Just before New Year 2019 I was invited down to the BBC Studios in London to create a piece of art for their tech based science show, Click Live. What I didn’t realise, was that I would also be making history! I wont go into too much detail, as much of the information about the project is contained within the program itself, but that day I would become the first person in the world to paint using synthetic DNA that contained stored data.
Massive Attack had commissioned a series of cans of spray paint containing this unique paint as part of their anniversary celebrations. My role within the show was to produce a piece of art using the DNA paint to help demonstrate potential uses for the technology in front of a live studio audience. I wanted to stay true to the initial concept artwork featuring the beetle, but with some simple details, like a helix, some DNA sequencing and a cracked microscope slide to add a graffiti stylisation in keeping with the theme of the piece. In total I only had about 3 hours to work on the painting, but thankfully it came together without too much drama.
Following on from the live show, I was interviewed in my studio space as part of a TV special that would further explore this incredible technology. Below are links to both the live show, and the special feature:
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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.