurative paintings set in a desert. I have called this series A Broken Land.

The idea grew from memories, but also images I developed using AI. More than a few depicted Don Quixote. I was reading Cervantes’ great novel at the time.

Images of Don Quixote generated by OPEN AI

I subsequently made two digital prints of imaginary scenes from a production of the ballet Don Quixote.

an imaginary scene from a production of the ballet Don Quixote depicting a pas de deux
Bring Me the Head of Don Quixote, 76 cm x 76 cm, Giclée on Hahnemühle German Etching Paper, 2023

I have written about this in detail here.

The Man in a White Suit

Soon, Don Quixote was transformed into someone else, a very imaginative, and much younger version of myself. The images were also deliberately reminiscent of stills taken from movies. They were always set in a desert. Some made references to aeronautics, a subject that I studied after leaving school.

Two images generated by Midjourney of men in white suits

Another common theme was wreckage, a suitable metaphor for my life. The wreckage of aircraft, ships, and cars all made their sorry appearance.

Enter Jake

“Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown,”


I decided to take a very direct cinematic reference, from what I consider to be one of Hollywood’s greatest movies. Enter Jake Gittes played by Jack Nicholson in Chinatown.

Jack Nicholson as Jake Gittes in Chinatown
Jack Nicholson as Jake Gittes in Chinatown

Coincidentally, or not, I’ve written five crime novels. One features a PI, the others policemen, civilian and military. All attempt to unlock mysteries

My pictorial protagonist, Jack/Jake, was soon replaced by a succession of figures generated by Midjourney.

A man in a white suit, a Panama hat, and sunglasses
A man in a white suit, generated by Midjourney

I amassed hundreds of AI generated images, including women, who were often depicted in striking fields of glorious colour – that wouldn’t last for long.

A woman in a white dress and hat standing in a field of red flowers
Image generated by Midjourney

I worked on these in Photoshop for months. Finally, I took the plunge and began painting.

For more information about one of the many techniques I use, take a look at this essay on stencils.

Desert – a suitable setting

As I have mentioned, I chose a desert setting, a dry and barren land, its earth cracked and broken by drought and heat. The obvious conclusion would be to interpret these paintings as a commentary on global warming. But that would be far too simple.

My own experience of deserts encompass Death Valley, on a road trip where I wore a Panama hat. I’ve owned many since. I bought that hat in Las Vegas, where I wore a white suit when playing blackjack in a casino. Memories have a strange habit of fetching up in paintings.

I’ve also travelled through the Sahara, as well as passing across barren land in Australia. Yet, my painted depictions could be anywhere from Chile to China. There is a barren tree in all of these paintings, but rarely other flora and fauna, although a vulture appears in one painting.

The desert seemed an apt setting for what I had in mind, which was to depict relationships. Not only between a man and a woman, but also their relationships with the environment. So in that sense, the topic of global warming could be deduced, but as I say I intend to articulate more. Sometimes my characters’ faces are hidden. But does their stance reveal what they are thinking? I like to think that it does.

I have experimented with camera angles, no longer satisfied with my previous work where the viewer’s eye line, and hence the horizon, coincides with the subject’s eye line. The effects of doing so can be dramatic. Also, harking back to ballet, I looked to introduce motion.

two paintings illustrating different eye-lines

Mystery and Meaning

I was determined to inject a sense of mystery into these paintings. After all, I wanted them to reference cinematic drama. So the man was never enough. He needed a partner, a woman.

Like the man, she is often unsuitably dressed for the desert. Is she a lover, a wife, a mistress, a friend, or even a victim? Or maybe she is calling the tune? A siren perhaps, leading Odysseus towards disaster.

Yet, part of the subject matter is about people who have lost their way. I am fortunate to have painting. Art has given me a road to meaning, but that wasn’t always the case. I was lost for a long time. However my road trips across America had a lasting effect. The first two took place in 1973 and 1974, the third in 1980 shortly before beginning my studies at Camberwell Art School.

I admit that breakdowns in interpersonal relations are an underlying, and pertinent, theme. I have written more about this in another essay.

Ambiguity and Interpretation

Does art ever provide definitive answers, and is that its purpose?

These paintings depict a mystery where the narrative is fighting a battle for clarity. Viewers will have different interpretations based on their own experiences of life and art.

These paintings may provoke responses, and I hope they do. But I have no desire to pin down their meaning. Instead, I prefer to leave that to others. Ambiguity never goes amiss in art.

The Paintings

I intend to add more paintings to this series. Four are already started, along with others currently in digital form.

In the meantime, here are six finished paintings.