Art Fetish: June 2014
The month in cover art, from Mastodon to Mogorosi
This month’s roundup of the winsome, the outlandish, and the tantalizing includes some compelling work by Nicole Ginelli, a fractured take on net art by Mehdi Rouchiche, magic and melancholy from Alejandra Cespedes, and the right panel of The Garden Of Earthly Delights in corpsepaint.
Honorable mentions: Mannequin, for re-releasing Royal Family & The Poor’s Temple Of The 13th Tribe complete with Trevor Johnson’s original artwork; Brian Chippendale and Sam Nigrosh for the Black Pus/Oozing Wound split LP (Thrill Jockey); Ellen G for the cover of Serious Time by Mungo’s Hi-Fi (Scotch Bonnet); Keith Rankin for the Diode J-card on Crash Symbols; and R. Guzman for his gorgeous Ancient Ocean J-card illustration on Fire Talk.
Gavin Guthrie - Gavin Guthrie a.k.a. TX Connect
ARTIST: MEHDI ROUCHICHE
A weathered marble surface implies the resilience of tradition. The eyes of the living, candid and superior, address their gaze to the right of the viewer as if preoccupied with higher matters. Originally available as a t-shirt, this bold screenprint here comprises two elements: the timelessness of the antique, of Roman and Hellenistic portraiture, and the physical limits of the human. Stark lines of demarcation, dripping with shadow, symbolize a fissure between old school classicism and new school revivalism; the theoretical tension at the heart of the Neo-Classical ideal has been transformed into a sly commentary on analogue techno. Based in Den Haag, designer-illustrator Mehdi Rouchiche’s distinctive style has become almost unanimous with the West Coast Sound of Holland. His decade-long association with the Crême Organization label recalls Raymond Pettibon’s work for SST: both artists share a habit of deforming and satirizing generic tropes in ways that are both dramatic and unsettling.
The Soft Pink Truth - Why Do The Heathen Rage?
ARTIST: MAVADO CHARON
Sex and violence permeate a cartoon carnival of cum, mutilation, corpsepaint, and strap-ons. The Soft Pink Truth himself, Drew Daniel, compared this teeming cover to “a hardcore queer Where’s Waldo?” — which is a neat way of pointing out how Nantes-based illustrator Mavado Charon’s charismatic figures lose none of their charm with a dildo shoved down their throat and a pile of severed corpses strewn somewhere nearby. Although Charon’s work shares black metal’s preoccupation with Ero guro nansensu, his links to the transgressive publishing collective Le Dernier Cri situate the work squarely within the wider tradition of alt comix. The viewer is faced with the grotesque at its cuddliest: we move from one masturbating wretch to the next with the sort of indulgence usually reserved for visual puzzles and fictional maps. Hat tip to Rex Ray for his job with the text: Daniel’s logo flows down the page in gnarled rivulets of eldritch blood.
Paal Nilssen-Love & Mats Gustafsson - Sin Gas
ARTIST: PAWEL GARWOL
Sumptuous in carbons, this light-hearted take on the totenkopf has been rendered with the morbid detail of biological illustration. From Holbein’s Ambassadors to Peinado’s Untitled Vanity Flight Case via Posada’s calaveras and the 3rd SS Panzer Division, the death’s head has always signified necrosis, decrepitude, danger — Pawel Gorwal’s Sin Gas art plays with these resonances in order to liken the jarring impact of free-jazz to the legitimized violence of a craniectomy. By stripping away the flesh from the bone, the artist indicates the dissolution of inhibition. By unveiling the cerebral cortex, he implies a transparent immediacy of expression. The jauntily-angled bone flap beret refers to both the physical character of sound and the life-consuming seriousness of the jazz freak’s sonic passions in a single witty pun.
