Jason Atomic is an artist with a life-long dedication to underground culture. Always seeking new ways to document his strange and wonderful interactions, Jason’s latest work comes in the form of “Satanic Mojo,” an ambitious multi-part project that explores the impact of black magic on pop culture. The first installment of “Satanic Mojo” is a 36-page comix collaboration influenced by the occult revolution of the 1960s, a project that is currently being crowd-funded on Indiegogo. I’m proud to say that I’m a backer, and just in case “60s Satanism Comix” isn’t enough of an elevator pitch for you, Jason took some time out to go into detail about how “Satanic Mojo” came into existence and share details about what can be expected from the project.
TK: Your upcoming project “Satanic Mojo” is in many ways a tribute to the dark side of 1960s counterculture. Why do you think there’s been such a resurgence in interest in this period in recent years?
JA: The fact that political correctness has gone so far that it turns back on itself and becomes repressive (no boobies on Facebook and so on), could be stimulating an interest in the more lurid elements of pop culture. In the swinging 60s people really appreciated the freedoms they had fought for, and I think that’s why their expression of that freedom seems so nostalgic to us now.
Or maybe it’s just the Aeon of Horus/Age of Aquarius kicking in?
|Art from “Satanic Mojo”|
It’s like everything has gone hippie anyway. It’s all Organic, ethical and fair trade, Hipster t-shirt brands, local produce, farmers markets, Occupy, Free Pussy Riot! These would all have been considered ‘hippie’ things in the 80s and 90s, yet now they are seen as not only common sense, but even fashionable/aspirational.
People who want to “re-educate” punks in Malaysia or “kill the gays” in Uganda get grilled and shamed online; oppressive regimes are on the defensive. It’s all getting a bit “brothers and sisters, fight the power!”
TK: How did “Satanic Mojo” wind up as a comix project as opposed to, say, a film or a series of paintings? Did the idea suggest itself naturally, or did it emerge over the course of conversations/living life?
JA: My first idea was to make un-dipped LSD blotter sheet prints, but the drug issue seems to be quite controversial, e.g. amongst straight-edge orthodox Satanists – and also crowd-funding websites…
I established the chronology of Legend of Satanic Mojo within my own lifetime—1967 to present—and am producing facsimile ephemera from key points along that timeline. The late 60s and early 70s can be summed up, for me, by things such as black light posters, underground comix, schlocky horror, rock music and associated paraphernalia.
|Art from “Satanic Mojo”|
I’ve done comix before and I like it that this format allows you to have special effects with no budget. But I also am putting together a team of artists, photographers, film makers, musicians and writers to collaborate on future endeavours.
TK: You’re collaborating with a number of amazing fellow artists to create “Satanic Mojo” comix, including Shaky Kane of the remarkable and surreal Image title “Bulletproof Coffin” and 2000ad vet Garry Leach. Can you tell me a little about how you came to work with this team?
JA: I met Shaky through contributing fan-art to his comic. I sent him some paintings I’d done of The Coffin Fly and he asked me if I’d mind them being used in the comic (they appear decorating the stairwell of Golden Nugget Publications).
|Shaky Kane artwork from “Satanic Mojo”|
“Bulletproof Coffin” by Shaky and writer David Hine is twisted metafiction where the characters in the comic are comic readers who become the characters they read bout and seek salvation in the form of the creators of the comic who themselves are now characters.
With my art having already been absorbed into Shaky’s metafictional world, it seemed a logical step to include him in mine. I asked him how it could be that he was contributing to an underground comic in San Francisco in 1969 and he explained that after he and David Hine had sold their characters to “Big 2 Comics” he had ended up in a studio above a Chinese laundry on Bleecker Streer where he self-published religious and pornographic tracts. Satanic Mojo Comix came out of that studio.
Garry Leach, I met through Orbital Comics in London’s West End. Orbital has a good gallery space where I have curated several exhibitions, including a couple of Halloween shows that I co-curated with Garry. He has an amazing collection of vintage comic art so we would mix that up with contemporary artwork inspired by comics and pop culture.
I also have on board a couple of excellent artists from the American underground scene, Paul Lyons and Dennis Franklin, both of whom worked on an excellent publication called “Monster” and which I thoroughly recommend.
TK: Legendary Coven vocalist Jinx Dawson designed the official “Satanic Mojo” sigil, and I have a hard time coming up with a more perfect representation of half cheeky/half serious occult pop culture. How did this collaboration arise?
JA: Jinx is a fascinating character; she is credited with introducing the sign of the horned hand to the rock scene back in the late 60s! So I wanted to write her into my story. I’d love to say we have this special connection, but truth be told I found her on EBay.
In late 2011, I started plotting a Satanic Mojo logo design. Initially I considered something akin to a black metal band logo, because the idea of something that is unreadable to the uninitiated is literally occult (i.e. hidden), but I didn’t want such a specific reference to limit the scope of the project.
So anyway, while researching the band Coven, the digital trail led me to Jinx’s EBay store where I discovered that she sells, amongst other things, hand-crafted bespoke sigils and spells.
|Satanic Mojo sigil by Jinx Dawson|
Jinx’s sigils have the same feel as those traditionally associated with the demons of the Goetia, so here was the perfect solution to my logo conundrum. Having a sigil designed and charged by a practicing witch with a seminal influence on the Satanic side of pop culture was the flame that lit the fuse of Satanic Mojo.
TK: The figures of Aleister Crowley, Anton LaVey and Charles Manson loom large in “Satanic Mojo.” Controversial not just in mainstream society, these individuals are divisive in the underground as well. While Crowley and LaVey have their adherents, others see them more as “egotists” than as “spiritual seekers.” Similarly, while Manson is seen by many as a homicidal madman, others are captivated by his charismatic, wild-eyed persona. What do these men represent to you?
