There’s a back story to the image I created for KMFDM’s latest album, Hell Yeah!
Back in 1994, I’d just moved into a new house in West London, renting a studio nearby as a workshop. No sooner had I acquired the keys when I got a call from KMFDM supremo, Sascha Konietsko, who informed me that he had to have the artwork for the band’s new album, asap. I barely had time to assemble my desk before starting the process of creating the image.
Unleashing the hack within me, I copied my face and hand reflected in a shaving mirror, adding the buildings behind almost as an afterthought. Despite the amount of fine detailing, I finished the picture well within my deadline.
Rather than mail it ahead of time, I decided to dwell a while on what I’d drawn, subsequently realising how powerful yet negative the image was. So, using another layer, I drew a cable within reach of the falling man’s hand, offering him a way out (if he chose to take it).
Over the years, it has become one of the images I’ve become most known for. I’ve been approached by people and told that the illustration made them stop and contemplate their lives before attempting suicide. Somehow, I’d accidentally created a piece of art that spoke to people in a way I’d never consciously considered during its creation.
Fast forward to 2016 and the news that KMFDM, once again, required a new BRUTE! cover. As I’d just launched the Tweak app, my time had been spent spent absorbing related articles and videos while how our lives are being shaped by smart phone technology was a recurring topic. During a phone call to Sascha, the idea of updating the Glory cover to address the concept occurred to me and, over the next few days, I embellished the initial idea into a story of sorts.
It was the summer of 1977 that I first ran into Malcolm at a dance in our home town. I remember the place: the glorious modernist Riverside ballroom, part of the New Brighton baths complex that was later destroyed in a storm. Inside, thugs and students eyed up the local talent. I was there with my mates; a motley crew of druggies, lefties and punks. You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife – that’s why everyone was armed.
Suddenly, a gasp went up, the crowd parted and a big, burly bully burst in. Six foot seven in his leper-skin levi’s, a youth stood aloft, bursting to shout.
His bold entrance sent ripples of gossip around the room.
”Who is that?”, I enquired, urgently.
”It’s Malcolm Bennett”, they went.
‘’He’s a poet!’’. ‘’He’s a Nazi!’’. ‘’He’s bent!’’.
Knives, pints and slags were fingered, nervously.
”Hmm,” I thought through gritted teeth. ”He looks interesting and yellow.” But, before we could chat, a fight broke out and sirens cleared the dance floor. Later, I discovered he lived next door but one to me in Egremont, a feral squat that lapped the shores of the Mersey. I’d see him gangling up the road to the shop, his Glen Campbell fringe and polyester cardigan flapping gloomily in the smog. He was grumpy and serious and committed to his poetry. I once painted ”Happy Birthday” on my naked girlfriend and sent her round to cheer him up. He slammed the door in her face. He thought I was a frivolous party animal with no commitment to my art. I thought he was an old fart, stuck in his gloomy books instead of girls. However – he introduced me to Camus, Celine and Jack London.
I read his poetry and was impressed. I suggested Malcolm should read it over an improvised sound-scape. We practiced, stuck up posters and played at Eric’s club. To earn money, we dressed up as terrorists and stormed local pubs, threatening the regulars with fake guns to the amusement of practically everyone. We commandeered a school bus dressed as revolutionaries. We hired burly psychiatric nurses to beat up our bass player on stage. So many stories….
While Mal was in prison for an altercation with the police, I moved to Bristol to start a new operation whilst obtaining a better standard of benefits. When he eventually emerged from Walton nick, he joined me there and we began to start performing and publishing.
I’d been in town a while and met a new circle of people but Malcolm took over as soon as he arrived in the city. He became legendary for striding into St. Paul’s notorious Black and White club to complain about the standard of their weed and getting away with it. We spent the winter months writing and freezing in The Unit and the summers performing and selling books on the street, at festivals and at protest marches in the UK and Europe. Despite the unemployment and black mood that had settled over the country, Malcolm and I were inspired: the Thatcher government, the Miner’s Strike, the Falklands War and the Anti-Nazi League protests fueled our creative fury.
