Saturday, April 19, 2014




Underground with CHU

(for CHU)

UK Graffiti boss and aerosol virtuoso CHU was busy throughout most of 2013 working on the artwork for the Mohawk album. Fly finally got the the chance to work alongside CHU on a musical project that would see a proper release centered on the poet John Sinclair.

CHU and i spent hundreds of hours over the last 4 years developing a unique platform for interacting with multimedia based upon using 360 degree panoramas.
This work was initiated with help from Matt Black of Coldcut, and the estate of Dr Robert Anton Wilson. was the result and CHU is only scratching the surface of this new medium and what can be achieved making the most of new powerful hand held devices and his skill at hand crafting rich worlds and exciting idea-spaces.

From the beginning of the Mohawk album project CHU and I had the 360 panorama  in mind, and I proposed that the construction of a John Sinclair-themed 360 degree pano' could produce some unique and stunning artwork for a CD, with the added bonus of having an almost infinite variety of variations due to the power of the software, and the equal depth and detail of the artwork. A rare match, and further testament to the multi disciplinary nature of CHU’s work.

Working backwards from the 360 panorama proved to be a great idea, and the final product is out of this word. I reckon it sets the bar for CD album artwork in 2014. As with much of CHU’s work, there is a universe of goings on backstage, sketches and notes, experiments, alternate renders, alternate versions, all in the tradition of the scientific method. CHU does a special unique deep field research on his subject matter, and in the case of Mohawk I was able to observe and marvel and even steer him in a few directions, often backwards.

One of these useful hints came pretty early on in the project when i mentioned the legendary artwork for the album by Thelonious Monk: Underground, that features Monk at the piano in a scene from an underground resistance bunker during World War II.

CHU quickly sourced the cover from the original LP and hit upon the idea of making an extension to Underground, or a retrofitted tribute to that classic album cover, substituting John Sinclair for Monk and flipping the scene to depict John in Detroitus, placed at the typewriter working inside an artist collective headquarters, maybe the Detroit Artists Workshop?

And so the work began, CHU rigged up a room worked out to mimic the dimensions of the space from the Underground L.P and began mapping, remapping and building his own stage set.

CHU invented a location in Detroit, close to the site of the Grande Ballroom, and basically built an entire city block where the Mohawk resistance barbershop would be located. As the project developed he began to deconstruct the scene and apply damage and destruction stylings to reflect the very real and pitiful damage and destruction in Detroit City itself, where hundreds of square miles of once swarming city lie in ruins.
As far as i know, CHU is the pioneer of these unique hand crafted 360 panorama illustrations, and to paraphrase CHU: "It presents for the first time the perfect picture, the proper way to create and view a painting in every direction."

Mohawk CD challenge

The challenge of creating the artwork for the CD Mohawk was reverse engineering the 360 into a cover back and front, an inner sleeve, a booklet and a disc. Plus the addition of texts and standard album details, without detracting too much from the graphical action base.
I think you will agree that the results are stunning and serve as evidence to the success of the idea and the hard work involved in making it real. If you have not seen the artwork which I write of here please follow the links at the end.

The juicy psychedelic color scheme developed by CHU is itself a tribute to the original screen printing dons and innovators, using the full colour spectrum in such a way that it catches the eye instantly invoking rainbow fruits, stretching from ultra violet to infra-red. Even the spine displays a special effect and builds a future friendly identity when viewed from the edge, testament to the attention to detail and forethought of the designer.

The objects within the scene each have a specific meaning and connective story within themselves. One principle for decoding the scene is distinguishing between different forms of media: Reel to reel tape, phonograph, film, photo, type, print, soundwaves etc. All pre-digital and somewhat mechanical or chemical processes. Old school, authentic and meaningful, worn and worthy.

The poetry by John is ten poems taken from his work always know: a book of monk, which features poems to accompany every tune recorded by Thelonious Monk. A work of extreme mental patience and self-evident audacity.

The album scene combines elements from Monk and the original Underground cover, with more objects from the life and works of John Sinclair. For example:

1. The Buffalo is related to the White Buffalo Prayer poem and album by John Sinclair.

2. The smoking lady at the back of the room is made to represent Pannonica, Monk’s friend and patron,and the subject of one of John's poems previously recorded with Steve Fly: “pannonica.”

3. The rolling tin next to John's typewriter is a finely detailed copy of John's Celestial Seasoning smoking tin that he enters into every day.

4. The torn Free John Sinclair poster is a copy of the legendary poster alerting people to news that John Lennon, Stevie Wonder and Allen Ginsberg were to perform at a benefit to free John from prison. On hearing the sad news of the artist’s recent passing, CHU dedicated the work to the original poster artist of Detroit, Gary Grimshaw

5. The wrecking ball swinging from the lamp towards the map of Detroit on the wall draws further attention to the destruction of Detroit and reflects what is happening outside the barber shop to the people of Detroit.

6. John Sinclair sitting at the typewriter replaces Thelonious Monk at the piano. A fair juxtaposition.

7. The original Thelonious Monk Underground LP sleeve hangs as a developing photo on a drying line strung across the room.

8. The colors are from the original screen printing color pallette used to psychedelic effect in the 1960s until the present. 

9. A Book of Monk by John Sinclair sits on the table next to the tape-to-tape recorder.

10. The words 'kick out the jams' are scrawled across the back wall, iconic grafitti from John’s time managing the MC-5.

11. Large gashes in the barber chair signify some kind of Panther is close by or has recently paid a visit to the barbershop, perhaps to sniff out Uncle Sam.
12.  A developing photo in a box on the table depicts an emerging scene from Dallas, 1963. If you look closely you will see the grassy knoll and unidentified figures running.

I have made many textual interpretations of the Mohawk scene which by no means reflect those of the artist or the poet.

Imaginary Underground Barbershop side-scenes.

Somewhere in deepest Detroit, between the abandoned factory units and desperate tenement blocks lurks the underground barber shop run by Mo, but Mo left town last week.

The joint is currently under siege by a rogue collective of artists who have transformed the barbershop into a temporary headquarters, just moments before the state wrecking ball is scheduled to come crashing through the walls to demolish it. A familiar nightmare for Detroiters.

John Sinclair sits at his typewriter transcribing a final statement from Uncle Sam who originally sold the land ownership rights to the barbershop over to the crooked state, behind the backs of the local community. Or was John working on another Monk poem? Uncle Sam is taken as a human shield, used as a final resort in a last ditch effort to halt the destruction of the underground barbershop.

Tracking backwards over 24 hours from this snapshot another picture emerges here that involves the process of creating a movie, an underground ransom video showing Uncle Sam in heated debate with Sinclair. John is writing, recording and playing back his poetry, developing photographs and editing video documentary footage of everything as it happens. 

The flurry of creativity comes to a climax when Uncle Sam stands before the handgun, swearing alegience to the flag, tripping on fresh Hoffman acid from Leary. What we see in the pictures are all taken just minutes after Sam is tied up, shortly after facing the gun. John begins to write the closing statement of the barbershop workshop from his underground headquarters somewhere in Detroit, as the wrecking ball closes in

—Steve Fly,
Amsterdam, 01/01/2014
The making of Mohawk by CHU:


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