There’s a wonderful (unauthorised) Banksy retrospective in New York at the moment. It’s called Banksy — Building Castles in the Sky and includes paintings, prints, posters, a sculpture, books and a selection of record and CD covers showing the many facets of Banksy’s art. It’s at 250 Bowery, on the Lower East Side, until December 31st 2022.
But there is one piece in particular that I’ve never seen before. It’s an early painting on board that was intended to be used as the cover art for a Massive Attack album (for Mezzanine I wonder?) However, it was never used.
This piece, 71 x 74 cms is dated 1998-1999 and is one of the first works one sees when entering the exhibition. It portrays Robert del Naja as a DJ in front of a circular saw. The sky background — reminicent of Yoko Ono’s cover for John Lennon’s Imagine album or the cloud on the cover of the Plastic Ono Band’s Live Peace in Toronto 1969 album — is painted while Del Naja is stencilled onto the background.
The star that Del Naja seems to be staring at recurs on Banksy’s Zapatista footballer from 2001.
Thus, the Cloud DJ image should be added to a discography of Banksy art on record, CD or cassette.
While collecting Andy Warhol‘s record cover art, I became aware of Jean-Michel Basquiat‘s art and have admired his record covers, but my interest in them has stayed there. I discovered them too late to be able to afford collecting them. I recently discovered Robert del Naja’s (A.k.a 3D’s) record cover art. He has provided several beautiful sleeves for The Vinyl Factory for a couple of Massive Attack‘s 12″ EPs and a collaboration with Jean Michel Jarre and, as I have written about in a previous post, the book “3D–The Art of Massive Attack“. I recently discovered that del Naja had also provided the cover art for U.N.K.L.E.‘s “War Stories” album from 2007 and that there is a limited edition four album set with a book.
The front cover of the “War Stories” box set.
The rear cover of the “War Stories” box set.
Del Naja had also provided cover art for some Mo Wax albums, two of which I used to own–The “Headz2A” and “Headz2B” compilations.
3D’s cover art for the “Headz2A” and “Headz2B” 4 LP box sets.
Unfortunately, these two box sets went when I sold the bulk of my record collection.
Robert del Naja was born in Bristol, U.K., on 21st January 1965 (though I’ve seen sources that say he was born in 1966). He is red/green colour blind, which obviously affects how he sees the colours of his artworks. He was interested in music and was impressed in the late seventies by the cover art of records on the Crass label and by covers on releases by The Clash–some of which included stencils allowing the owner to decorate t-shirts or even their bedroom walls. He became interested in street art after seeing examples of SAMO‘s (Jean-Michel Basquiat‘s) work in New York magazines and was impressed by pop art of Andy Warhol and Keith Haring.
Del Naja‘s first experiences of graffiti came from music videos (The Clash—“Radio Clash”, Malcolm McLaren—“Buffalo Gals”, and some early hip-hop videos).
He started stencilling street art in Bristol in 1982 and was further motivated by the 1983 film “Wild Style” that introduced New York graffiti artist Futura 2000. And an impressive number of street artists appeared in Bristol in the nineteen eighties, including 3D, Inkie, Ian Dark & Z Boys, Nick Walker and, towards the end of the decade, Banksy. At the same time del Naja began rapping together with Claude Williams at Bristol’s Barton Hill Youth Centre a.k.a The Dug Out (or Dugout). In about 1983 a loose group called the Wild Bunch formed that included Robert del Naja, Grant Marshall, Nellee Hooper, Claude Williams (aka Willy Wee), Milo Johnson (DJ Milo), Andrew Vowles and part-time member Tricky. The group toured widely and towards the end of the eighties DJ Milo left, preferring to remain in Japan after the group had toured there, and the band disintegrated with del Naja, Williams and Vowles leaving to form Massive Attack.
Robert del Naja, or more correctly, 3D has continued to develop his design and graphic output providing cover art for many records and CDs not only by Massive Attack but even for U.N.K.L.E. and has produced diverse prints, though he prefers to give them away rather than sell them.
The magazine VNA (Very Nearly Almost) No. 26 had an article on 3D and produced a special limited edition of the issue. Both editions had covers by 3D.
The standard edition of VNA magazine No. 26.
The limited edition of VNA magazine No. 26. No. 1/40.
