There’s a good chance that you may well have seen Godmachine‘s incredible illustration work before on various skateboard graphics, band t-shirts or record sleeves over the years. His knack of delivering the finest gore and dreamy terror for the best of them out there has been noted from here for a while now, so we decided to approach him for some artwork for this year’s Halloween Massacre and delve into his life of art, illustration, skateboarding, music and more. Dive in, it’s a dark place in here but a happy one.
Where did all of this begin?
I grew up in a small village on the Welsh coast, staring at the stars and listening to Fugazi and The Doors reading 2000AD.
When was the first time in your life you decided illustration was something more than a few doodles?
Not that long ago really. I’ve been doodling forever, then one day my wife bought me some canvas and paint and asked me to try it seriously. People bought them so I did more- I didn’t really know what I was doing – still don’t!
Is there one particular drawing that defines this moment as such looking back? Do you still have it?
No sadly, I sold everything I could. I was just amazed they were selling but as I put more and more work in I started to feel that pang of letting pieces go off in to the world. There arena few pieces throughout my career that I can say changed things, the bright colours , the detail in the illustrations, the adoption of tattoo styles into merch, then the use of grey’s on black’s. Hopefully a lot more to come. It’s not hard to see subtle changes in trends and consider bringing them all together. I see a few people able to do this and a lot more who just follow trends.
Why did you have to sell it?
I was working at the time, part time, but it wasn’t an income thing, it was a “holy shit I’m getting paid to do something I love” thing. I was just blown away that I could do something I love and people actually liked it. Coming from a previous life where I thought I was only going to be labouring for the rest of my life it was quite a shock. I was nervous to let the part time job go and even when I was making a living making from art I still considered getting a part time job again. I guess it’s ingrained in your DNA.
Was art in the family when you grew up? Who inspired you to put pen to paper back then?
I think some people could draw in the family but no one did it as a career or even as a hobby. It was kinda discouraged if anything. Nobody made it as an artist or singer or film maker where I am from, you either learn a trade, or get in that factory line as quick as possible. I was inspired by comics and art books from a small village library that stocked weird art books and comics that were hard to come by and they helped me escape the small village I lived in.
Illustration is not something you really do with friends after school, it’s more of a solo mission, how did your independence growing up as a kid push your time and energy into drawing?
That’s perfectly put; drawing needs you to be a lonely, boring person who spends all their time alone if you want to get anywhere. Kids think it’s super fun and comes with fame etc, but it’s a quiet, lonely slog. Like I say, I didn’t really apply myself until about 5 years ago, I was too busy being around people, parties, drinks, work, music, boxing, work, skating, gigs, work, etc.
Did you skate much in your adolescence?
Yeah I used to love skating. I remember learning to ollie and my folks being terrified as to them, it looked like I was spending hours literally trying to break this really expensive thing they just bought me. I grew up at the beautiful time of when they decided to put a tail in the front not the board. One year when we’re skating Santa Cruz and drooling over these graphics and buying beautiful Airwalk’s, then the next year we were being tested with offensively exciting graphics and taking the nose bones off our decks. In the village there was a spot that was behind the surgery, it was smooth and had a security light for skating at night and a load of new clean curbs. It was always about street skating for us.
How much did skateboard art influence your desire to reach further into your own artistic development?
It was always about weird books like Beardsley from the library, skate decks and 2000ad for me. I used to spend hours in the skate shop in the nearest town drooling over the graphics of boards – all those colours unashamed and in your face. The attitude of skating was hard to avoid too, no one who spends their days heading face first into concrete has a timid disposition after a while. I was skating and boxing, so you kinda get a confidence to do more things. Thinking about it even today, most of the skaters I know have an artistic flair even if it’s just an eye for trends and fashions.
What about the music scene, as back then the two were colliding across culture hand in hand?
Music played a big part in my life. I remember forming a Beastie Boys band with my friends when I was 8 years old, buying a run DMC tape with my 10th birthday money from the garage. (there were no music shops) One day when I was 14, my mate Stewart brought over this Fugazi album on vinyl and I wasn’t into it at first, but it grew on me. Another day I rented Streets on Fire and that was it, that soundtrack changed my life introducing me to Black Flag, Sonic Youth, Descendents, Firehose, Pailhead and so many more. I used to go to school in the next town and at lunch would go into town and rent out that film every weekend, EVERY WEEKEND. We figured out a way of recording the soundtrack onto tape so we could listen to it constantly. The tape included most of the dialogue of the girl and the skating noises- to this day if I hear a song from that video I can say all the dialogue in and around the tune and even make the deck noises over the top in the right places! That video was a game changer. The shop that rented the video stopped renting it and I bought it off them. I still have it on my shelf today.
You mentioned ‘trendsetters’ at the beginning of this interview, briefly, explain how you see the marketplace for the work you do. Do you see a lot of trend hoppers jumping on board the scene? How bitchy does drawing death get?
Haha, I think the scene can get really bitchy, but I now just stay away from a scene. As Mike Patton says “you have to (at some point) find your own corner of hell and just get on with your work’.” I think too many people want to be a part of too many things and it can get quite incestuous, like a stagnant pool that has no fresh input. It’s best to walk your own road when you get a chance and leave these places. I don’t doubt that community is a great thing in the beginning, you learn a lot, but when you can, you should fly the coup.
