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City Of Colours // Cartography & The Samurai Sword Saint

I’ve covered a fair amount of my background in my first couple of posts, but it’s over the last 8 months or so that both my production and style have really kicked off. I think the first noticeable leap forward came when I was asked to get involved with Street Art Birmingham again to paint at the pilot of their City Of Colours Street Art Festival last summer.  It was shaping up to be something really positive for the city, so I jumped at the opportunity to get involved. I don’t really know what I was thinking, I’d never tried anything like this before. I’d hardly painted anything in 10 years, let alone in front of an audience at what ended up being one of the biggest paint jams in the country that year. I was initially asked to paint at the festival, but also volunteered to produce a series of maps to be used to direct people to the huge array of activities, venues and artist locations for the event.

Void One - City Of Colours Artist Location Map
City Of Colours Map © Void One 2014

I’m really proud of these maps, they broke my mind with the hours I spent on them! Again, I had never done anything like this before. I’m ashamed to say, that after 15 years using Photoshop, I hadn’t really bothered with the pen tool. So, I painstakingly mapped a good portion of the city centre and the Digbeth area, plus a floor plan of the Custard Factory complex that was acting as a base from which to explore the festival. It was incredibly difficult deciding which roads to keep or omit and what were the quickest and simplest routes from the city centres transport facilities. I’ve mastered using the pen tool now!

An affordable art market was planned, so I started a few images with a view to getting them printed and sold on the day. Work on the maps took much longer than I had planned, so I focused on finishing the print I was going to use as a template for what I would eventually paint. I’d had success with a few mech samurai designs and it was a theme I wanted to explore more, but I’d never produced one digitally. The result shocked me. I had, in my mind, never produced anything near this quality. I was now really excited about the festival, if not slightly terrified of the prospect of trying to recreate this live.

Samurai Sword Saint - 2014 © Void One
Samurai Sword Saint – 2014 © Void One

A plan was needed, fast. I decided that the best thing to do would be blocking out the odd key area of colour, some with pre-created stencils, some by masking areas off with tape, and the rest hand drawn with acrylic pens or painted freehand. I figured if I applied the same processes I use in Photoshop to the painting, I should be fine. I had no idea how long this was going to take, I’d only finished the print I intended to paint two days before the festival and I had a ton of prep to do. I had no time for a test run as the festival was fast approaching. I was exhausted, having spent much of the two weeks leading up to the festival working to the point of virtual collapse.

A last minute rush of adrenaline saw me arrive at the festival bright and early and a series of triple espressos helped me navigate the process of obtaining my paint. My home for the day was in the car park of The Old Crown, the oldest secular building in Birmingham. Beer was on tap, my mates from Brum Town and Jam Hott were arriving to provide the music, the sun was shining, I was high on caffeine and sleep deprivation, this was going to be a laugh!

Schoolboy error, not the best start. I’d decided to fill in the background using sprays, but faced with the size of the space I had to paint [8 x 8 feet], I realised I didn’t have enough and I had no cash to buy more. Mild panic ensued. Some of the other artists were arriving and thankfully I managed to blag some spare black acrylic and a roller from a very generous Miss Wah who was painting opposite me. I figured so long as I painted the face really well, I could abstract the rest of the body and it would still look ok. Whatever time I had left could be spent adding as many details as I could fit in.

I’d chosen a great spot right next to the beer garden and after being consumed by painting for a couple of hours, I looked up and the venue was heaving. People were enquiring about my painting and I received some great feedback. I had a few pints kindly brought for me and soaked up the atmosphere. I was loving this! I probably did a little more chatting than I should have, but it was impossible not to get wrapped up in proceedings.

A couple of no more than 10 year olds took over the decks with a stack of their own vinyl in tow. They absolutely smashed it in front of an astonished crowd, myself included. It’s moments like this that really made the event stand out for me, it was incredibly inclusive. There were three generations of families milling about happily, no matter their colour, creed, or roots.

Void One - City Of Colours 2014 - Samurai Sword Saint 2

The light was fading and I had to be at work imminently. It would be 12 more hours before I had any hope of sleep! I was working at a venue right next to the festival, which was really handy! I finished at 7am and headed back to the site to check out my work having not really had any time to take it all in, plus the light towards the end had made it difficult to see properly. At first I hated it. A typical reaction to something I have just created. I took some photographs and proceeded to head back to my studio to die. The next day I had the terrors, but I was still buzzing and thankful that a few people had captured some better snaps than me.

Something I have learned for the future is to try to stay more focused on throwing the painting up early with the live stuff so that by the time people arrive, I’m just filling in details, and there wont be so much pressure to finish. I wish I’d had more time to include the hand holding the sword, but generally speaking, I’m really pleased with how this turned out! It wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly unique! It was my first painting for a decade, so I wasn’t about to destroy myself over it, and I now had the paint bug back! From this project onward I began to find it much easier to translate my ideas to an end product that I’m happy with. I am much more confident because of this experience, and it was one of the best events I’ve been to, or been part of. I’ve felt for a very long time that Birmingham was under-rated and had more to offer than just curries, canals, and faceless chain store shopping experiences. Birmingham represented in full force that day, so respect to the team behind it, all the artists, and of course everyone who made it down to be part of a phenomena I hope continues long in to the future.

