Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Album Cover Art

In my web travels, I am always searching for album cover art for one reason or another. So I was pleased to discover Rate Your Music had a whole section devoted to the album cover art of many artists, designers, photographers and illustrators compiled by fans of these artists' work in this field - usually a field that wasn't the artist's primary profession.

My focus here is on those few artists that I was glad to discover had listings at Rate Your Music - no matter how incomplete (I certainly discovered more than I knew about). Check out the site for other artists you know from anything but the album covers they did:

Saul Bass: Perhaps one of the 20th century's greatest graphic designers, Saul Bass (1920-96) was responsible for a slew of timeless, iconic logos (Girl Scouts, Minolta, United Way, BP, Exxon, WEA, AT&T and many others), advertising, film promotions and opening title sequences to many great films. He also directed the interesting bug movie Phase IV (1973) and, allegedly, helmed (or choreographed?) the famous shower sequence of Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). My favorite albums here are probably The Man With The Golden Arm, Anatomy of a Murder and Bunny Lake Is Missing - all films which boasted brilliant opening title sequences by the late, great one-of-a-kind Saul Bass.

Andy Warhol: I first visited the Andy Warhol Museum in my home town of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, about five years ago and while the museum's store sold several CDs that featured covers by Warhol (1928-87), there was no section in the museum that focused on Warhol's album cover art. This seemed short-sighted to me. I specifically hoped to see either Warhol's film poster for Fassbinder's 1979 movie Querelle or the similar cover for the soundtrack album hanging on some wall in the museum. Alas, neither was there. Warhol did a surprising number of album covers, first in the 1950s (mostly jazz titles that seemed more like sketches than art) and then again starting in the late 1970s for pretty much anyone that wanted an Andy Warhol cover. In between, there were his most famous album covers, The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967 - the banana) and the Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers (1971 - the crotch with the real zipper).

Josef Albers: I discovered the captivating artistry and incredible work of this great German artist of the Bauhaus school (1888-1976) from the very few striking album covers he designed for Enoch Light's Command Records label in the late 1950s. It's utterly amazing that Albers did remarkably little work in the album cover industry (some 6 or 8 albums) - and his work there is like nothing he did elsewhere - yet his album cover designs have been hugely influential and copied many times since. It is the captivating simplicity of these designs, little more than dots and lines and almost always in only two colors (usually black and white), which captures the attention and entrances so much. I have each of these Command albums in a frame at home and I am never at a loss to be completely beguiled by them. The cover above is, perhaps, my favorite: a classical album in a thick cardboard jacket seemingly giving weight to the great work of art I feel it is.

Jean-Michel Folon: This Belgian artist (1934-2005) first struck me on early albums by jazz guitarist Steve Khan (lyricist Sammy Cahn's son). Indeed, most all of Khan's albums since 1977 have featured Folon covers. These beautiful images seem so free-form, so passionate, so dreamy, so hopeful - almost the visual equivalent of jazz (which is why Folon's work seems to grace so many jazz albums). Oddly, when you see a number of these images together, it seems to show solitary individuals balancing on precipices, perhaps not the most positive of images. But, honestly, I feel a certain happiness in these paintings, as if the individuals - or the abstract images - pictured in each seem to be defying the odds against them.


ish said...

In a less reverent vein, you might enjoy our blog:

It's a co-curation of a bunch of American, British, Australian and Japanese music bloggers.

Douglas Payne said...

Great blog! Thanks for letting me know about it.