On 16th April 2018 I set out to paste up a six metre by three metre painting on a billboard in the heart of Digbeth, Birmingham, UK. News events at the time have sparked controversy, and I’ve been working on a scaled up version of an exhibition piece from the same time last year with the Distorted Minds Crew featuring a suicide dove. It seemed like the perfect storm to get this piece up.
“You can’t lambaste a sovereign country as despotic whilst in every way acting like a tyrant yourself.”
There are a number of factors that have brought me to this point, but ultimately it boils down to a complete breakdown in trust with our government. Or moreover, the realisation that clichés about bringing liberal democracy to the world and the abject failure of our foreign policy over the decades, are actually just a pretext for us as one of the largest arms manufacturers, to sell weapons to despotic regimes, to steal resources, to destabilise countries we consider a threat, and to posture on the world stage as though there were any semblance of the British Empire left.
At the time of writing this we find ourselves caught in what appears to be a proxy war with Russia, railing against the use of chemical weapons with no clear evidence, compounded by the fact that we sold Assad the precursor chemicals he’s alleged to have used to produce sarin back in 2012. The OPCW completed a survey of the site we bombed in 2017 and declared it safe. Do we know something they don’t? Why wasn’t that shared and left to an independent body that was awarded the Nobel peace prize for their work in eradicating chemical weapons? Footage of the aftermath of our strikes clearly show there were no chemicals on site, else where are the hazmat suits? The breathing apparatus? I want any military action to follow clear evidence, not hyperbole and hearsay, else it sets a very dangerous precedent for the future. Have we learned nothing from Iraq?
There’s been a complete disregard for international law and the convention that military action should follow a debate in parliament. Why were these air strikes conveniently pushed through whilst MP’s were on a break? Because ‘outsourcing’ decisions to a democratically elected body is no longer good enough, or worse, considered a hindrance? You can’t lambaste a sovereign country as despotic whilst in every way acting like a tyrant yourself.
That Britain ought to stand against international war crimes is justified, but only when applied universally. Why is it acceptable to attack Syria under some pretence of moral duty, when in the same week journalists and civilians are being shot by snipers in the West Bank with not a word of condemnation from our government? When we sell billions in arms to Saudi Arabia whilst it’s widely known those weapons have been used for atrocities in Yemen? This government has blood on it’s hands and must be held accountable! When Theressa May’s husband stands to directly benefit from these strikes as a shareholder in Lockheed Martin, one of the worlds largest arms manufacturers, we should be very fucking alarmed!
Theressa May has no parliamentary majority, and is now sabre rattling in an attempt to cover up her shambolic record on everything from health, crime, social care, welfare, Grenfell, Windrush, the list is endless. May’s dismissal of criticism as a desperate humanitarian effort flies in the face of fantasy. You have to build peace, and you can’t do that with explosives, especially if it’s because you just want to be seen to do something. When our foreign secretary admits that “air strikes will not turn the tide of the conflict”, what’s the point? Its funny we always have money for war, [6 million for 8 missiles!] but nurses have to use food banks and disabled people are killing themselves under the weight of being erroneously deemed fit to work.
There’s something deeply disturbing going on in this country and it frustrates me to the point I feel I need to speak out. My work “Death From A Dove” satirises the oxymoron fighting for peace. It portrays the reality of a world where the concept of peace has been rendered a hollow platitude served up to justify war. The last green leaf has fallen from the laurels, withered in the mouth of a suicide dove pulling the pin on a grenade. It’s presented in prime sight as a crime site, because that’s how I feel about what’s happening. It all seems so brazen! For me, it captures the hypocrisy and sense of hopelessness that pervades the current political climate.
