I WAS A PRISONER IN YOUR SKULL

This one comes from the deepest, darkest bowels of my archives. Painted sometime between 2005-2008, this was made using an MDF panel. I have absolutely no idea what happened to it, but if I had to guess I’d say it was sanded off and painted over with something else that I also no longer remember. Sigh. The story of my creative life, I guess. The title comes from the last album by the Gira/Jarboe version of Swans.

Swans – I Was A Prisoner In Your Skull

FRIED EAGLE MIND

What an irresistible title to make a painting from. This is from the 2010 Altar series, inspired by the 2006 SunnO))) & Boris album. It’s yet another painting I can’t recall the fate of, but it’s included in the 2011 book I published, collecting all the paintings I made, together with drawings, photography and text, and you can order a copy HERE.

SunnO))) & Boris – Fried Eagle Mind

THE GREAT GOD PAN

This was painted twenty years ago, back before I knew how to paint. What it lacks in finesse, it gains from my having no absolutely no clue at the time and just having a go with what materials I had to hand, which were a few tins of Humbrol enamel, old curled-up tubes of gouache, and some dried-up acrylic pots sold to model makers. Hardly the most sophisticated materials for any serious artist but I believed then, as I still do, that you have to be prepared to work with the most basic of tools, and if the fires of inspiration are burning sufficiently brightly then you will use anything that can make a mark on a surface. The cave artists at Lascaux were not using expensive oils, masking fluids and varnishes, and what they made pisses all over what you see thrown up in galleries these days. If my increasingly-unreliable memory serves me at all, then I think this one sold, which I’ll take as a vindication of my efforts.

THE SINKING BELLE

The most surprising track on Altar, the 2006 album by SunnO))) & Boris. On an album full of droning pyroclastic guitars and howling feedback, this song is an oasis of calm. In 2010 I made a painting for each song, and this one was an attempt to honour the example of the ‘Decadent’ painters of the Symbolist period, with their obsession for haunted and haunting women, updating it for a new age. It’s collected, together with all the other paintings from the series, plus drawings, photographs and texts, in a full-colour book that I self-published in 2011. You can order a copy HERE.

SunnO))) & Boris – The Sinking Belle

GOD IS A BULLET

My mock-up cover for one of my favourite novels, and one that pretty much finished off my obsession with crime fiction, because after this, anything else in that genre looks utterly feeble, making this the literary equivalent of Fun House by The Stooges. Once exprienced, nothing else is going to come close. Drawing on the mythology – as opposed to the “facts” – of the Manson Family, it stages a symbolic Armageddon in the desert wastelands of southern California and central to it all is the fallen angel Case, a reformed heroin addict who was once groomed into a gang of murderous Satanists by its Luciferean leader Cyrus. When that same gang murder an ageing cop’s estranged wife and new partner, and abduct his beloved teenage daughter, the stage is set for total mayhem happening at a breakneck speed. While at the same time completely over-the-top and yet horribly plausible, Teran’s story is a deeply moral one, with real consequences for all concerned. No-one is innocent. A film version has been made, with an impressive cast, and directed by Nick Casavettes. I really hope they’ve done the book justice, because if they have then it could be one of those once-in-a-decade action films that we rarely get anymore.

N L T

Another painting from the 2010 Altar series. I have no idea what happened to this one. You can order a copy of my self-published book collecting all the Altar paintings, together with other art and material, HERE.

SunnO))) & Boris – N L T

CRASH

Years ago (“more than you can even remember” says a voice) Harper Perennial ran a competition to design a new edition of J.G. Ballard’s Crash. Above was my entry, a photo collage that I felt was the only way to approach the subject matter, which to this day remains “challenging” to say the least. Needless to say this was not they cover they used. It’s a book, like Naked Lunch, that is so ripe with imagery that it ought to be easy to make a cover for but I’ve yet to see one that does the book justice.

The Primitives – Crash

AKUMA NO KUMA

One of the paintings from the Altar series from 2010, collected in a book that you can order HERE. As I recall, this sold almost as soon as I put it online, so somewhere out there, someone has this on their wall, staring back at them, as the abyss always does.

