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OPERATION PEACE TAKE_

I wasn’t sure whether I was going to write this piece up to be part of my portfolio. It’s hard to produce political stuff like this as I worry it can come across as cliche. However, on a cold November evening, the seeds of dissent were sewn in my mind and Operation Peace Take was conceived.

I love how my ideas manifest themselves. Small snippets of information about the remembrance commemorations had been steadily seeping into my subconscious, but it was actually a football story that got the proverbial ball rolling. Some footballer was being castigated about not wanting to wear a red poppy because he was Irish and felt that to commemorate what he saw as an occupying force was wrong. This news story resonated with me and made me remember that the red poppy wasn’t solely about the great war, that there existed a white poppy which represented an opposition to war and a commitment to peace as a core cultural value.

The red poppy is traditionally seen as an emblem of Remembrance Day, their red colour symbolising blood spilled in the first world war. Yet, in the years that have followed, it has come to symbolise a broader remembrance of all armed forces personnel who have laid down their lives in service to their country. By excluding the non-military victims of war from remembrance, the red poppy upholds a moral hierarchy of worthy and unworthy victims. The heroic soldier who is worthy of respect, official commemoration and national pride, and the unworthy, unnamed civilian killed or maimed by the heroic soldier who remains faceless, unacknowledged and unremembered.

The red poppy is intimately tied up with a series of myths about heroic sacrifice and necessary violence perpetuated by a monopolized media led sensationalism that fuels a naive and ignorant patriotism. The truth is that war is vicious , bloody, inglorious, and that the soldiers we remember are there to kill and maim fellow human beings. The truth is that many of our wars are nothing to do with freedom, liberty, or democracy. They are often illegal, and predatory in their conquest of resources, lobbied by corporations with a vested interest in the perpetuation of a continual state of war for profit. The images of politicians, and the royal family laying wreaths at the cenotaph to commemorate the slaughter of millions of people, used as fodder to maintain the class privileges which they enjoy, is truly an act of shameful hypocrisy!

People from all over the world had been travelling to London to see the tower poppies exhibition, where ceramic poppies were used to fill the moat of the tower of London to represent our glorious dead from the ‘great’ war. So, with all this simmering away in my mind, I decided to plant a few huge white poppies at this now world famous tourist attraction. I was cautious about how I was going to tackle this because it was imperative I didn’t portray myself as disrespectful. This protest was out of a greater respect for all victims of conflict, whilst denouncing the current climate of militaristic values that celebrate a history that ought to be a source of shame.

This wouldn’t be easy, however, as the exhibition was about to be taken down and I had literally no money. If I wanted to get on this idea, I had 24 hours to do it! I needed some cash, a lift, or both. I decided to put out a post on Facebook asking for people to buy some of my left over prints from City Of Colours. I didn’t want people to give charity. I was overwhelmed by how many people came forward to donate! I had been incredibly vague in the post about what I was going to do. It simply read:

“ALERT: I NEED YOUR HELP! I have an art terror installation i’d like to throw down tomorrow in London. This promises to be the most poignant piece i’ve ever done. I have all the materials ready to go but no funds to get there! I need either a lift to the big smoke or to raise £40 by tomorrow as it’s a proper last minute dash to get this done. I’m not asking you to give me the money. I have prints, canvas’, CD’s & vinyl for sale via the links below.”

I achieved the £40 mark, then called it a day, though I was still being offered more money for the next 24 hours! I can’t thank people enough for supporting this project blindly. I have some incredibly trusting friends, else they just wanted to see me get arrested! With the cash in my account, I began making 2 giant white poppies out of cardboard. [I rightly decided against the initial white paint bombs idea] They were an exact copy of the red poppy only about 3ft and 5ft in height! I’d managed to find someone to take some photographs and booked my tickets. It was now very early in the morning, but Operation Peace Take was a go!

I ‘d been awake all night trying to make the poppies, but they weren’t finished. I decided nothing was going to prevent me from doing this now I’d come this far, so I took the poppies in bits and planned to put them together once I arrived. I needed to find a paint shop, the poppies needed another coat of white and I had decided to splatter the poppies with red paint and a red hand print that I felt represented blood on the hands of those responsible for sending generations to their slaughter. Once I’d dealt with the mission for paint, I dutifully headed toward the tower of London.

I love that feeling just before I’m about to cause some trouble. A heightened state of awareness, high on adrenaline. I had to wait for my photographer to arrive, so I cased the security and possible locations for me to place the poppies. It was going to be a doddle! It makes me laugh to think no one saw me coming a mile off, I was being so blatant. I finished painting my poppies right in front of the tower with spray paint flying everywhere, there was every chance I would get caught red handed!

Void One - Red Handed

The photographer arrived, it was showtime. I’d chosen to get my white poppies as far into the metaphorical river of blood as possible because they would be impossible to remove. The plan was for my photographer to follow me to view my locations, then for us to split up. I would go in first, they would then follow shortly afterwards to take the images, hidden amongst the countless other people taking tourist snaps. I wasn’t bothered about getting arrested, as it would mean a much bigger story. I would try to avoid it, but I didn’t want to get my photographer in trouble. They decided to remain anonymous.

Sadly, the largest of the poppies broke up and was removed almost immediately, but one of them was right in the fray. A perfect location! It would have been nicer if the red hand could have been made out, or that the poppy was a little more clear to see. Perhaps there should have been more of them, yet the sight of the lone poppy almost made it more significant as a beacon of hope among a brutal reminder of our imperial past. In the weeks that followed, I was inundated with theories about how I had broken in, or whether I had used a drone. The truth is, I’m not going to tell you. It’s much more fun that way! I love a bit of intrigue. If someone guesses correctly, I promise I will admit as much! It’s hilarious, because no one really noticed me do it, bar one disgruntled citizen that chastised me as ‘silly’. The deed was done, and it was time for a celebratory pint before the journey home.

Void One - Operation Peace Take 5

The photographs had turned out perfectly. They were later sent out to literally hundreds of journalists, blogs, news broadcasters and newspapers. Sadly, the only people who ran with the story, or even replied, were more obvious institutions like The White Poppies For Peace Organisation and The Stop The War Coalition, even though I pretended at times to be an offended member of the public, morally outraged at the heinous disrespect shown to our troops.

I think it’s time for an honest debate about the morality of our wars and their justification, our role in the world, and time for transparency and accountability by governments for their actions. I found it disgusting that less than a week after the poppies were removed, a private dinner was held at the tower of London for all the major players in the British arms trade. It’s astonishingly crass and I’m ashamed of my country and our role as a major arms dealer. I’m a little disappointed that the story didn’t cause more of a stink, but in retrospect, I guess it was naive to think that anyone would run it. Nevertheless, I hadn’t done anything this subversive for a while and I was proud to have done something I had real conviction in. I have many more excursions planned for the summer.

Void One_

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/the-crass-insensitivity-of-towers-luxury-dinner-for-arms-dealers-days-after-poppy-display-9888507.html

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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_