Another busy few months recently, so I haven’t had too much time to post updates on my projects. I’ll be steadily updating this site once the summer’s quietened down, so expect a torrent of new work! In the meantime, here’s a run down of a few things I’ve been working on and some of the processes I’ve put myself through towards being able to paint more of my work freehand. I’ve levelled up a few times during the course of the last few commissions, by no means where I see myself needing to be, but it’s fulfilling to see some real progression after all these years. I’ve got the paint bug back in a big way and I’m really looking forward to throwing up some of the designs I’ve been working on recently! So, where to start …
The first notable step forward came after receiving a commission for Bulmers at The Junction pub in Harrow, London. I’d wondered into a small gallery in Moseley, Birmingham, and got talking to the artist [Ian Muir]. I mentioned that I did some artwork myself and he said he was looking for someone to do a photo-realistic commission, but I politely refused as it’s wasn’t something I considered myself able to do. I gave him a link to this site and thought nothing of it. A week or so later I received a phone call asking if I wanted the commission. I had a gig coming up in London for the UK Glitch Hop Awards in Finsbury Park that week, so it seemed fateful.
Initially, I was terrified about the prospect of painting the image I was given, but I’ve been trying to push myself out of my comfort zone recently, and from past experience, it’s at times like this that I make huge leaps forward in both skill and confidence. They’d given me a rough idea of what they wanted, I was ok to play around with the background a little, so long as there was a photo-realistic style bottle as the main focus of the piece. I’ve never painted anything like this, it’s my first professional painting commission, plus it was in a public space again where it would be seen, often. I was super nervous about taking this on, but the money was good, and sometimes you just have to jump and hope that you land well.
I had no choice but to go freehand for the background and the block coloured areas of the bottle, then to stencil in some of the text details. I figured no matter how bad my freehand work was, so long as the bottle proportions were ok, the stencils would sharpen up the image. This painting was a real challenge for me, but I’ve realised that so long as I spend a bit of time breaking down how I’m going to put things together, I don’t really struggle any more. I work best when I’m feeling confident, and this confidence often comes from planning ahead, so I now develop what I call retreat points. I plan for a point at which I can abandon the painting where both myself and the client will be happy. Anything past this point I consider to be extra detail and tidying up, a process that can be as long as a piece of string. In this case, I knew I only had to make the letters on the bottle stand out and I would be fine.
The only real problem I had was that the surface I had to paint was uneven and caused a few issues creating straight lines. Also, on the upstrokes I kept hitting my index finder which was really painful. I got around this by painting into the side of a piece of card to straighten up my lines in some places. It’s a technique I use quite a bit now, both for touching up and for creating super thin lines and details. Even though I had used some stencils for the text, due to the surface I ended up having to paint a fair bit of the detail by hand with a paintbrush and with some Posca’s. Obviously it’ not a carbon copy of the image I was given, but it was never going to be. For my first commission of this kind, I’m pretty pleased with it.
The next notable painting I did was for Big Noise Festival in London working with The Big Issue Foundation, where I was commissioned to paint a giant Kaishaku piece live at the event. I also played a Glitch Hop set later in the evening alongside a host of other incredible artists and acts. At this point I guess it’s a good time to explain a little more about why I’m painting samurai heads.
This first Kaishaku piece originated from my design for City Of Colours last September. I’m fascinated by the concept of honour, what it means to live honourably, and the similarities in perception that different warrior cultures have about respect. In Japanese culture, a Kaishakunin is an appointed executioner, or second, whose duty it is to behead a samurai who has committed seppuku, or ritualised suicide. Samurai would be given the opportunity to commit seppuku to preserve their honour if they had been considered to have disgraced themselves or in circumstances where defeat was certain. The role played by the Kaishakunin is known as Kaishaku. During battle, samurai would also collect the heads of their slain enemies as trophies and as a means to prove who they had killed so that they could reap the rewards of their victories from their lord.