Amsterdam in the early 80s offered us new opportunities and Malcolm gave his most electric performances in the city, appearing at the One World Poetry festival two years in a row.
We decided to gatecrash the event (which featured, along with William Burroughs, Russia’s greatest living poet, Yevgeny Yevteshenko and the UK’s Gregory Corso. We had a lot of support in the city so it didn’t take much blagging before we got the nod from the organiser that we could go on before one of the night’s headliners. Unpacking our Roland 606 and 808 on stage, we surveyed the room, packed to the rafters with poets, punks and fans eager to see the legendary Burroughs in action. After performances from Corso and others, we shot onstage and, for 30 minutes, regaled the audience with our brand of high-octane electro demagoguery. Filled out with our supporters, the audience went mental, clapping wildly and urging us into several encores until, spent of energy and other material, we triumphantly legged it off stage and into the VIP bar which overlooked the main hall. Meanwhile, Old Bill took to the stage and proceeded to croak his way through a medley of his ancient hits, pausing briefly to survey the hall which was half-empty after our storming finale. So, we were into our fifth pint before Bill, along with his entourage, approached us at the bar and proceeded to accuse us of stealing his notes, drugs and wallet while his bony ass was on stage. His minder, while a strapping lad himself, noted Malcolm’s 6′ 6” fighting stance and baulked at Bill’s suggestion of a quick frisk to determine our innocence. ‘You’re off your head, mate,’ I laughed, ordering another round.
Malcolm, unfazed by Bill’s temper tantrum, suggested that the old timer check his own pockets before hurling unfounded accusations. The minder whispered in the elderly poet’s ear before Bill, his eyes glazing over, began to timidly search his pockets. Meanwhile a crowd, eager for some inter-poet rivalry, surged round us as Bill emptied his coat. There, in amongst the junkie flotsam, we could see the items he’d accused us of taking so his minder wisely took the opportunity to whisk him away.
Malcolm could not resist one parting shot. ‘You know, Bill,’ he yelled over the heads of the crowd, ‘You should stick to Guinness. It’s a lot better for your memory than heroin’.
Also at this time, we began to write the initial stories that would become the first issue of BRUTE!
In the mid-80s, Malcolm moved to London and, after a period living in poverty, managed to get himself an internship at Blink Studios in Soho while touting BRUTE! around various ad agencies and TV production companies. It paid off. He gave me the call and I moved to London, immediately. We both lived on the notorious Rockingham estate in Elephant and Castle with dozens of other scousers fleeing the bleak unemployment of the north. They even called the estate, ”Little Wallasey” due to the amount of squatters who’d moved down south from the Wirral. Before long, we entered into a period of sustained creative work producing short films, pop videos and ad campaigns all based on the BRUTE! concept. Malcolm’s unbridled enthusiasm, wit and bravado secured us jobs and press coverage until his rising star was recognised by channel chiefs eager to unleash unconventional presenters onto the world via the new medium of youth TV. By the time we parted company in 1989, Malcolm was appearing on TV twice a week.
Except for an fruitless reunion in Bristol in the mid-90s, I wasn’t to see him again for 25 years. I moved with my family to the States and put the work I’d done with Malcolm behind me. It wasn’t until his son,Tom, urged us to start talking again a few years back that we began to heal the old wounds and started talking about working together again. When he visited me in Prague last year, he seemed his old vivacious self, brimming with ideas for the future and looking forward to seeing BRUTE! on the book stands once more.
Sadly, he never lived to see his final book published.
Over the last couple of months, I have been assembling images for inclusion in the forthcoming BRUTE! art book and I’ve been quite surprised at how difficult it’s been locating hi-resolution copies of my work from the 80s and 90s (much of it lost to corrupt back-up discs etc.). Of those I was able to source, several files had to be extensively repaired, many of the album covers from that period requiring major re-rendering to make them usable for publication.
