Thomas Macker solo exhibition at Nicolaysen Art Museum in Casper, Wyoming 9.22.16

Thomas Macker

Sept. 30, 2016 – Jan. 15, 2017

In the exhibit Holdout, Thomas Macker uses new media materials and techniques to explore camouflage, bygone war propaganda and the identity of the “holdout” figure in modern warfare.

The new media materials and techniques Macker uses include autostereograms (magic eye), flir technology (thermal imaging), light interference pigments (color-changing paint), titanium anodization & insulating and conductive paints. The goal of the materials and techniques used is to thematically support the conceptual phenomena mentioned above.


There are days we live as if death were nowhere in the background.

~Li-Young Lee


Camouflage design began with artists (camoufleurs) radically shifting perceptions of the figure in the landscape – blurring object from void and making the two indistinguishable. Since World War I, artists like Paul Klee, Franz Marc and other expressionists, cubists and surrealists have worked as camoufleurs. Edward Wadsworth, a vorticist artist painted “razzle dazzle” patterns on battleships. The vorticists painted hard abs
tract and geometric forms, rejecting the nude figure and landscape; this rejection was a consequence of witnessed forms of destruction seen in WWI. Artists were at once reacting emotionally to the war while designing the camouflage to canvas the acting agents. Does the landscape change due to human warring? Does a foreign occupation with a strict palette and style effect the landscape?

For example: the US military camouflage has evolved after many years occupying the Middle East region. Has the landscape of the Middle East changed color pigment or shape as a result of the introduction of US camouflage? If not physically, then the perception of the region has changed with advancing technology.  The introduction of digital cameras led to digital camo, just as night vision led to fatigues, utility vehicles and weapons patterned with a totally different gamma – blue to match the night. In 2015, the US spent billions of dollars and 5 years developing the latest camouflage pattern “Scorpion W2” or ACU; only to return to a pattern that resembles pre-digital 2002 designs. Do opposing forces even view us through digital devices – or are we only best prepared to hide from ourselves?

With so much invested in fatiguing all personnel, weapons, buildings, vehicles etc. and competing companies researching and developing a lasting camouflage pattern to both hide and brand the modern day warrior, the US must strive for prophecy. Where will the next military campaign reside?

More recently, thermal imaging and infrared has effected how the figure appears or performs in the landscape. Seen from the air by drones we are viewed only by our heat signature – we are mediated by properties that cannot be seen by eyesight.  Zubair, a 13 year old Pakistani boy reported in a congressional briefing, “I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer grey skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are grey.” 

Since World War I, artists have also been involved in the creation of propaganda and airborne leaflets – dropped by the millions on large masses of people on foreign soil. Psychological propaganda leaflets use themes of mortality, loyalty and sexuality to manipulate opposition. Two differences between the artistry of art-historical “modern” artists and propaganda illustrations are the audience and the intent. For some propaganda artists, their artwork has been seen and interpreted by more people than a major museum collection is viewed by gallery-goers. The other difference is how one should rate the success of the artwork’s message on an audience (intent). The artistry of propaganda should be specific, never unclear of its intent yet psychologically dismantling.

Camouflage is not just a veneer, but can also be a behavior; otherwise known as “baseline”. In order to match the system of the landscape you must be in sync with its energy or movements. For example, if you sit still, reading a book on a bench in the park–after 30 mins, a bird might land right next to you, unaware of you because of your stealth behavior. And your biotic relationship changes. “Understanding Baseline is Awareness. Blending with Baseline is Camouflage. Manipulating Baseline brings Invisibility.”— Eddie Starnater. Behavioral camouflage is most difficult for humans because it requires an ancient memory of survival – a harkening back to a time when we had predators other than ourselves.

A military “holdout” is someone who is loyal until defeat, beyond the time of war. Hiroo Onoda, Japanese soldier in the time of World War II, lived 30 years after 1945 in the Philippine’s jungle, fighting innocent civilians. He did so despite many forgiving multinational search efforts that included his family and direct, targeted propaganda leaflet droppings. He was loyal to the empire to the point of myth, like self-internment – the bushido ideal. He finally submitted once his commanding general flew from Japan to meet him in person and release him of his duty. Onoda convinced himself that he was carrying out the longest true act of enlightened espionage – one man for himself. He returned a hero. Onoda’s success can be attributed to his ability to adapt into his new environment and evolve beyond the needs of familial love – becoming autonomous yet completely part of the surrounding natural system, one with the jungle – “baseline”. Hiroo Onoda was a voluntary deserter, a war criminal and a samurai.

It is your duty to dissent.

The holdout is a denaturalized, former soldier still fighting for citizenship across the border.  Every one of the average 22 veterans who commit suicide every day in the US who battle with life every day is a holdout. They have all chosen an alternative path of independence, occupying the nether space between form and void.

What do you not see when you close your eyes? “The Deepest you is the nothing side – the side which you don’t know,” Alan Watts.

True camouflage is the embedding of form in void or yin/yang. In 1976, (at the time Onoda left the Jungle) the sovereign US celebrated its bicentennial. As part of the celebration foreign countries gave gifts. Japan donated over 50 bonsai trees to the US National Arboretum. Included in the collection was a nearly 400-year-old Miyajima pine tree that was trained by many masters, passed down many generations from father to son, and a survivor of the Hiroshima bomb. It was given as a sign of peace – a true holdout. When the Japanese presented it they attributed no significance to the tree’s history or survival. In 2001, the grandchildren of the bonsai master Masaru Yamaki visited the arboretum looking for their grandfather’s tree and informed the curator of the covert act of peace.

How will you get the grace to get grace? Everything is as it is meant.

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