BRUTE! Propaganda art?.
Sometimes art is subtle and of course sometimes it gets in
your face. I have always liked the latter, but sometimes an artist work does
both and blows me away.† I am a big fan
of the Industrial band KMFDM and have love their album covers done by an artist
called Brute! His work smacks you in the face and demands attention with big
bold strokes, propaganda slogans and comic book like heroes and villains. His real
name is Aidan Hughes. Aidan was good enough to share his views with me.
ZPB: You refer to your work as propaganda. Why? In what sense is it
BRUTE!: Most art today has some sort of underlying message
to it, judging from the pretentious/ hilarious explanatory notes that accompany
it in galleries these days. In order to distance myself from this sort of art
I have, in the past, used several different names to
describe what we do here at BRUTE! Propaganda (Pop Constructivism and New
Gothic were a couple bandied around in the last decade) but we settled on the
term Propaganda as we see what we do here as having no pretense, hidden
symbolism or particular philosophy behind it. It is as pure as a stamp or a
logo or a flag, without all the bollocks that usually accompanies art these
days. It is intended to hit you instantaneously, as your car races past or as
you are shunted past it on escalators. We want to leave a trace image on your
eyeballs for the rest of the day, not leave you pondering endlessly on the
socio-political symbolism inherent in the work. We donít care if you like the
image or not. Its not for us to do anything except get your attention. The rest
is down to you.
The propaganda of the last century yelled basic messages
during times when artists didnít have the time or the will to play
quasi-psychiatric guessing games with the general public. Propaganda artists
had to use concise and powerful text and images to get their message across:
Donít Spit on the Floor! Uncle Sam Needs You! Loose Lips Sink Ships! etc. We
also use the term Propaganda to denote our belief in our cause and the need to
work, through Art, to further it. Our experiences in the TV and advertising
industries in the late 80ís made me admire the work of the copywriter and the
ad man. I admire their use of image, slogan and typeface more than the vague
and incomprehensible efforts on display in art galleries and this is why I
align my work more with the direct impact of the propagandists than with
so-called fine artists.
ZPB: Much of your work has been used by KMFDM on their CD
covers. What is your relationship to KMFDM?
BRUTE!: They are clients of BRUTE! Propaganda. Iíve only
met them twice in the last fifteen years. Its difficult to maintain contact
when youíre on opposite sides of the Atlantic and I only travel if I really
ZPB: You have done several animated projects for MTV etc.
Have you ever considered a full-length animated feature film?
BRUTE!: I would love to do one and I have the idea all
sketched out. Just waiting for the technology to catch up. It is based on the
idea that later became ZPC, the shooter I did for GT Interactive in the mid
90ís. I thought of the project back in the late 80ís when I had become sick of
writing treatments for low-budget film scripts that never got off first base.
In those days you wrote around your budget and it was extremely frustrating,
especially as youíd only get around $150 for each treatment. So a friend of
mine suggested that I just write off the top of my head and so I decided I
would write the most expensive film ever made. It was about the end of the
world brought about by a homeless weirdo living on the streets of New York.
It had all sorts of biblical parallels and was going to be
through the roof as far as cutting edge special effects went at the time. Other
work came up and I left it alone for a while, waiting until I could find a
writer to work on it with me. Then, when they asked me to art direct the ZPC
game, I told them of the script I had been trying to finish and they were
knocked out by it. I didnít want the idea to be totally used for the game so I
brought in a number of other elements to make it fit better with the format,
just wish fulfillment stuff like, wouldnít it be cool if the Knights Templar
were these super powerful ninja types and what if Jesus had come back from the
dead to take on the Nazis? Just mad stuff that appealed to me based on my
interests at the time. After the game came out I took the ZPC treatment and
wrote a story around it and went out searching for a writer. I asked a few
Hollywood guys to take a peek (Michael Miner, who wrote Robocop, was one) but I returned to England shortly
afterwards. I think the general consensus was that the film could not be made,
as it was too huge and expensive. It would have made Pearl Harbor look like
finger painting. Iíd also like to say that animation is one of the most
heart-breaking professions in the world. If your client doesnít like one minute
of what you have done, its a thousand drawings that they are asking you to
replace and that can do your head in, especially if it happens more than once.
I did an station ID for a TV station and they changed their minds on practically
everything, forcing the company to put every penny weíd made from the film back
into redoing it. Then they removed the music and added some horrendous shit of
their own. The finished product made no sense and looked a mess, which is why I
wonít show it and also why I think long and hard before going down that road
ZPB: Your work has touched on some pretty hairy subjects
including addiction, violence, and fascism. What subject would you like to take
a stab at, but have been hesitant to try? What is too much for Brute?
