This painting from the Project Mogwai series was a bit of a departure, in that it was rendered grey scale on thick artboard, and I didn’t use acrylic paints. Instead, I used Windsor & Newton India ink, diluted for the grey tones and applied with a ruined brush that looked like it had been used to scrape limescale from bathroom tiles. It did the job though, and I was pleased with the results. Still am. I was just a little too young for punk, but I got caught in its backwash, and just at the time I was discovering the Batman TV series (Saturday mornings on Tyne Tees, as some may recall) I was also seeing pictures of this Sue Catwoman character. Thus forever after the main players in the UK punk scene – Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten, Dave Vanian, Captain Sensible – have been, to me, indistinguishable from the cartoon villains and anti-heroes that capered through my pre-pubescent imagination.
A mocked-up cover for one of my favourite novels, Boston Teran’s God Is A Bullet. First read in a single sitting on a flight to San Francisco in 2000, it was the ideal preparation for a visit to California, where much of the mayhem takes place. Inspired as much by the mythology as the facts of the Manson Family case, it’s a completely over-the-top, and yet morally grounded, Dante-esque descent into the abyss that must have surely been optioned for TV or film adaptation. I just hope they never follow through, as it’s success as a narrative is reliant on the complex inner world of the lead characters, which is rarely something a screen adaptation can successfully convey. I strongly recommend the novel but be warned, after reading this, most other ‘crime fiction is going to seem a bit thin and bloodless.
Another early painting (late 2008) from the Project Mogwai series. ‘Like Herod’ is one of Mogwai’s notorious early songs, that takes the quiet/loud dynamic to it’s (il)logial extreme. Those paying close attention will note that the ‘graffiti’ on the wall echoes the eerie daubing seen in the first painting in the series (‘Stop Coming To My House‘).
Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell was my favourite album when I was eleven years old, and the first LP I ever bought with my own pocket money. And the perfect album when you’re teetering on the precipice of puberty, chock full as it is of motorbikes, speed, romanticised death, teenage sex and broken hearts. The cover art by Richard Corben is one of the greatest album covers of all time, and pisses all over most of what gets hung in art galleries. It has all the apocalyptic power of a John Martin or Gustav Dore’s Paradise Lost illustrations, but it’s also something a teenage metalhead would want on a t-shirt or as a poster on their wall. I was always drawn to art that had the power to obliterate boundaries between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture and force you to deal with it on its own terms. This drawing, done with felt tips and no pencils to guide me, was a warm-up for a much bigger version of the cover that I drew in pencil on a huge sheet of cartridge paper, and which ended up being nicked from my art folder at school. I took it as a compliment.
Following the first two paintings in the Project Mogwai series (‘Stop Coming To My House‘ and ‘Mogwai Fear Satan‘), in late 2008 I felt suitably confident enough to tackle a more personal subject. Growing up in 1970’s Leeds there was one story that affected everyone: the Yorkshire Ripper. The story of Peter Sutcliffe is well documented enough to not require repeating here, and for the most insightful book on the case I’d recommend Gordon Burn’s Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son, which perfectly captures the gestalt of the North I grew up in. Suffice to say that he was a wrong ‘un of the highest order, but before his capture, this unknown killer achieved the same bogeyman presence in my imagination as Jack The Ripper, Springheel Jack or any of the creepier villains from the comics I read. Part of the shock of finally seeing what this man, who had terrorised the north of england for the best part of a decade, looked like, was that he didn’t resemble a threat to anyone. He looked like the kind of bloke you’d expect to see working on his Cortina on a Sunday morning, or down the pub with his mates on a Friday night. When his trial at the Old Bailey was covered by the tabloids, much was made of his claim that voices he’d heard while working as a gravedigger had instructed him to “clean up the streets.” The implication was this was interepreted by Sutcliffe as a message from up on high, and now you know why I chose that title for this painting.
I drew this in 2008, one of the last things I did before I took up the brush and started teaching myself how to paint. I had simplified my drawing technique in order to produce work that was faster and more fluid, the aim being to be able to produce more finished pages, which is always the challenge for any comics artist. It required boiling the way I drew down to its essence, with an emphasis on precision in terms of ‘spot blacks’ (the placement of areas of flat black) and crispness of line. This was one of the better drawings from that period, and I wonder what might have happened had I stuck at it, but the itch to paint needed to be scratched and could not have been put off any longer. Below is the same illustraion, mocked-up as a cover for a magazine I have fond memories of reading as a kid.
Imagine what my teachers at school made of this when I handed it in as Art homework. I was eleven years old. Everything that would turn up in my paintings thirty to forty years later is in there.