And Loads of Other Related Stuff.
It's a whole world unto itself, NMA artwork - I look around at other band's CD covers, T-shirts etc., and I have never seen anything like it, it's a kind of solitary discourse between me and time, a long one-side conversation overheard by other people - the people who buy the art. I sit by myself in some dimly lit room, or walk by the sea in autumn, or wander through the streets of Bradford, and textures, images, snatches of wisps of unrevealed pictures get into my mind and I store them away for years, until I hear the music that summons them up again and they get onto a cover or a shirt. The art, like my writing, is an intensely personal, inexplicably private thing - it boils inside until it has to be released. I know I'm not an easy person at any time but at creative moments I'm hellish. People accuse me of artistic (and personal) arrogance because I "won't follow the prevailing fashions" in illustration or poetry, and while I fully acknowledge my hubris, I don't think that's the reason I'm not fashionable. It's a just that when that bright, small voice sings inside me I have to hear it, do as it says, paint what it says because it's spiritually dazzling - dark and dazzling like when you look too long into a bright light. It's the same with stories or poems. All the drawing and writing is just one thing to me. I can't distinguish between them, or anything else I make - tattoos, sculptures, needlework, jewellery, knitting, people, food, whatever - it's all narratives of one kind or another and my hands create these things from the fiery bright voice inside. Fashion doesn't come into it. Now, don't misunderstand me, I'd love to be fashionable, naturally. Everyone if they're honest, wants to be made a great fuss of, have the world say how wonderful they are. But you have to tell the truth, make what you have to make and if it coincides with fashion - lucky you. If not - tough. I can only create strictly what's in my heart, for better or worse. I suppose these are the reasons why I've hardly ever illustrated another band's music.
NMA struck a note in my spirit all those years ago and it goes on resonating - no other group has made better music, to my mind. I've done all their art, for the past 17 years, except two covers (both of which were horrible, in my opinion) done by record company in-house graphic departments, gutless and souless - NMA art requires passion and commitment. It requires close attention to details, long study and years of observation. Then somehow, like a piece of conjure, it all comes right. There's alot of actual magic in NMA art - glamours, hints, things which seem obvious but aren't, dark stuff. When you put on that T-shirt, with the device, formula or image printed into the warp and weft of the very fabric, you put onto your body, next to your living skin, a message; something breathing and vital, an essence distilled from liquid into vapour. Don't imagine that because it looks like a Big, Black T-shirt it is a Big, Black T-shirt - oh, no, it's a medicine bag, a fetiche, a code. You probably don't believe me, and that's your choice, of course - but I know it's true. When you look upon the pictures on the covers, a huge amount of information is conveyed to you apart from just the image, the colours, the calligraphy. It's instantaneous.
You get messages about culture, society, attitudes, moods, other people's reactions, sex, beauty, fury, joy, music, abandon, catharsis, passion, love; it's a bottomless pool, gleaming and quicksilver that reflects back to you everything you have ever seen since before you were born. It's the Great Eye, universal symbols, the profile perdu. It's a gate, a text, a puzzle. It's a game of Spilikins, a textile prayer, a dream of dreaming you're awake. All this in the blink of your eye. Chaa, and that's just the beginning . . . wait until you hear the sound within. . .
Technically, I have made the drawings in a variety of mediums - mostly chalk pastels ( Degas is one of the artists I most admire ), but also, car paint, lip liner pencil, biro, gouache, acrylics, children's crayons, leather dye, felt tip pens, Rotring pens, Indian Ink and dip pens, spit, blood (my own, no animal has suffered for this art ), oil pastels, rouge, candle black, watercolours, and generally, whatever I need, however expensive or cheap, to get the effect I want. I've put the chalk on with foam pads, rags, fingers and crushed it up and rubbed it on; I've steamed it, frozen it, heated it up in front of the fire and screwed it up and ironed it flat again. I've put paint on with knives, brushes, fingers, and sprayed it on. As a base, I like to use very good, heavy stock water-colour paper, but these days, I've been using specially treated paper for acrylic paints alot.
Sometimes I have painted over black and white photographs to give an interestingly unearthly look to the portraits of the band; for "The Ghost Of Cain" I painted my leather bike jacket with the cover design, draped it with my own jewellery and belt, and had Justin's sister, the photographer and internationally acclaimed belly dancer, Francesca Sullivan, photograph the montage in her own brilliant glowing style. I've drawn on boards, bits of marine ply, stone flags. I'm not precious about techniques - like life, you do what you have to to get through. The only real way to learn is to practice like a demon and be spiritually prepared to give yourself to the work, to the exclusion of any other life. Amateurism is another way of saying hobby, and hobbies are for people who can't make the sacrifices. They're fun, they pass the time, but they aren't what it's really about.