There is still much restoration work to be done before the book goes to print next year but am now able to offer BRUTE! fans the chance to get their hands on one of these glorious vector-rendered versions, available as signed canvas prints. For details on how to order yours, please PM me here or order yours direct from the blog shop. http://joef27.sg-host.com/?wpsc_product_category=prints-categories&paged=4
Last month, I was invited to provide live art for KPMG’s annual executive breakfast, here in the Czech Republic.
Over the weekend prior to the event, I sketched out a number of concepts based around the managing partner’s speech which were to be hand-inked during his presentation on the day.
Using wide-nib calligraphy markers and Sharpie paint pens, I had two hours to complete four posters mounted on A1 boards placed strategically around the conference room.
Working as a freelance artist can get real lonely at times so it’s nice to un-cap the old nib in public every once in a while.
Thanks to everyone at KPMG Prague for their support and encouraging commentary during the show.
I was approached by leading Czech indie music magazine, Full Moon, to give an interview about my work with KMFDM, Massive Attack and others.
You can check out the full interview here or read the edited translation here (my replies in bold):
1) I’m just looking at the Martin’s great painting The Great Day of His Wrath and I am still fascinating by it – by its emotional power and magnificence. What’s the strongest thing on it for you?
I first saw it in London and was blown away by its physical size. It’s very ominous and standing next to it made me feel inconsequential that I kept dodging looks at it over my shoulder as we were viewing other works in the same gallery. The shadows are so deep that they feel like yawning chasms ready to suck you in and the sense of apocalyptic scale increases the feeling of vertiginous dread. Martin takes snippets of dreams and then cranks them up to 11.
2) I read that your father was a landscape painter – was it him who took you to the world of art and paintings for the first time?
My father was a well-known sea- and landscape painter (as well as an accomplished musician) but I don’t remember him being an avid visitor of exhibitions that much. He took up to the galleries in Liverpool once or twice but neither my brother or I were interested in classical art and sculpture so I guess he gave up. However, he had an astounding collection of art and architecture books which, along with the comics and magazines I grew up with, formed the basis for much of the work I do today. I can remember him teaching me the basics of light, shade and perspective at a very early age but he seemed to let me get on with it after that and concentrated more on trying to get my brother to learn an instrument. Not that I needed any encouragement: no-one could stop me drawing.
3) I noticed that you’re interested in russian constructivists and the italian futurists – are you a fan of architecture? Does it inspire you in your work somehow? I just finished reading a book about Fritz Lang’s Metropolis this weekend and everebody must see that this huge piece of art is very timeless movie which is still inspiring even today. Have you seen it?
I love Cubist and brutalist structures as well as early 20th century skyscrapers and constructivist architecture, especially Malevitch’s Suprematist sculptures and the work of Futurist Alberto St, Elia. In the past couple of years, I’ve taught myself the basics in 3D design and create my own cities and streets for use as backgrounds and in computer game design. I designed most of the buildings in the ZPC game I did back in the 90s, creating hundreds of texture maps and level designs. Metropolis is one of my favourite German Expressionist films and, along with such films as M and Cabinet of Dr, Caligari, inspired much of the work I did for that title. I find the silhouettes of tall buildings rising from the city smog to be highly evocative. 4) I saw some your new ilustration for tour for KMFDM band with some army vehicle – can you just describe it more?
The vehicle I created for the sleeve was a hybrid of several different types of riot vehicle which I morphed together in Photoshop before redrawing it in ink. I wanted it to look funkier and contain some of the fun feeling one gets from a tour bus whilst still retaining the killer lines.
We here at BRUTE! Propaganda are always on the look-out for quality merchandise with which to adorn our images so it’s a pleasure to team up with a company that specialises in robust paraphernalia. Over at barproducts.com, they’ve produced a stunning series of BRUTE! bottle openers that will be the talking point of any BBQ, wake or parents-teachers meeting.
Buy them separately or as a set at their web shop now!