JA: I have the most respect for LaVey—for his plain speech, humanistic common sense, and dedication to his vision. I don’t really know what else to say about Anton LaVey except read his books!
Crowley seems to be more of a prankster, writing with codes, in-jokes, cryptic wordplay; upsetting the apple cart, shocking the po-faced English establishment. His frankness about drug use and publication of pornographic fantasy certainly paved the way for some of the freedoms we now take for granted (and are in danger of losing).
|Art from “Satanic Mojo”|
Manson is the scapegoat for the demolition of the Love Generation. He shows how dangerous freedom can be, and as such is a great tool for those who would oppress us. The idea that someone can combine “Stranger in a Strange Land,” The Book of Revelations and The Beatles’ “White Album” to found a doomsday cult is a wonderful argument for censorship. But I think the real reason people hated Manson so much is that he was the “American Nightmare”—a reflection of the country that spawned him, and people don’t want to look in that particular fun-house mirror.
TK: One aspect of your portfolio is your highly expressive life drawings of contemporary alternative artists, musicians and cultural figures. What attracts you to your subjects? In what ways does drawing these people in-person become part of the final art piece?
JA: What attracts me is honesty, originality, passion, dedication, obsession… not so much popularity or financial success. I think anyone can learn some technical tricks and take advantage of a cultural zeitgeist.
The ones who interest me are often outsiders, but they are all people who live and breathe their art, people who would not be able to do anything else if they wanted to.
When I work I am obsessed with authenticity; I have to work from life or it isn’t real for me. A painting of a photograph, for example, is not a portrait of the person in the photograph, it is a representation of a 2D abstraction of that person.
So it then becomes my mission to manipulate events in a way that will allow me to cross paths with my subject (e.g. before my 2008 visit to NYC I contacted Sucklord and Rammellzee and respectfully requested they pose for my Favourite Artists series).
|Portrait of Rammellzee by Jason Atomic|
Everything is documented in my sketchbooks and diaries—rituals conducted, degrees of separation, favours called in, jobs booked, whatever I consider appropriate. There is usually a wealth of supporting material, sometimes even collaborations—all of which I consider part of the work.
TK: Among your many accomplishments, you hold the “un-offical World land speed record for portraiture,” a feat documented on film and viewable on YouTube. Can you tell me how this came about, and what it was like to undertake the project?
JA: Like too many things in my life, it bubbled up out of the subconscious in what I thought was quite a flippant…
To cut a long story short, I visited the National Portrait Gallery one day and was handed one of those audience response cards. One of the questions was what would increase my future enjoyment of the gallery, so I said “being booked to come and do a live sketching performance” (I’d already been doing similar things in clubs and galleries around the world). To my surprise, they called me up the next day and asked me to come in and explain myself. The issue of speed came up (I can get a good likeness of my subject in seconds), so we decided to try and set a record. I did 42 full-length, life-size, clean line portraits in one hour (which I think averages out at about 45 seconds each). It was amazing, the nearest I’ve ever come to playing sport. The whole thing was filmed by my pal Alex Snelling. Sadly, Guinness refused to make it official; apparently they can’t count portraits because they can’t define what one is (even at the National Portrait Gallery!).
TK: I’ve been enjoying looking at your sketchbook and all the on-the-spot drawings. Would it be fair to call you a documentarian, or maybe even a counterculture anthropologist?
JA: Yes, I resemble those remarks.
In the way that David Attenborough looks at nature, how the creatures of the natural world interact, how they are related, their evolutions and migrations etc., so am I interested in street fashion, youth tribes, underground culture, secret societies and so on. I love to see how ideas warp and change over time or as they travel around the world.
|Jason Atomic sketches on-the-spot|
For example, when I first moved to London in the 1980s I was heavily into the Goth scene, as we move into the 90s most UK Goths had devolved into shabby hippie/metal throwbacks, and the cool kids were into Acid House.
Then I moved to Tokyo where the cool kids were into hip hop and jazz, but on a street level the Gothic Lolita scene was just starting to emerge. I took to that like a duck to water, of course. At one point I could barely walk down the street without ending up in a style mag (a twisted version of my look even came back to haunt me as the Shinigami in Death Note).
The GothLoli look has now reanimated the international Goth scene and crossed over into mainstream fashion.
Now cosplay is massive, geeks are cool and trendy people go to comic conventions … It is all just fascinating to me.
TK: I get a great feeling of energy and improvisation when looking at your work. How did you develop this style of creating art?
JA: My style of drawing emerged through a game we used to play as bored teenagers. “Drawing Without Looking” we called it, the idea being that if you stare at the subject while you draw you can catch an incredible likeness hidden within a scribble.
If you look at an eye and then look down and draw an eye, you are working from memory at that point, not life.
So something about that approach made sense to me. It was almost like I was discovering the signature of their secret name or something… it’s difficult to explain, but it just seems more real, more authentic; you don’t just get a likeness, you get an ambience, an idea of mood and movement, you can tell if the artist or model (or both) is drunk, for example.
When it comes to colouring I feel quite impetuous, I want things done quickly and prefer the random accident to laboured technique, so I will literally throw and splash the paint on the canvas, let it dribble and bleed.
Often, when I visit a new town of country, I won’t even take a sketchbook or art materials along with me, but instead rely upon whatever I can find at hand, pens stolen from wherever there are pens – I don’t even think about it, my hand will find a pen and I’ll start drawing, no one ever challenged me beyond that point… I’ll buy kiddies’ drawing books from the 100 yen store, or just draw on flyers, train tickets or whatever rubbish is available. Ephemera adds flavour to the documentary nature.