I had heard of Robert del Naja in my research into the roots of Banksy‘s art and learnt that del Naja–alias 3D–was a leading figure in Bristolian street art long before Banksy started decorating Bristol’s streets. Banksy has acknowledged 3D as a major influence. I knew also that del Naja was a member of Massive Attack. Del Naja has even been suspected of actually being Banksy. despite Banksy‘s ex-agent Steve Lazarides stating that he had seen Banksy at a Massive Attack gig.
I got hold of Robert del Naja‘s book “3D and the Art of Massive Attack” last autumn and wrote a post about it last October. A couple of months ago I bought a copy of Massive Attack‘s “Heligoland”–the limited edition version from The Vinyl Factory, with its spangly cover.
I then saw a copy of The Vinyl Factory’s limited edition (1000 copies) of Massive Attack‘s “Atlas Air” 12″ offered together with a copy of Very Nearly Almost (VNA) magazine No. 26 which featured an article on 3D for the amazing sum of £300! And the VNA magazine was the regular version, not the limited edition one. I picked up a copy of VNA no. 26 for the princely sum of £15!
and decided that I would try to get the “Atlas Air” and “Splitting the Atom” 12″-ers too. I was lucky enough to find a seller in Germany who could supply both! They arrived a couple of days ago and I’m really pleased I got them. The cover art is magnificent.
The limited edition of “Atlas Air”. My copy is No. 085/1000.
The limited edition of “Splitting the Atom”. My copy is No. 576/1000.
I decided that I would buy the limited edition of “3D and the Art of Massive Attack“, too. Said and done! My copy was number 149/350 and includes a print by 3D (from a run of 1325 copies, an expanded version of the ordinary book called “Protection” and, not least a single sided 12″ entitled “Vermona“–which is only available in this box set.
The cover of the book of 3D‘s art and the print (on hardboard) and the “Vermona” single sided 12″ with 3D‘s etching on the reverse.
I’m waiting for the remastered reissue of “Mezzanine“, Massive Attack‘s magnificent 1998 album. A special 3 LP version with coloured vinyl will be released in late January 2019 to celebrate its 20th anniversary. The stag beetle cover photo is by Nick Knight and the remastered vinyl package will come in a heat-sensitive box with more photos by Knight and 3D.
Robert del Naja, a.k.a 3D, is a musician, artist and composer probably best known as being a founder member of the trip hop group Massive Attack. He has also other musical projects. del Naja was born in Bristol in 1965 and has been credited as the the city’s first graffiti artist and Banksy has named him as a major influence–it can be noted that suggestions have been made that del Naja IS Banksy! A real fact about him is that he is colour blind. Something that caused him problems in his early works–painting a self-portrait with green hair and brown Christmas trees.
I really liked the deceptively simple cover art for Massive Attack’s “Mezzanine” album, with its stag beetle image. Otherwise I had not paid particular attention to the group’s cover art. I was completely unaware that del Naja had a separate career as a record cover artist. He admits to have been designing covers for Mo’ Wax records for eight years–I once owned the 1994 Mo Wax vinyl samplers “Headz 1” and “Headz 2” with cover paintings by del Naja, though I then had no idea who he was.
Mo Wax 1996 compilation Headz 2A, with cover art by Robert del Naja.
Mo Wax 1996 compilation Headz 2, with cover art by Robert del Naja.
Just recently, The Vinyl Factory published “3D & the Art of Massive Attack” by Robert del Naja and Sean Bidder–a 400 page book of Robert del Naja’s art. There are two versions, a popular edition selling for £50 or a limited edition of 350 signed copies selling for £350. I have the popular edition, which came sealed in cellophane with the Vinyl Factory sticker with bar cove on the outside. The book only contains pictures of del Naja’s artworks with no text apart from a three page interview in a separate 12-page booklet included in the package. Reviews of the book state that Banksy has written the book’s introduction, but I couldn’t find it in my copy–perhaps that’s only included in the limited edition…
I was fascinated to find out that Robert del Naja has cooperated with photographer Nick Knight to produce record cover art. The “Mezzanine” cover is one example.
Del Naja again approached Nick Knight for the cover photo for Massive Attack’s “best of” compilation “Collected”.
Nick Knight’s most famous cover photographs are probably David Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane” cover, Björk’s 1997 “Homogenic” or Nick Cave & The Bad Seed’s “The Boatman’s Call” covers, but he has also photographed Miguel Bosé (see a previous recordart post for another Miguel Bosé album) for the cover of his 1987 album “XXX” among many others.
I was disappointed with the book at first, but it lead me to start looking for more examples of Robert del Naja’s record covers and that has proved to be an interesting journey. I will have to try to contain my interest and NOT start collecting his covers.