An Artist's Renderings of Our Future Cities (If Everything Goes Wrong)

Let Michael Kerbow take you on a tour of today's dystopian milieu, and extrapolate us all into a frightening techno-induced future.

by DJ Pangburn
Aug 28 2014, 7:20pm

Their Refinement of the Decline. Image: Michael Kerbow

If you've never visualized dystopia, just look around. Visit a mega farm in California, a body of water near an industrial plant, or simply walk around Manhattan and let the rapidly evolving island for the rich, jet-setting class seep into your consciousness.

If that doesn't do the trick, San Francisco-based artist Michael Kerbow is here to take you on a tour of today's dystopian milieu, and then extrapolate it all into a techno-induced future.

Take Kerbow's Portents series. It's a dark and mesmerizing window into humanity's near and distant futures. On a thematic level, it deals variously with climate change, pollution, over-population, and humanity's Icarus and Tower of Babel-like drive to create new technologies; all toward perhaps some undefined and maybe even non-existent dream. 

It's the sort of work that science fiction fans dig, that would keep Al Gore up at night (for good reason), and forces skeptics into paroxysms of climate change denial.

In Gyre, a nod perhaps to the Pacific Trash Vortex, cars spin in a gigantic whirlpool. Kerbow's pencil and paper work on A New Religion resembles the recently-passed H.R. Giger, with monotone, industrial grays that depict some sort of a factory or plant growing heavenward. 

Gyre (study). Image: Michael Kerbow.

And with Diminishing Returns, an endless city surrounds a circular sink hole, conveying the idea that as distant as our urban environments and populations might grow, some entropic counterforce always exerts a pressure on that expansion.

Diminishing Returns. Image: Michael Kerbow.

Other times, like in his Consumption series, Kerbow creates surreal depictions of humanity's unparalleled capacity to consume biological life for food. His most recent series, the hyper-imaginative Aberrations, is surreal in a way that calls to mind the darkly apocalyptic work of 15th century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch.

Churn. Image: Michael Kerbow.

And then there's the Hollow Pursuits series, which envisions humans having exploited and developed every bit of land to build skyscrapers and freeways, with the last frontier of development being subterranean Earth. 

Hollow Pursuits. Image: Michael Kerbow.

By the looks of Diminishing Returns (above), it seems as though Earth's core is overheating, but that could just be the electric glow of one huge planetary city. What's also interesting here is that Kerbow flips the hollow Earth theory on its head: humans, not some magical force, are hollowing out the planet. 

Kerbow's a bit less convincing as a visionary dystopian when he fixates on freeways and piles of unused cars. Even so, these paintings—Churn, Hive, and Compulsive Actions—are still a wonder to look at, and certainly worthy as satirical commentary.

Which is all to say, one can only hope Kerbow is proven wrong.

Compulsive Actions. Image: Michael Kerbow.