I’d set the bench pretty high for myself now and I felt compelled to do more artwork. I wrote a list of images I wanted to tackle and projects I wanted to get started on, but they can wait, for now.

If you’d like to see more, I managed to get a cheeky mention in this article for the Huffington Post which is a great write up of the broader event. Else, don’t forget to check out the City Of Colours website for news about their plans for 2015.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/olly-macnamee/birmingham-city-swimming-in-colour_b_5793190.html

Void One_

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Tetsuo – The Mandlebrot Mech // My Early Work

My earliest finished pieces were graffiti. I have no pictures really, other than a bunch of outlines and a couple of mech inspired sketches. I would love to see my early work again, though I probably overestimate it’s quality in hindsight. However, it was these early experiments with graffiti that set the foundation for all my later work.

Void One - Ghetto Blaster
Ghetto Blaster – © Void One 2005

It has been a long standing practice to get an image to the outline stage, then photocopy it for inking and colouring. It’s a confidence thing, it gives me a chance to experiment a little and I can always ‘undo’, something I have become accustom to as a safety net from my digital work. As a side note, I often find myself internally commanding undo in real life instances, if only. So, I had a bunch of photocopies of my graff outlines. I was bored at work one day and began to cut up my copies into small pieces of mech. I began to glue them together to form these strange shapes, Tetsuo was born.

Void One - Tetsuo Mk1
Tetsuo Mk1 © Void One 2006

I called the work Tetsuo because as the robot blob evolved, it reminded me of one of my favourite manga films, Akira. In particular, the end scene where Tetsuo becomes Akira, looses control and goes nuclear.  As Tetsuo attempted to regenerate his failing body, he mutates and his form is suddenly thrown into chaos. I was studying philosophy at the time, specialising in philosophy of science, and was fascinated by the principles of chaos theory. Put simply, chaos theory holds that even in the most simple circumstances, under which we know every detail of how a system will behave, such a system still has the capacity to behave unpredictably.  This principle is encapsulated in the Mandlebrot Set, or fractal patterns. In a fractal, even very simple patterns, when repeated to infinity, create an emergent complexity. So, I took my simple pieces of mech graffiti and repeated them many times to give rise to an emergent complex mechanical form. A form from which I drew parallels with the mutating globules of flesh that Tetsuo became before his ultimate demise.

Void One - Tetsuo Vs The Nebulae
Void One – Tetsuo Vs The Nebulae © Void One 2011

I liked where this was all going, and I began to make more bespoke pieces of mech to incorporate into the chaos. Tetsuo Vs The Nebulae became my first commissioned piece, and I now had a system of templates that enabled me to quickly knock out images, aesthetically pleasing to the eye, yet still looking raw, with plenty of splattered paint for good measure! The photocopies got larger and larger, and so did the pieces, so I took my work back to the street for some wheat pasting. Yes, that is my can of Red Stripe.

Void One - Tetsuo Street Apparel
Void One – Tetsuo Street Apparel // Brick Lane, London, 2009
Void One - Tetsuo Street Apparel
Void One – Tetsuo Street Apparel // Digbeth, Birmingham, 2011

It’s interesting, because the strides forward I have made over the last few years aren’t wholly down to me, per se. I feel more a victim of circumstantial happenstance than anything. I travelled to India, not to find myself, just by invitation, but I did discover something about myself on the beaches of Goa and the temples at Hampi. Seeing the gap between such abject poverty and opulent wealth living side by side in Mumbai was shocking, but the more I travelled, the more I saw that many of the people I met, who had absolutely nothing, were still seemingly happy. After a week or so, my hyperactive inclination to always have to be doing something subsided. So, on a beach in India, I watched the dolphins and sat and I sketched, for hours. I rediscovered that I really didn’t need much more than my creativity to be happy, and that my creativity was one of the few things in my life that had true value. Something that has stuck with me to this day.

Kali - Goddess Of Time And Redeemer Of Souls
Kali – Goddess Of Time And Redeemer Of Souls © Void One 2010

Upon my return I set up Beta Birmingham. A record label and media outlet I conceived to “diffuse twisted barrages of nefarious bass glitches and stuttered syncopation from the Midlands elite electronic producers”. I wasn’t happy back home, but rather than sit and moan about what was lacking in my home town, I wanted to be proactive in being part of the solution. It’s no good moaning about something that’s missing, if you aren’t prepared to do something about it!

Void One - Chemical Coercion
Chemical Coercion 2014 © Void One / Beta Test Records

I was getting much better at my digital work and releases on the label forced me to meet deadlines, something I had always struggled to do. It was at this point that I began to experiment with creating more obvious forms such as my Binary Mechanoid Chaos piece, meant to represent the duality of nature, chaos, the Yin Yang. I don’t think I have, as yet, fully explored this style, but for now I needed to switch things up. I was fully back on the artwork, with renewed vigour, and I felt that just copying and pasting my old work together, whilst creating something new, was not very progressive.