People very often want to know about Celtic work, and what drew me to it. That's easy - it's beautiful and it is the expression of spiritual dedication and prayer. It expresses a link between mathematics (which are my own, personal mystery ) and art (which I do understand). I have never created new Celtic patterns, preferring to use patterns from the Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow because I wanted to link the past and future in a loop. The piece that symbolises "Thunder and Consolation" came from a Pictish stonecarving - now people have it on a record cover, it serves it's purpose again through another medium. What saddens me is that Celtic work, and indeed the word "Celtic" have become increasingly debased over the last few years; many people now just take it for granted and the vogue for Celtic has meant it's been badly used and prosituted by mass commerciality. I would suggest that Celtic work for some people, has come to symbolise the worst kind of superficial "alternative" fashion, where lazy thinking triumphs. It pays to remember Celtic manuscript illumination was undertaken as a sacrifice to god, and so had the deepest possible significance to it's creators. The vortex of Postmodernism with it's emphasis on stealing images from everywhere and using them in the most cynical ways possible destroys what it touches - it's a testament to the strength of Celtic art that it still retains it's impact for many people after this treatment. It also pays to try and see the original manuscripts as it refreshes your vision of the work, and brings it to life again. Interestingly, it's generally much, much smaller in the original than you imagine, impossibly intricate, and asymmetrical in a way modern graphics never are; it's a reflection of nature's profusion and was created under the most arduous physical conditions, because if it had been easy, it would have been no sacrifice. It's a strangely emotional and moving experience to view, for example, The Book Of Kells, because you can feel the absolute dedication of those artists even now. I still love Celtic work very much because I believe there are many, many people, from every land, who have had a deep and lasting satisfaction from gazing on it's beauty and spiritual meaning. To rest yourself in those endless patterns is to dive into a great sea of unfathomable blue, floating, borne up by the waters of our ancestors, of whatever land. It's still a prayer.
But all artists move on. We all have to explore new intuitions, to journey along different paths. Don't be grieved by what is different, but see instead what it has grown from. Drawing for NMA has been a great journey and like all travelling, it passes through many landscapes - I know lots of people would like a Celtic image on everything NMA does, but that's not possible, because it would mean the band and myself had frozen in a part of the journey and couldn't progress towards the future. That might be comforting for some people who are frightened by change, and I'm sorry for their hurt, but I think change is both inevitable and exciting. At this point, no doubt some of you reading this will be puzzled by why I take such a serious viewpoint on a "simple CD cover" - hey, it's just a record sleeve, it's not real Art - but you see, I believe that it is.When the time comes for me to consider how to represent NMA's music in pictorial form, I spend many months, or even years, distiling ideas and forms. When it's finished it has meaning for thousands of people globally. I would be failing those people if I didn't take the project in good faith. My life is added to by the making as theirs is by the receiving, (on whatever level), therefore, it is Art. It's the rankest hypocrisy on the part of the Establishment to suggest that the work exhibited by, for example, Damien Hirst, is Art, when it's obviously done solely for money and notoriety, and enhances nobody's life except the art dealers. To then sneeringly dismiss the icons of popular music as trash, when they are of such meaning to so many, is both historically unsound and blindly ignorant of the way that society has changed. The world has moved on since the bourgeoisie set up their quality control structures - structures which serve both to alienate the mass of the people and to ensure financial gain and kudos for the few cognoscenti. As with Rap music, the true worth of popular music art remains hidden beneath the decayed corpse of a defunct culture. And as with all creativity, this worth can and is exploited by money-grabbers and the emotionally devoid - but crucially, within that, integrity can be found if we look hard, put aside our predudices and open our hearts.
The new NMA cover, culled from the most simple, ancient symbol known to humanity, serves as a charm to protect us all from the Evil Eye of materialism and negativity. It is powerful as only the most purely organic images can be; made with an open hand and the weight of centuries. As with every icon, it is a window to another place and time. And it's a satisfying image, to me, full of emotion and meaning, remembrance and belief. It was made on a beautiful, Autumn day, glazed with amber sunlight and warm with the breath of the sea. The photographs were taken, and now, without a doubt, the rain has washed the original away - I really like that thought, that the ephemeral can be kept like a memory forever. It's complete, it belongs to you, now - everything that's important is in there if you want to see it. The image has the sense of Mystery and empowerment that characterises the music it stands for; it was made with the same degree of commitment and direction that the music was - and that's what matters, in the end. . .