BRUTE!: I have always wanted to get involved with the
official side of War Propaganda. I
would love to work in the War Ministry, going in every day and dreaming up new
ideas to keep the citizens aware of the conflict. However, the propaganda I have seen coming out of the US after
the Sept. 11th is about as inspiring as an 80ís Pepsi ad. What is it
about the Yanks that they have to cover all their official propaganda in
molasses? Air-brushed children and soccer moms, firemen cradling cans of Coke at Ground Zero, baseball players high-fiveing each other. The
hard-liners of the Taliban would have more respect for the US if they just told
them the truth: We are going to Napalm your beardy asses, Big Time!!
The other subject Iíd like to handle would be pornography.
You can go on all day about the effects of violent imagery desensitizing
everyone but just get some fit young lady to get her top off and everything
gets thrown into focus. The money we spend and the hours we put in just to see
that. Sex is the most potent subject of all. Even the most prudish person
cannot tear their eyes away from a sexually titillating image whereas most
people are repelled by images of war. In answer to your question regarding how
far would we go, well thatís simple: we never use negative imagery and besides,
weíd never get permission to release anything that would be construed as too
controversial. Even KMFDM have told me to tone things down a couple of times.
People want to sell their goods and a nasty cover might jeopardize that. There
have been times when we have been aware of people using BRUTE! artwork to
further their dubious philosophies and while we obviously donít condone any
group or individual doing this its not hard to appropriate our stuff as there is so much of it floating
around the web. We do live in a hypocritical age where there are prime time
kidís shows showing men being kicked in the testicles as a comedy moment and
yet you canít show a guy slapping a chick on the ass.
ZPB: What do you consider your most important piece? Is it the message of the piece or the execution of that message?
BRUTE!: This is a tough one. You see the dynamic of the
BRUTE! style is in the execution of
each line. There are dozens of little victories in a BRUTE! piece, where you
see the plotting of the perspective come alive in the inking and the faces achieve a character you may not have
originally envisaged. When people say my work is violent I think it is the
explosive nature of the art style more than the content. You never see any exit
wounds or severed limbs in my work. The pain is in the facial lines and
clothing creases etc. My most important piece has to be the ĎHonor the Braveí
poster for Sept 11 which, I think, speaks for itself. The feedback from survivors,
relatives and ordinary Americans has been phenomenal and itís great to feel that youíre making a difference to peopleís lives and not
just to a handful of disaffected Goths in Portland.
ZPB: Have you ever considered working in a
comic book/graphic novel format? If so, what genre?
BRUTE!: The BRUTE! style is about moment of impact. If you
over-use it you dilute it. Page after
page of explosions, sexual penetrations and knock-out punches would get boring,
believe me. I once did a monthly comic strip for a magazine and it got so
repetitive, drawing the same faces over and over again (thatís why Iím an
animation director and not an animator). I canít read the things any more,
especially the super-hero stuff. Even as a kid I only bought them for the artwork,
the dialogue was sooo bad. To read them was like rinsing your brain in sherbet
dip. However, should someone offer me a shitload of money for doing one I
imagine my reluctance would rapidly melt away (what a slut!).
ZPB: What piece is your personal favorite? The one that
best exemplifies BRUTE!.
BRUTE!: To answer your question as best I can Iíd say
ĎCrash!í for KMFDM. I really worked my
ass off getting the multi-perspectives right and I can still say I wouldnít
change a line. I also like the KMFDM pic with the lesbian carrying the
unconscious chick and the dead guy in the background(canít remember the title). Postal Rampage was fun to do also. I
canít say which one totally exemplifies the BRUTE! all-time classic image
because they each have their own
ZPB: Who or what is your greatest influence?
BRUTE!: In order of discovery: Jack Ďthe Kingí Kirby,
Steve Ditko, Lynd Ward, Frans Masereel,
El Lissitsky, Alexander Rodchenko, Kasimir Malevitch, Fortunato Depero, the
Grosvenor Group, the Vorticists and the graphic artists of Germanyís Weimar
ZPB: What is coming up for Brute? Whatís
currently on your plate?
BRUTE! The events of Sept. have made my American chums
very reticent with their folding stuff and the work has almost dried up from
there. Also, there has been a huge fallout from the dot.com, broadband and
general IT collapse: a lot of people are going to be out of work in our
industry. However, I still continue to
show work in various exhibitions (I have a couple of pieces showing on the
Picadilly Line, London Underground, at the moment) and I am currently finishing
off a series of War Propaganda artworks which will end up as prints next year. Aside from
my commercial work I like to get my head around new software, making sound
loops and creating animations etc. As an artist, I work from one piece to the
next, whether its propaganda or press campaign. Itís all the same to me. I just
want to expand my range and continue to be as unique as possible without having
to sell out too much or rip off other artists. After spending so many years
working in the industry means that I only get work now where I can do more or less
what I want and get paid for it. And that is about as successful as I want to be.