What came first… art or music? Whichever it was there is no question that the two go hand-in-hand. The images associated with a new album are visual representations of what musicians believe embody their own expression. Wikipedia tells me that the album art cover was pioneered by a German company called Odeon, for the cover of Tchaicovsky’s Nutcracker Suite in 1909; a bit of factual information to keep you engaged.
Moving forward a few decades, little did we know that before the great Andy Warhol hit the big time he worked as a commercial artist on various different projects including album covers in the late 1950s. His most famous album cover for The Velvet Underground which pictured a stick on banana that could be peeled off to expose the same, but this time flesh-coloured, perhaps gained him more fame than the jazz covers of his early days. The association between the sado-masochistic music of the band and the image chosen for the cover, the vulgarity of what lay beneath and Warhol’s vision capture the objective of all the artists involved; to express.
In 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono chose a painting by French artist Yves Klein, to adorn the cover of the Live Peace Toronto 1969. The artist, who had passed away seven years before, is today best known for his blue on white canvases painted with a method he referred to as Anthropometry; the method of using the human body as a brush. The work chosen by Ono and Lennon featured a blue sky with a single white cloud in a corner. The cloud symbolized the imperfection of the world and so related to the peace concert through it’s contrast of a utopia and reality.
The Electric Peacock Festival coincidentally featured the previously mentioned album cover of Warhol in their best album covers page for this issue. I admit I gave myself a pat on the back for this one as I don’t pretend to know anything about music and in a final cry of desperation called upon the guest editor for advice. Browsing through the best album cover images it did strike me that I never really thought about what the Nirvana Nevermind cover represented. A bit of research didn’t provide me with much information but it seems to be the common opinion and I agree, that the baby represents humankind born into a world filled with material greed. Ironically the baby turned 20 and grabbed his five minutes of fame last September.
Blur is featured twice by EPF, the first a work by Banksy (I’m not talking about him again, so if you’re interested read the back issues!), the work itself was commissioned for the album and is titled Think Tank. It was featured at a time when street art was entering the international arena and many consider this work to have been the beginning of Banksy’s rise to fame. The second cover of the Blur album featuring an illustration of all four band members now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery and is by internationally acclaimed artist Julian Opie. Unusually the cover did not feature the album name, and the style with which the illustrations have been painted simplify the characters of each of the band members.
David La Chappelle is a very very famous Israeli photographer who captures surrealistic portraits of Hollywood with all it’s vulgar, artificial extremities and has worked on countless album covers for stars, while holding exhibitions of his work worldwide. His portraits of Michael Jackson, Lil’ Kim, Madonna, Gisele, Naomi Campbell, and hundreds more stars, are referred to as fine art photography presenting the music and movie industry at it’s best. It’s tacky, it’s insanely commercial but he is doing every bit of it on purpose. The irony of LaChapelle’s photography is that it seems he has figured out how to make celebrities love a portrait in which he is really laughing at them hysterically.
Album covers can represent something deeper or they can simply be a work of self-depiction. My final album cover today, Dookie, is one of my personal favourites of all time. The cartoon-like illustration by Richie Bucher, a relatively unknown illustrator and musician, pictures characters and stories of meaning to the band. The title of the album itself Dookie, refers to the uncomfortable bowel movements (yes, I’m talking shit) experienced by the band as they travelled on tour eating expired food. It’s not conceptual or surrealist; it’s straightforward and representational. Art does not always have to have layers of intensity to be enjoyable, and this is strongly my opinion on music as well. I don’t really believe we can have one without the other, our senses of sight and hearing seem far too closely aligned. It’s almost as if trying to imagine sipping a cup of coffee without being able to smell it, need I say more?