Tumi Mogorosi - Project ELO
ARTIST: KEVIN NEIREITER
Kevin Neireiter’s cover to Project ELO pays homage to the historical relationship between jazz and Modernism while avoiding parody and mawkishness. This portrait of the South African percussionist Tumi Mogorosi really starts to work when you focus your attention on those hands and work outward along the drumsticks: the artist’s vital and dramatic brushwork recreates the fluidity of motion out of intersecting lines and a dynamic organization of tonal contrasts. In a possible allusion to the intensity of a lifelong engagement with the drums, the restricted palette of watery blues implies the ocean-like vastness and depths of rhythm — an echo, perhaps, of the religious influences that helped define the ur-jazz of Buddy Bolden. A cover like this could be hampered by artistic reverence — Neireiter should be applauded for his refusal to allow his respect for the material to get in the way of what feels like a celebration.
Meridian Brothers - Salvadora Robot
ARTIST: ALEJANDRA CESPEDES
The spontaneous unreality of the natural world calls into question the contrived seriousness of human concerns. Vibrant and meticulous, full of crisp lines and subtle variations of color, this strange scene by Colombian artist Alejandra Cespedes rewards prolonged engagement. Our lady slumps disconsolate upon a chair, its timber inconspicuous outdoors. The oddly-dressed young man in attendance — he is wearing “a suit from the future that produces drum beats” — seems both concerned and puzzled. A precarious parrot’s luxuriant plumage indicates the presence of the burlesque. Vines, petals, fronds, and tendrils swirl about the edges of the frame, gathering themselves around these two melancholy figures, their sadness contrasting sharply with the life overflowing around them. This stillness at the center of a swarm implies a dreamlike suspension of narrative and reason in which the unhappy and the ridiculous overlap.
White Lung - Deep Fantasy
ARTIST: JUSTIN GRADIN
The potential of photocollage to imagine new worlds from fragments of the cultural archive has occasionally been made to look both explosive and utopian over the course of its long association with the DIY realities of the x-punk continuum. From the smudgy, blocky text, to the death-drive symbolism of the cigarettes burning in the ashtray (tick-tock), there are plenty of clichés in Gradin’s Deep Fantasy art — but, like Neireiter’s cover for Project ELO, there’s also the right balance between celebrating something and meaning something. The overall idea seems to be that x-punk itself, that allusive garnish of zips-and-leather, is a question of personality-type. Behind the imposing edifice of a poodle with violence in its eye, x-punk’s desires are as intimate as sleep, its foundations as spontaneous and unguarded as the dreams of the singer’s mother.
M. Geddes Gengras - Ishi
ARTIST: NICOLE GINELLI
Nicole Ginelli’s Ishi art offers us a window-view of universal freedom and peace: the emptiness of the horizon, the suspension of logic, the compositional balance. Sensuous tones and crisp imagery bend the cosmic expanse of the Californian desert to the will of a weird and elegant metaphysics. Organic shapes and galactic blotches float and burrow across fleeting moments of anamorphic cohesion; the boundaries between a series of discrete forms evaporate in the heat of reverie. By containing these associative convulsions within a stark frame, Ginelli wryly alludes to the distance between this world and our own — a commentary, perhaps, on the otherworldliness of ambient music and the transcendental effort it requires of listeners.
Mastodon - Once More ‘Round The Sun
Wave-like patterns created by tentacular ribbons of color charge this lurid image with a hallucinatory energy. It is as if this shaggy beastlord is not only rending the space-time fabric, but also slobbering at the edges of the fourth wall. It’s hard not to think of Lovecraft; of the ancient powers, weird intelligences, and luminescent monstrosities of the Dreamworld. Not that it’s all cosmic horror: an excess of weeds and grasses, intended to help “tell the universal story of life and death,” comment ironically on the generic inclinations of stoner rock. The Oakland-based artist Skinner has assembled a substantial body of commercial work, across a variety of ephemeral media (posters, novelty masks, custom toys, patches, buttons, skateboards, etc.), alongside a more ambitious-slash-academic collection of public murals and gallery installations. It all comes together on this four-panel sleeve, where intense contrasts and a density of detail suggest a sense of dynamism and expansion.