Void One - Binary Mechanoid Chaos
Binary Mechanoid Chaos – © Void One 2011

My album artwork was getting some attention before long and I was asked to take part in an exhibition for Street Art Birmingham, at which, all the artists worked with broken and used skateboards. I had only ever exhibited my work once before! This time out I was going for characters, for some reason I decided on Samurai.

Void One - Beta Skateboard // Street Art Birmingham
Void One – Beta Skateboard // Street Art Birmingham 2014 © Void One

By no means prolific, samurai mechs became my thing. I still wince away from looking at many of these images, as they feel really dated. In samurai I became fascinated by the concept of honour, but that’s another story. It gets much more interesting from here …

Void One_

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Welcome // Return To The Void

I’m Void One – A mixed media graphic artist from Birmingham, UK. I specialise in mech style samurai graphics and abstract robotic landscapes.

I’ve set up this blog as a means to document my thought processes and work flow. This is the most public I’ve ever been about my life, and it will probably be the only time I cover my history in this way. This isn’t meant to read as some bleeding hearts, feel sorry for me diatribe against things that haven’t gone my way. However, these things define me, and my work.  It’s been cathartic writing this, and I hope it brings some context. I realise that people like to see the working out, the background story, and this is mine…

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I’m from a broken home, all the worst council estates in my city, a product of gang violence and petty recriminations.  I could so easily have ended up residing at her majesty’s pleasure. I was an angry, partially deaf, hyperactive child, given sedatives at the age of two, that failed my secondary school education spectacularly, due in no small part to over-looked dyslexia. This didn’t stop me from getting an education, I wanted to learn, I had just never been taught how to, or why it was even relevant. Shitting statistics and memorising facts was virtually impossible for me, so I played the fool. Art was my only release from the stresses of a childhood fraught with avoidable confusion, upheaval and debilitating lung illnesses. I knew when I left school that I had to do something with my life, so I pursued a course in design, media and communication. I have never looked back.

It wasn’t until I went to University to study a bachelors degree in Philosophy that my dyslexia was finally picked up. I’d never attempted anything so heavily academic, and it became obvious that something was wrong. I was sent to Coventry to undertake tests, an irony only my native Brummies will understand. Once confirmed, I understood where my anger had stemmed from my whole life, my inability to communicate properly. I passed my degree, but more than that, I now knew who I was, and I had the confidence to express it, well, and at times very loudly. I’m a punk at heart after all! It is impossible for me to describe the sense of relief and freedom I gained in discovering that there where practical tools at my disposal to help me, that I wasn’t just stupid.  I hardly struggle with my dyslexia now and, if anything, it has become a source of entertainment. The reason I’m being so public about it this, is that I had no support. If I had, I know my development would be far in advance of what it is. If I had known sooner, I probably wouldn’t have spent so much of my time on self destruct. If I can in some way help other people through my shared experience, it was not in vain.

At the same time as studying my degree, I began training Southern Shaolin Steel Wire Mantis Kung Fu. A legitimate full contact Shaolin Style that can trace it’s lineage back to the styles founder and Shaolin Temple itself. I studied for 5 years and became a disciple of the school at grey sash level. It is this training that taught me the discipline I needed to focus, I had no focus, and this was the reason I had never really finished anything. I grew up here, and I will be eternally grateful to the people at this school.

Art, both martially and creatively, have  been my meditation for as long as I can remember. A chance to switch off from the chaos of my own internal dialogue, to unlock a sense of self fulfillment that only I have control over, a way of challenging both myself and my preconceptions. It is the only true peace I have ever known.

For the last decade I have been predominantly producing Electronica under the alias Terrorbyte and putting together releases for the various record labels I founded. [Beta Birmingham / Beta Test Records] During this time, my artwork took a back seat, a skill set only dusted off to produce the occasional album sleeve or event flyer, and a little wheat pasting when I found the time. In the last 12 months my workflow has improved considerably. I find myself ‘returning to the void’, Void One being a pseudonym I used to use for my graffiti and spoken word poetry slams back in the day, meant to represent the at times extreme binary nature of my experience, things are rarely just normal in my world.

I find myself working on whole concepts rather than random images for shits and giggles at the moment. No longer are my ideas abandoned as light drafts or simple outlines to be finished ‘tomorrow’. I’m actually finishing my pieces and seeing things to their natural conclusion, there is no greater sense of satisfaction. I now work by hand to produce line drawings that are often then coloured digitally, though my ink work is coming on in leaps and bounds. Moving forward, I’m  recreating my digital work, using vector stylization, with spray paint and acrylic pens, performing at live paint jams and undertaking paid commission work. It is only now, at the tender age of 33, that my work feels like it is finally coming together! My style comes from experimentation with graffiti in my late teens and my love for cartoons and terrible B movies. Anything with Kung Fu, zombies, samurai, ninja, gangsters, robots or post apocalyptic visions of the future, but preferably all at the same time.

My first mission is to upload some of my old ‘Tetsuo’ pieces, a body of more abstract and passively aesthetic works, followed by my more contemporary commissions and projects. The rest is still to be written. I don’t know where this is going, I’m just enjoying the ride. You’re welcome to join me.

Void One_