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I’ve been reluctant to associate myself with this project for some time, not least because I was arrested before new year and needed to be cautious about the way I intended to proceed until I had jumped through all the necessary legal hoops. This is without doubt the most daring of my protest campaigns, but also the one I feel most strongly about.

Let me set the scene…

It’s Christmas 2018. The queen sits in front of a golden piano, on a golden chair, preaching to her subjects about poverty in the UK. Condemned by the UN for cuts to public services and benefits that disproportionately affect the least well-off, the conservative government is in breach of its human rights obligations.

The tory austerity narrative has been utterly refuted. Worse still, declared ‘social murder’ by a peer reviewed study from Lancaster University. UCL research links health and social care spending cuts since 2010 to 120,000 excess deaths in England alone.  14 million people, over a fifth of the country are in poverty, with a record 60% of those in poverty in work, the highest figure yet recorded. The governments own research indicates that a shocking 4.1 million of those in poverty are also children.

As the brutal impact of DWP policy on the lives of people close to me and thousands more becomes clear, witnessing first hand the turmoil created by a regime of devastating sanctions and chaos over the switch to universal credit.  Seeing the pain and unnecessary suffering brought to bear by this government upon the most vulnerable in our society, it’s safe to say there’s something sinister going on in this country.

At a time when disability benefit claimant suicide rates have doubled to 43%, nearly half!  When the disabled and terminally ill are being declared “fit for work” in the face of overwhelming medical evidence, there is no question that this is an ideologically driven program of social cleansing. 70% of appeal cases are subsequently overturned, wasting thousands in unnecessary legal fees, as claimants are sanctioned starving or freezing to death in their own homes, DWP officials are claiming 44 million in performance related bonuses.

“It’s clear that our institutions are broken, not fit for purpose, and in need of serious and urgent reform.”

When homelessness is a crime, when poverty reigns on the streets of one of the richest countries on the planet. When homelessness has risen by a shocking 165%, and people are freezing to death on the steps of parliament, it’s time for immediate action, not platitudes about “strong and stable leadership” or  any of the countless sound bites regurgitated in parliament or the media to avoid answering for their criminal legacy. Public opinion must make it clear that we will not accept this!

When our elected representatives outright lie to both the public and parliament with impunity. After repeated scandals, U turns and systemic failures, conflicts of interest, and the first government in British history to be found in contempt of parliament, they laugh and jeer when questioned about the impact of leaving the life opportunities of a generation in tatters. No mandate to govern, no real majority within their own party, let alone parliament, desperately clinging to power through bribery, deceit & electoral fraud. Compassionate conservatism laid bare.

It is against this backdrop that on the 21st December 2018 I took it upon myself to paint FIT FOR WORK in 40 metre wide letters across the front windows of the Department for Work and Pensions. They’ve tried to cover up these protests in the past, as if that would in some way hide the reality of their savage policies. A metaphor for how they’ve ignored the real human toll of their actions. So it needed to be said much louder!

“DWP, more like The Department for Wealth and Privilege, because if you don’t own property, and or fall on hard times, you might as well be invisible, better yet, dead.”

I was ultimately caught mid operation and only managed to get part of the slogan up, and there’s a video link of the police chase at the bottom of the page if you fancy a laugh, but this statement still begs the question, what is this institution “fit for”?

I was given a caution for criminal damage, conditional on the attendance of a victim awareness course and a fine of £60. The suggestion that the victim in this situation is in any way the DWP is scandalous! The crass insensitivity demonstrated here is frightening. Yes, I could have been punished more harshly, and I accept that. I thank the police for dealing with me in a respectful way, despite cuts to their own funding that have left them threadbare and completely under resourced, which was why I was taken to Oldbury, because they were understaffed everywhere else. 

However, this country has a rich history of protesting that has lead to many of the freedoms we enjoy today, and it is our collective responsibility to stand up against these gross and systemic violations of peoples fundamental rights. It was infuriating to hear the police defend the DWP with statements like “you can’t fight the system”, “what’s the point?”. I explained how many of the most disgusting crimes in Human history were legal, from slavery to the holocaust, and that our government was complicit in mass murder, but I wasn’t about to change any minds. They exist to protect the very system I was fighting against.

I’ve not long completed the victim awareness course, that was meant to help me “gain an understanding of the effects of my behavior and learn to make informed decisions that will reduce my risk of re-offending”, but all it did was present me with an opportunity to discuss what real victim-hood was in a room full of people who ultimately congratulated me for my work, and suggested I should run for local MP. I think it’s clear from what has already been said here, that this was by no means an ill-informed decision. I would readily give up my liberty if I felt that it could in some small way make a difference. So, will I re-offend? Until this villainous scum are either removed from office, or brought to justice, I’d pretty much promise it!

For the future I’ll be working with The Hemp Trading Company to bring the Fit For Work concept to a series of T-shirts where 100% of the profit from these designs will go to charity, but I need your help. I’m selling Fit For Work sticker packs in store now as a means to both fund future protests, and so that you too can get involved! As we move toward what I see as an inevitable general election, we must make sure that issues like this are at the forefront of public conscience when considering who to vote for. We can not endure another 3 years of crippling austerity under the tories.

