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Savage Pencil & Chris Long:

Battle Of The Eyes

Battle Of The Eyes will be drawing live at Comica Comiket being held at Bishopsgate Institute, 230 Bishopsgate, London on Saturday 12 November and at Comica Club Night at The Book Club, 100-106 Leonard St, London on Tuesday 15 November and selling their first prints.

Battle Of The Eyes burnt briefly but brilliantly in 1985 as an ‘ideologically insane’ post-punk art-gang, whose extreme flagship tabloid, sneeringly named Nyak-Nyak!, trampled borders between the trash culture of hot rods, monsters and comics, and the British music scene from which the trio sprang.

Savage Pencil (alias critic Edwin Pouncey) had been scrawling the excoriating satirical strip Rock ‘n’ Roll Zoo since 1976 in the music paper Sounds, Eyeball (Chris Long) cartooned the zeitgeist for NME, and Andy Dog (Andy Johnson) crafted record covers, including several for his brother Matt’s band, The The.

Early this year, Chris Long reconnected with Savage Pencil to reform BOTE as a duo. Meeting at their studio every Wednesday, they embarked on large, explorative, totally collaborative paintings in acrylics and charcoal, jamming back and forth, intensively and intuitively. Long explains, “We’d pencilled comics together before, but this is more intertwined. You don’t see two people, we’re working as one. There are parts neither of us could have done on our own, as if some collective brain is taking over. Crossing pens and brushes, we get into a frenzy.”

The results were their first Predatory Life images about the fight for survival, one showing a two-headed turtle locked against a mutated baboon, another a horned hyena cackling amidst radioactive devastation.

This highly unusual creative fusion took them down a wholly unimagined path, when they conjured up a more sombre and contemplative artwork inspired by photos of a large jellyfish in a stagnant laboratory tank and a mongoose on its back. Savage Pencil recalls, “We had both recently lost our mothers and we realised that this might be coming through in this painting. The jellyfish is like the grim reaper, it’s not evil or benign, it’s the inevitability of it, we’re all in its way. When I traced the skull of the mongoose, I could flashback to that black room I was led to, where my mother was laid out, almost like a weird shell.”

Though his circumstances were different, Long felt the same resonances through this incongruous image: “There is no battle here, it’s almost peaceful. We realised we were getting this feeling out of us, this experience of losing a loved one, and it was something we needed to keep going.”

So out of that opening image they evolved a suite of four entitled ‘Requiem Ark’, employing a wide range of techniques. In each one, the fixed viewpoint of the water’s surface divides dour reality above from the seething depths below, a frontier between two worlds. From the fetus-like mongoose’s initial lethal shock caught up in those electrified tendrils, the two creatures shift through the sulphurous, charcoal-encrusted cremation to an almost psychedelic bliss and a final atrophied letting-go, both now dead and floating away from each other. Because, as Savage Pencil quotes H.P. Lovecraft, “Even death may die.”

Posted: November 7, 2011

This article originally appeared in Art Review Magazine.

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