Improvized Explosive Device

Lakehurst, New Jersey - 1937 (2021)


Improvized Explosive Device is a suite of 10 hi-res large format prints mimicking glossy hi-end advertising for a conventional array of consumer items, from the utilitarian (toothpaste, mouth rinse, hamburgers, chocolate bars, flavoured milk) to the luxurious (perfume, alchohol, after-shave). Each features a glamourous model, a bold logo and a snappy adline. The staging for each advertisment, though, is derived from an iconic photograph of an infamous disaster event and site.

Each work is poster-sized: 104cm x 68cm at 600dpi resolution. The images can be doubled in size when printed at 300dpi to 2.08m x 1.36m. The works can be displayed as paper prints, or back-lit translucent film in light boxes.


Logo design, vector art & digital airbrush - Philip Brophy


Logo design, adline copywriting & image selection


Digital airbrush work & completion

Oklahoma City - 1995 (2021)


Advertising persists in being the repository of most creative endeavour. As such, it is the real-world backdrop for all creative industrialization, and in turn allows 'fine' and 'contemporary' art to live the dream of unfettered creativity. The banal reality is that most creative mental activity is carried out in the employ of advertising agencies and associated marketing divisions (and their massively expanding networks caused by branding, communicating and placing the outputs of these creative endeavours). Can art ever compete, critique or collapse the advertising industry? Morseo, can art lay claim to spearheading and defining 'visuality' when advertising 'creatives' are already flicking through catalogues of the unending trail of internationalist biennales to snatch ideas for botoxing value into its promoted products, lables, identities and corporations?

Instead of entering the gladitorial ring to valiantly defend the essential purity of 'art', Improvized Explosive Device results from attempting to think, behave and create as if one is an advertising agency. If advertising persists in being outrageously insensitive to the images, codes and symbols it flaunts as signs of its own contemporaneity, then Improvized Explosive Device performs in an appropriately obesquious manner. And if contemporary art mandates topicality as substance, politics as criteria, and empathy as panacea, then each advertisement in this suite amorally feigns acceptance of such mores while simultaneously contradicting the purpose of acknowledging said mores.

Zooming in on the specific visual strategies employed in this work, Improvized Explosive Device explicity references how hi-end CGI image manipulation (predominantly in photography but also in film & video) utilizes particle diffusion effects. The past decade has seen an exponential rise in these tropes due to software that allows any image to be transduced, rendered or exploded into a field of physical particles (water, bubbles, steam, larva, fire, smoke, etc.). Usually these effects are premiered in mega-scale Hollywood CGI spectacles (in order to introduce and showcase a new issue of proprietary software), then sold as expensive high-end licenses to advertising agencies, who then employ the effects for ads and music videos. In the consequent vortex of copyist grabs at grandstanding displays, this phantasmagoria virally transmutes the visual ecosphere of media projections (from pull-down menu cable TV idents to major biennale commissions outsourced to production houses whose income derives from the advertising industry).

The key purpose, however, of the airbrushed glitz of Improvized Explosive Device is to reconnect particle diffusion effects software with its origins: the motion study of momentous disasters caught on film and video (see Particulate Cinema: Visualizing Data & Posthuman Physics for more on this topic). From the celluloid film capture of billowing fire that outlined and then obliterated the Hindenburg zeppelin to the non-stop underwater digicam observance of the unending soft explosion of gushing oil unleashed during the Deep Horizon spill, software designers and animation engineers were granted windows onto the world at its most destructive. This is the world that Improvized Explosive Device imagineers for its take on advertising.

A Luoi Mountains, North Vietnam - 1966 (2021)


The process of developing Improvized Explosive Device replicates the production arc typical of both Product and Institutional advertising. The production entailed developing logos, adlines and image-artwork for each poster.



Supermarket shopping remains the ideal environment for experiencing logo war. The aisles are literally a real-world stream of logo bombs, wallpapered in repetitive arrays desperate to at once declare their individual identity while conforming to the contemporary codes of how culture perceives identity type within a logo design. For example, perfume at the lowest common denominator will be full of feminine feathery fronds and elegant gentlemanly-suitor fonts; cleaning products will be steroidal muscular fonts in bold clashing colours; etc. The logotypes for Improvized Explosive Device attempt to conjure the most bludgeoning and numbing aggregation of these font semiotics.



The adline for each advertisement in the Improvized Explosive Device suite is shaped by the core objective of copywriting: to be smarmy, cute and nudging so as to make the reader think they are not being cajoled, persuaded or manipulated. Nothing is easier to dupe than the person who thinks they can't be duped, so adline copy always flatters its reader with advanced perceptual insight - which only exists in the reader's mind. The smarminess of Improvized Explosive Device is fortified by the insensitive and offensive ways in which it acknowledges the site-specific conditions of the disasters it depicts through word-play, puns and gags prised from the photographs' depiction.



Just as it is hard to ontologically qualify cinema and movies as being the medium of 'film', photography in advertising has always been painting in chemo-drag: pretending to capture a verifiable reality while dressing it up in painterly illusionistic codes of landscape and portraiture. It is not by chance that Photoshop combines digitized image post-production with digital air-brush production. It is the prime apparatus for 'touching up' reality. The models and disaster images in each Improvized Explosive Device is airbrushed from scratch to simulate photographic effect while retaining an aura of painterly perfection (first developed in the fake movie posters of Colour Me Dead Chapter 11: The Destructive Tool). This apparition of painterly/photographic technique is an effect embodied in the 1960s Pop murals of James Rosenquist, and carried on in the short lived 1970s phase of Photo-Realism (a genre whose name perfectly exemplifies the ambiguous foibles of simulating reality).


Kobe City - 1995 (2021)

Pearl Harbor - 1945 (2021)

Cape Canaveral - 1986 (2021)

xx Nagasaki - 1945 & Gulf of Mexico - 2010 (2021) xxxxxx

xx New York City - 2001 & Palmyra - 2015 & (2021)