As for trends its always going to be that way, none of us are free from fashions or trends. You do see a lot of kids or maybe they are grown-ups who knows, but you see a lot of them jumping on the bandwagon. You can’t blame them, it’s nice to be popular I suppose and be part of something, but like I say, it stagnates after a while. You can spend years pulling small bits from other artists all your life and developing something or sensing minute changes in trends and putting all these bits together to makes something special and new…there are a few of these people around and they are special, and then you get the many who just see them do this and follow them with no idea of where it all comes from. Human nature I guess.
Hasn’t there always been a wave of incredible illustrators in gore even before the days of Pushead when we were kids?
I remember Hieronymus Bosch made me wiggly in the trouser department once. I think Pushead and a load of others were the force that made the wave that people are still riding. God bless ‘em and all who sail within her ma’am.
As a skateboarder did Pushead’s art influence you in any way growing up in skating back then?
To be totally honest, no. I remember the Zorlac board which brought it to a lot of people’s attention and I never liked Metallica. I love his stuff now though, but it wasn’t a big part of my art upbringing at all.
How does someone pitch a design to you as a piece of paid work and how do you format a new piece?
Clients send me an idea and if it doesn’t make me excited I ask them how malleable the brief is, we talk a bit if we need to and then I’ll knock out a sketch. If they like it I go from there. I avoid anything that doesn’t excite me anymore, it’s nice to be in that position and it makes me feel better about just making something for money. In my experience, unless I’m excited about it I don’t do my best and I always want to and try to do my best. I’m massively aware that these people could be spending this money on good things like drugs or women, so that they chose to spend it on me makes me want to make sure they get something good. I sketch in Photoshop and then make new layers till it looks smart.
How fast do you have to work to come up with the ideas in others heads to deliver work that they envisaged?
It’s really difficult to get some people to understand that although I can say “a 4 sided triangle” or “a neon earth colour” that the reality won’t work. I don’t mind spending time talking to clients if their ideas are unrealistic or if I am failing to understand them, I want to be sure before we move on we are on the same page. Sometimes if I can’t get it or it doesn’t work for me I suggest some other artists. It’s easier to spend 10 mins on a convincing email than it is to spend 2 days on a piece that doesn’t work. Some people are really thankful for that, some people think you are being obtuse on purpose, but as long as it stops me drawing shit things and them receiving shit drawings I’m happy.
Do many people actually say ‘nah, that’s not really what I want?’
Luckily not that often at all. Sometimes I will have a flash of inspiration and change the whole thing completely and if they don’t like it I am fine to go back and do the original idea. I’m cool with that and they don’t mind me trying. Sometimes in the past I have had a client that I described everything too, he’d seen my previous work and I had done sketches, but when I presented the final piece it wasn’t what he wanted. That’s why you have to make sure you have everything down in writing so you can refer back to it. I hate having to do phone calls about work because you think you said something, they think they definitely said ‘blue and not green’, but as long as you have it in writing you are fine. With this particular piece I made the changes within my time scale and budget and turned it from a piece I was proud of to a piece that I won’t show anyone. That’s how it works.
What has been the most ridiculous request so far for art that you just could not do?
Some band wanted a picture of a man beating up a girl with the words “fuck you bitch” on it. I really can’t stand that weak minded attitude. I luckily don’t get it that often and I really hope that there are not that many people out there that have that kind of thought process. You really get to put into perspective what’s ‘dark’ when you get a brief “a baby getting ripped out of a women’s vagina”. I’m no prude but I tend to stay away from stuff like that unless the message is one to get behind, but it’s like Jimmy Carr’s jokes – they work because you know the context in which he tells them, you can never be sure of the clients. I also had a request which was the most contradiction ever: an alien looking human with neon earth colours and a four sided triangle…..that type of thing. It’s not the worst but it is sometimes confusing.
If you could have one of your art pieces back right now, which one would it be and where did it go?
It would be a drawing of a cat I did recently on tea stained paper. A black cat with a landscape and a moon inside him. If you are reading this and you have it I would love to buy it back. I think someone paid good money for it so I want to believe it went to a good home. One of my fav’ all time pieces because it was honest, probably the most honest piece of art I’ve ever done.
Do you tend to get busier in the build-up to Halloween or is death and destruction something that your clients generally want all year round?
“Every day is Halloween.” – Ministry. Yeah, pretty much, that. I used to get super busy around Halloween when I first started but that seems to have died off…no pun intended.
Have you ever thought about drawing your own death in advance of moving in in this world?
I am not answering this- I know exactly how I will die.
What ideally would you like to leave behind?
Would be good to change something that lasts forever. You can have my ram skulls and first edition Marshal Law comic.
Any thanks, fuck you’s, big ups etc?
Big up to nice people. Shout out’s to good people. Thank you to my people.
I also want to give a big shout out the band Ingested for allowing us to use the artwork for the Crossfire Halloween Massacre flyer. It’s an old piece I did and it seemed like a good idea to use it for a Halloween inspired poster what with all the colours etc. Go check out the boys and buy a tee of it if you want too from facebook.com/ingesteduk
Where can we find your shit?
In the bog? www.godmachine.co.uk