Robert Del Naja: Massive Art Attack

Robert Del Naja: Massive Art Attack

Living in London might be expensive, dirty and stressful but you can't complain about a lack of amazing artists exhibiting on your doorstep.

And nothing makes an middle-aged music lover happier then old favourites returning to form. Not only did Tricky bless a track on Massive Attack's new "Ritual Spirit" EP with his raspy raps that were so sorely missed after his split with the band but Robert Del Naja went into the print studio of Steve Lazarides to create 6 limited hand-finished record sleeves for it's vinyl release.

This reminded me that I never really had Robert Del Naja aka 3D down as one of the most important British Graffiti artists which he surely is. Not only did Banksy quote him as an inspiration but he was the first Graffiti writer in Bristol hitting walls as early as 1984, sometimes together with other legendary writers like Goldie. Oh, and he's colourblind.

Let's travel back to 1994. Although back then I was aware of their massive hit single "Unfinished Sympathy" the first Massive Attack album that really hit me was "Protection". The whole Bristol scene really blew up at that time and Trip Hop raised it's blunted head(z). 

The song "Sly" off "Protection" had the biggest impact one me with it's John Barry-esque orchestration and Nicole going full on black Geisha. The video features a lot of inverted colour effects which now reminds me a lot of Del Naja's later paintings.  

The other thing that stuck with me was the collaged cardboard record cover artwork with the weird bubble character and the knife and fork. It felt like Del Naja ripped apart the iconic "Blue Lines" cover to puzzle together the artwork of "Protection" with some added bits stuck on top. 

The artwork for singles "Protection" and especially "Karmacoma" showed off an additional side to Del Najas style: The manic free flowing child like scribbles and sketches channeling Jean-Michel Basquiat.

"Basquiat’s influence was big for me at this point. As well as magazine clippings I had unexpectedly seen his work in a gallery in Tokyo. He painted in a raw and confrontational way. He abused the canvas with chaotic composition and intense primary colours. It wasn’t just his imagery but the juxtaposed cultural references: media saturation, brand communication, power, poverty, African history, colonisation and exploitation. Everything was consumer labeled and the words seemed part-manifesto and part-hit list." - via The Vinyl Factory

Parallel to Massive Attack another canvas appeared for Del Naja: The record covers of MoWax releases. I am ashamed to say that it never came to my mind that the artwork of seminal MoWax compilations "Headz" and "Headz 2a + b" were created by Del Naja. And I call myself a MoWax expert?

Original "Headz" painting from 1994

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3D returned to MoWax again in 2003 for UNKLEs second album "Never Never Land". Not only did he contribute vocals on track "Invasion" but his artwork sneaks onto the 12" remix singles and the animated video by Shynola for lead single "Eye for an eye".

Whilst he abstained from creating artwork for the Massive Attack albums "Mezzanine" and "100th Window", James Lavelle encouraged him to pick up the paintbrush again to create paintings for his next UNKLE album "War Stories". Del Naja actually credits Lavelle a lot for getting him back into art. When the band relaunched in 2007 with "War Stories", showcasing a rockier sound and all new collaborators, Del Naja provided all the visual imagery. 

As with any project involving two perfectionists the "War Stories" vinyl release was more than lush, featuring a sturdy box holding quadruple vinyl and a 50 page booklet with Del Najas paintings.

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Del Najas artwork featured heavily on T Shirts, Pins, Remix and Spin Off Albums until UNKLEs "War Story" phase ended with the release of "Where Did The Night Fall" in 2010 .

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Artwork for "End Titles". Image via Sam Freeman

Top left clockwise: "Hold my hand" single, "Restless" single, "End Titles... Redux" album, "War Stories" album

With the "War Stories" artwork behind him, 3D's artistic vision focused on Massive Attack releases again. With publisher The Vinyl Factory providing the manufacturing the band released three highly limited EP's in 2009, all featuring screenprinted artwork by 3D.  Sold out in minutes, this trilogy represents the rarest and most expensive pieces of the Massive Attack back catalogue.

Whilst the first EP "Splitting The Atom" still visually echoes UNKLE's "War Stories", the "Atlas Air EP" and the collaborative 12" with Burial focuses on new, minstrel inspired imagery. 

The cover of the 5th Massive Attack album "Heligoland" takes this concept to the next iteration with a minstrel illustration beneath a grey rainbow. The Vinyl Factory again creates a special deluxe version with a triple gatefold sleeve featuring unique black-glitter coated cover artwork by Robert Del Naja, heavyweight vinyl, a CD with the album and an exclusive 28-page booklet, featuring new Robert Del Naja artwork and Massive Attack tour photography. 

"The minstrel on the front cover represents this tendency to recreate a fictional reality to replace real reality. That's what's happening now. You create these talent shows and these reality TV shows and you start to replace reality with reality, but the reality you're looking at is actually manufactured.
The black and grey rainbow came about because I noticed that rainbows are popping up everywhere, all over people's advertising. It felt that in the manual for the recession someone had gone: "Add colour to your advertising! If you can, add a rainbow! It'll cheer everyone up and they'll start spending their money again." So that's why I thought, "I'm gonna desaturate the rainbow and present it as it really is". This rainbow is not going to make you happy. There is no pot of gold." - via The Independent
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I was lucky enough to get a deluxe version of this album and I can say: Not only is the music a return to form, but so is the artwork! 

2013 saw the arrival of the first big solo show of Del Najas paintings in London at Lazarides gallery in Soho. The show carried the title "Fire Sale" and it was it awesome seeing all of Del Naja's art in one space, connecting all the visual dots.  

As a nice goodie they had leftover screen printed news print available to take away for free which was a nice touch.

Of cause you can't do such an exhibition without launching a big art book as well... 3D and The Art of Massive Attack! As the book was produced by The Vinyl Factory you knew there's gonna be a special edition coming as well: So to your left say hello to the the regular version, to the right marvel at the special edition worth £300, featuring extra etched vinyl, a signed print and much more. Drool here.

So what's next in 2016? Well, another mad limited The Vinyl Factory EP release, another Lazarides supported show and more musical goodness from 3D and Daddy G. This time with added Tricky!

The collecting hustle never stops when you live in London!

Images via 3D's Instagram

Personally, Massive Attack already released MY favorite collectors item in 1998: The "Singles 90/98" vinyl box set! Packing 11 x 12"inch vinyl featuring all the classic tracks in great remixes, the box itself is heat sensitive and each 12" sleeve features artwork by 3D. Unfortunately only mass printed and not silk screened but you need to keep things affordable, right?

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Ok so back to the beginning: Lazarides Editions, Robert Del Naja and the launch of the new Massive Attack EP, Ritual Spirit. What can I say, I had a great night! And one day I will be able to afford myself a proper 3D piece...

The exhibition runs from 3rd February 2016 to 5th March 2016

Tuesday–Saturday 11am–7pm. Admission is free

Lazarides Editions: 22 Upper Ground, London, SE1 9PD

Further reading:

The Guardian - Massive Attack's art of darkness

Clash Magazine - Personality Clash: James Lavelle vs Robert Del Naja

Red Lines - 3D

The Independent - Robert '3D' Del Naja's massive attack on the art world

For eveything MoWax... http://www.mowaxplease.com/ ( thanks for the Headz 2 pic )

...oh and: Big shout out to my man MoMatt for providing "Fire Sale" snaps at the last minute!

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