SunnO))) & Boris – Akuma No Kuma

DRACULA

My mock-up cover for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, using my 2010 painting ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’:

I have no idea what happened to this painting, but I’ve always liked it. It was made quickly without too much over-thinking, which I’ve learned is where a lot of art suffers. I was trying to establish more of an atmosphere than referencing anything specific in the text itself, and it’s atmosphere that gothic literature relies upon. Get that wrong, and it quickly becomes farce. Witness the adaptation of Dracula by the BBC a few years back. The first two episodes worked well enough – ignoring the strategically-placed “water cooler moments” – because it made the most of the period locations, be it Dracula’s castle in Transylvania or The Demeter as it creeps across the North Sea towards Whitby, and destiny. But they couldn’t help themselves, could they? Emboldened by the “updating” of Sherlock, the makers had to drag Dracula into the modern age, in a third and final episode that made Dracula AD 1972 (derided by many, but featuring the lightning strike to the teenage gonads that was Caroline Munro) look like Nosferatu by comparison. There are few sights more dispiriting than to see Dracula, the Prince of Darkness, “texting”, and quite rightly was that episode considered an unmitigated disaster. There are ways to update the vampire archetype – Near Dark being a good example – but it needs to be done with respect for the source material and an understanding of what makes it work. Remove the dark romanticism, the mystery, the gothic, and all that’s left is plastic fangs.

Bauhaus – Bela Lugosi’s Dead

BLACK DOG: THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH

Last year I gave high praise to Dave McKean’s Raptor. All of the stylistic techniques he deployed in that book were established in this earlier title, first released in 2017 and now republished in 2022 in an expanded second edition. I’ve detailed my history with comics and won’t repeat it here, suffice to say that McKean was the artist I most admired when getting back into the medium in the late 80’s, after a few years lost in the teenage wilderness. Nowadays he’s the only comics artist and writer I really pay any attention to. The radical change to his style that he made in the early 90’s was one I took a while to attune to, having got so comfortable with his photo-referenced dark fantasy tableaux, but the results have come to speak for themselves over the subsequent decades, and for the narratives he prefers, where dreams and ‘reality’ often blur, they’re really the only viable way to achieve the results he’s after:

Pencil, ink, acrylic, photography, collage and a lot of digital electrickery, all used with confidence and an obvious delight in the degree of experimentation and expression it offers.

The subject of this book is the Neo-Romantic artist Paul Nash, whose relatively short life has always interested me. He’s an artist whose work I admire more than actually like, simply because his technique is a little too raw for my tastes, but I appreciate the vision behind the brushstrokes and fully recognise the gravity of his influence. But his back story is fascinating and McKean does a great job of extracting the most vital details and using them to bring all his skill and experience to bear in creating visualisations of Nash’s inner turmoil, especially in relation to the absolute horror show in the trenches of World War 1.

What a fantastic page this is. The confidence in the distortions of form and proportion is remarkable and heightens the sense of profound personal crisis that Nash was experiencing. McKean is familiar enough with the Nash back-story to know that it was The Great War that served as a hinge point in the man’s life. There is the Nash who went to the Slade to study art, and then enlisted to do his duty for king & country, and then there is the Nash who returned horrified by what he saw, famously writing to his wife: “I am a messenger who will bring back word from the men who are fighting to those who want the war to go on forever. Feeble, inarticulate will be my message, but it will have a bitter truth and may it burn their lousy souls.” That sense of outrage fed into the canvas that made his name, titled with caustic irony, ‘We Are Making A New World.’

The war wrecked him psychologically and physically, with exposure to the chemical weapons unleashed by both sides settling into his lungs, initiating the long slow health crisis that would eventually finish him off. But before all that, when he was still a child, he was exposed to his mother’s debilitating depression, which shaped his perspectives forever after. McKean uses the potent metaphor of the ‘black dog’, hounding Nash throughout his life, functioning somewhere between a harbinger of ill omen and a symbol of that thing within him he could never outrun. Moving with apparently effortless confidence between pencils, inks, acrylics, photographs, collage and digital, McKean is using the comics medium in a way I’ve seen very few dare to, and it’s the way I always hoped it could be done.

I mean, look at this beautifully designed page, with its expert use of colour and tone. The dread and tension of Nash facing down his bete noire through bloodstained eyes is released by the establishing shot of the robin outside, his redbreast glowing the same shade of scarlet. So simple, and so effective. A cinematic technique applied to a comic book that defies by it’s very nature any attempt at a film version. Note to Hollywood: don’t bother. The book is all that is required. Nash would have, I think, been impressed with McKean’s art, recognising in it the dream imagery and surrealistic flourishes that were evident in his later work. This new edition includes 15 pages of new material, mainly ‘out-takes’ of first attempts at images that were revised for the finished pages of the book, but it’s very interesting to see how McKean develops his ideas and is unafraid of abandoning finished work when he thinks of a better way of doing things. Highly recommended, even if you know nothing about Paul Nash, because just for the display of an artist operating at the top of his game, it’s worth the price of admission.

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