Draw the line… Picture the scene – a dark, sweaty Liverpool venue pulsing to the beat of the latest gang of musicians to arrive on our shores. While bodies twist with abandon (or gaze in wonder depending on the pint count), you graze elbows with a crazy man stood at the edge of the throng, scribbling intently into a sketchpad. If you’ve been in this scenario and wondered who on earth this guy is, I can now reveal: his name is MOOK LOXLEY.
Well, his name is actually Robin Peters, and for the last three years he’s been sketching live performances under the Mook Loxley moniker, some of which you may have seen on the @bidolito Instagram account. Now his impressions of the likes of Mugstar, Richard Dawson, Evian Christ and Mogwai will be collated into an exhibition – the imaginatively titled Mook Loxley Gig Sketching – launching on 8th October at The Well Space on Roscoe St., featuring live music on the night from Afternaut.
As we sit down over a glass of rum and a particularly fiery plate of jerk chicken to discuss the full Mook Loxley origin story, it turns out to be fittingly convoluted, not to mention accidental, for such a devoted comic book fan. “I was living in London, just drawing, while at the same time a friend was writing in Liverpool,” Loxley begins searching for the first ink blots of this journey. “We were both complaining that no-one was interested in our work, so decided to join forces and make a comic, set in the 1930s about a jazz band. That was a big part of the reason I moved to Liverpool.” However, they soon ran into practical problems: “It was ridiculously complicated! The first episode has an earthquake, as well as a Dr. Caligari figure, complete with a menagerie of animals. It’s easy to write “Earthquake” across a double-page spread, but a lot harder to research and then draw one.”
As the comic drifted towards the back burner, a trip to America provided the catalyst to a new direction. “I was in New Orleans, and started drawing a double bassist playing a bar on Bourbon Street,” remembers Loxley with fondness. “I was still thinking about learning techniques for comics, but also remembering the words of my A-level art teacher: ‘You always have to draw from real life’.” Recreating this experience back home initially proved difficult: “I couldn’t afford life-drawing classes, so I ended up drawing my mate’s band The Wild Eyes quite a lot. I’d sit in their practice room for hours and just sketch.”
It was around this point that Loxley, alongside friend and fellow artist Michael Snowdon, created Draw The Line – a gathering of artists of all skill levels who came together to share tricks, techniques and a canvas, one Thursday a month in Django’s Riff. “It was a way to meet other people who drew, in order to get better,” Loxley explains. As it became more popular they added live music, partly because of the venue but also there was common ground between the people attending musically as well as artistically. “That’s when I began regularly sketching live performances,” reveals Loxley. “Drawing from real life, it means I have to go out and draw in real situations. Drawing from a photo is only going to take you so far – you won’t get the real experience of what is going on.” While Django’s remains its spiritual home, over the years Draw The Line has trodden a nomadic path through a cross-section of the city’s cultural totems, including FACT, The Bluecoat, MelloMello and Radio Merseyside. There was also an appearance at September’s Above The Beaten Track festival, which also featured a Mook Loxley DJ set. As someone with such a strong love of music, and particularly of drawing while listening to music, it was inevitable that those two streams would merge.
Speaking from personal experience, I’ve found Mook Loxley to be a knowledgeable and entertaining gig buddy. It’s not uncommon for him to draw as much attention as those onstage, much to my amusement and his embarrassment. Loxley has got used to being watched, but it’s clear he’d rather be in the background, as long as he can see the stage: “For the Jonwayne show I ended up right up his nostrils in the front row, which felt weird, as well as dangerous, as he’d already put his hand over someone’s camera. But I showed him the picture afterwards and he really liked it.” Like any artist Loxley wants his work to be appreciated, yet he’s often damned by the faint praise of those simply excited by the novelty of seeing something new: “Some people will tell me I’m amazing when I’ve only drawn three lines! Although I’d say the most common comment I get is ‘at least it’s better than taking a picture’.” Other gig goers have been less impressed, believing him to be as disengaged from the music as the camera-phone zombies. “I overheard someone at the Mogwai gig saying ‘yeah but he’s not really listening or enjoying it, is he?’, and it made me really think about it. If anything, drawing makes me more sensitive to the sounds – I hate people talking at gigs even more now!”
Loxley is adamant that focusing on both drawing and listening enhances rather than dilutes his concentration: “I find it harder to draw without something else distracting my mind. There’s a theory concerning drawing with either the verbal or the visual side of your brain. For example, if you’re drawing a nose, your verbal side has a pre-conceived idea of what a nose looks like, and as this is the dominant side it often stops you from actually looking. When there is something to distract that side of the brain, like music, you actually have to look, and suddenly it’s not ‘I’m drawing a nose’, but more ‘I’m drawing that curve there’. It breaks it down into shapes rather than objects. You get into the music, and the feeling and everything just flows naturally.”
The responses of those drawn have been “mostly positive, although some musicians just think I want money out of them,” he admits. The confusion is understandable, though – this isn’t like the kind of fan art you’d expect to see thrown at One Direction or 30 Seconds To Mars. What Loxley does is more of a visual review, with the end results very much dependant on the performance: “If it’s a bad gig, I think I do a worse picture. If I’m enjoying the gig and get lost in the experience, I feel like it comes easier, although I’ll have to look back through all my old sketch books to see if that’s actually true!”
Trawling through old work in preparation for this exhibition has taken up a significant amount of time already, as he’s not merely picking his favourites, but “those that feel more like complete pictures rather than just sketches”. The sheer number of pictures in just over three years is remarkable, with an evolution in style that can be tracked along the timeline, ranging from comic-style portraits to abstract explosions of colour and emotion. “Comics are about simple black lines that capture so much. There’s hardly any lines but they’re so accurate, as all the crazy pencil lines are obliterated in the inking stage, which I found a bit disappointing after all that hard work. There’s something about the messiness of live sketching that I really like.”
To see more of Mook Loxley’s work, follow Bido Lito! on Instagram (@bidolito) or follow Mook on mookloxley.tumblr.com.