This idea is still not yet a fully formed concept in my mind. What started out as a random scribbling in a sketchbook is slowly becoming something much bigger and I’m loving exploring this idea. For now though, it’s like having a word on the tip of your tongue, you know what you are trying to say, but lack the words to fully describe it. As such, I’m not going to explicate the idea fully here as I want to wait until I have a larger body of work to underpin the concept before I go into too much detail. Moving into my new studio means I can now think about painting the series of images I have planned at a decent size with a view to trying for an exhibition early next year. Ultimately, I’m going to sever the heads of my enemies through my art. Some will be given an honourable death, others will face my Shinobi Oniwaban…
Whilst I still used a couple of stencils for this painting, much of the work was undertaken freehand. I’m feeling loads more confident with my scale, proportion and line work these days, though I find that there’s a bit of an internal struggle going on between the graffiti and street artist in me. As a graffer and a bit of a purest, I find myself demanding I paint everything freehand, yet the street artist in me is a bit more liberal and considers it of no concern how an image is thrown up, so long as the final image is a good representation of the original concept. I think I’m resigned to still using stencils as and when the circumstances dictate it, but moving toward a more loose freehand style is something I’m determined to master.
Both this piece and the Bulmers commission are the biggest paintings I’ve ever undertaken and it’s taught me to be a little more free with my lines and has meant a much more pleasurable experience painting. I’m so used to making every line perfectly straight and precise from working with pen and paper that in many ways it has held me back. Painting big means you need to stand back more, and the kind of attention to detail my OCD’s require isn’t necessary at these scales. Below is a little video of the event where I make a little cameo at the beginning, but it really doesn’t reflect how epic this party was! So many good people lurking about showcasing their various talents for a very worthy cause. Respect to everyone involved! #tbnf15
Now that I’ve painted this character a few times it is becoming much easier, so I decided when I was asked to paint for City Of Colours at the Bromsgrove Summer Jam, that I would take a risk and go fully freehand. Like I said, it’s something I consider both challenging for myself and makes painting feel much more free. This wasn’t the only obstacle for the day though. I find it difficult to paint an image within a restricted space as it becomes much more difficult to get the scale right. For this event I would be painting the side of a skate ramp and this meant I would only be able to paint a small section of the face. I decided to make things a little easier for myself by photoshopping the samurai onto the image I’d been sent of the ramp I was going to paint. In this way I’d find it much easier to get the scale right. Well, that was the plan anyway!
What I learned from this experiment in freehand, was that getting the first outline correct before you start painting is critical. It’s worth spending extra time getting this right in the first place and taking your time, rather than rushing into the painting because people are watching and you feel you need to be making progress quickly. Almost every painting I’ve done over the last year has been in a live environment and at times the pressure of feeling like I’m being watched can cause me to panic and start making mistakes. What I find really helps in this respect is to listen to some music! It’s easy to escape into my own world listening to some beats and it definitely helps the painting flow, it’s loads more fun this way too. Somehow listening to old school Hip Hop albums and painting pictures just feels right! Admittedly I couldn’t paint as much of the face as I wanted onto the ramp, but I think it still came out well. I had to make the face a little bigger in the end as the ramp was much smaller than I had expected and I’m still working on getting those elusive thin lines. One detail that annoyed me was missing out part of the helmet, but the rain on the day meant we kept stopping and starting for hours, so I’m going to forgive myself this time as I doubt anyone else would have noticed.
This blog post is about documenting my first attempts at freestyle painting since my early 20’s. In that respect, it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t try out some graffiti. I’ve decided I don’t just want to do characters, I want to try to incorporate some of my old graffiti designs into my work somehow. So, as a little practice I hooked up with a few friends for a paint in Digbeth, Birmingham. This is the final piece of the jigsaw for me. If I can start to competently throw this piece up, I can start to hit some of the more complex designs I’ve been working on recently. The plan is to create bio-mechanoid samurai graffiti on a huge scale, where the abstract letter forms become part of the character. I’m still a long way off where I see this all going, but with each painting I’m pushing myself and learning fast with every outing.
I tried to keep this piece quite simple as I didn’t want to go crazy on the first attempt. The lines are fairly clean, but I’ll be looking to include a bunch of robot elements, like pipes and vents etc, to add more detail. One thing I know I definitely need to work on is my use of colours and how to fill in my letters, but I think adding the mech parts will sort that out. Like I say, there’s still a long way to go, but having a destination in mind has pushed me forward in leaps and bounds this past 10 months. There are so many more projects I want to talk about, but that’s for another time.
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.
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.
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.
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.