Click on the image below for sticker packs:

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It’s fair to say I’ve been sitting on this project for what feels like an eternity! I’ve dropped a couple of hints via some of my other blog posts, but it’s finally been unleashed. Many moons ago I was commissioned by Shamanic Technology to produce some album artwork for a project he was working on. I had already previously worked with him via my exploits with UK Glitch Hop and had released one of his tracks on Beta Test Record‘s debut vinyl ‘Chemical Coercion’, so it was nice to produce something for him in return. There was no real brief per-se, but the title of the album was ‘Shadow Work’, and as such, my mind was immediately drawn to Ninja. Evidently, I am that predictable, but it was a no brainer as far as I was concerned!

I like to extensively research my subject matter, especially if I have an excuse to sit and watch low rate ninja films & documentaries! As I trawled through Japanese history, I came across a fascinating tale of the Oniwaban, or garden keepers, an elite group of undercover agents established by the 8th Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune (1684–1751). I loved the idea of these ninja hiding in plain sight whilst guarding the Shogun, and so I decided to take the oni, or demon, mask from my samurai character and adapt it for this project.

I had been asked to produce an image that would cover the inlay of a CD sleeve which is 12 x 24cm. Due to the awkward shape of the image, I decided to produce a short comic that would show the Oniwaban executing his duties in a storyboard of crimson! I’m a big fan of hiding details within my work that may often be overlooked. As such, I thought it would be a nice touch to incorporate a short haiku, each cell representing one line of a three line stanza.

It took me a good week to finalise the haiku and accompanying imagery. Once the idea had properly set in my mind, I went to work on the first, largest of the three, and what would become the most challenging drawing I have produced to date. This cell was to represent the Oniwaban lurking in the shadows awaiting the opportunity to enact his swift, merciless reckoning.

I had originally intended to go with my usual process of producing an outline, then colouring it, either by hand or on Photoshop, but this time I wanted to challenge myself and attempt to dot shade and keep the drawing black on white. I don’t know why I do it to myself, but I seem to always add these extra obstacles during projects for other people, when time is a factor, and in situations where there is little room for error. It took me weeks of dot shading to produce the first image!!

Void One - Shinobi Oniwaban 3

It was good to see a black and white drawing to completion and it’s something I’m trying to do much more of late. I really want to enter Secret Walls at some point, so working in black on white is something I’m keen to master, if not within a much shorter time frame! Having said that, I recently performed some live drawing at what was The Bulls Head pub in Moseley, Birmingham, for Canvas. I recklessly decided to try drawing this character live and was surprised by the result. It still took me a good 4 / 5 hours to complete, but being in a packed bar is hardly helpful when trying to be productive!  I wish I’d added some details in the background, but all things considered, I count this as a win. I’ve had to add my name as this image was cropped for Instagram and I can’t find the original. Incidentally, I’m now on Instagram! Just search for voidoneuk.

Void One - Shinobi Oniwaban Live at Canvas

Anyway, we digress. I decided to edit the the main cell in Photoshop by changing the spiked hand claws to look a little more brutal and to make the oni mask red so it looked more demonic. I used speed lines to accentuate the face, like a kind of halo, and added some glow to the moon. For some reason I had given the character massive gums, so I decided to clear this up too.

Void One - Shinobi Oniwaban Master

I realised there was no way I could produce the other two images in the style of the first cell as I’d still be producing the artwork now, so I adopted a more familiar technique for the final two cells and just stuck to simple outlines and colouring on Photoshop. One cell was to represent the Oniwaban murking his prey, unseen apart from a trail full of blood splats. The final cell would represent the victims soul transcending this world and returning to the infinite void, staring into the abyss that is death. I had originally intended the victims head to be flying off with blood pissing into a vortex to hell, but it proved a little difficult to realise and was apparently too gory, so I kept it simple and stuck with a spiral. It was a really nice compliment that one of the tracks was renamed ‘Return To The Void’ in homage to the artwork.

I’m loving the noire feel to the work and the contrast between the black & white with the red blood splatters is really effective at creating movement in the images. Something I’ve also learned, especially in creating comic style imagery, is the use of speed lines. Really simple to create, speed lines almost instantly make the image jump out of the page and are great for filling up backgrounds, especially for action scenes. In the end, I took out the majority of them whilst I was experimenting, but I fully realise their potential for the future.

Void One - Shadow Work Final Small

So, the final work, including the haiku [Click on the image to enlarge]. It’s odd looking at the image now, as I can see so many ways that I would improve it. It would have been nice to keep the smoke emanating eerily from the blade, and also to have maybe worked more on the flowers to be perhaps falling from a cherry blossom tree, or something of that ilk. It was really challenging to fit everything in such an awkward space, but it just means I’ll have to revisit this piece to incorporate all the crazy ideas I came up with. Having said that, I’m really pleased with how this turned out! This project has both given me a new character to explore in the future, and also shown me a glimpse of the possibilities that may be achieved through dot shading.

That’s only my contribution to this project, but there is so much more to be found over at Shamanic Technology’s Indiegogo campaign page!! As well as a double LP of some seriously fresh neuro inspired Electronica, there are also the artistic stylings of fellow Brummie Cujo Cussler, plus Mantis Mash, “Hare” Krishna Malla, Sponge & Ben Leonard. The campaign only has a few days left to run, so please check out the links below and help materialise this epic collaboration.

Shamanic Technology – Shadow Work Indiegogo Campaign

Void One_