Alice Cooper Band | Acrylic & oil on wood with tooled metal
...or the longest post in Drawger history.
The last month has been a whirlwind of activity--one that's been filled with art, music and fun. At the top of the list was the completion of a project I've been working on for a while, the 26th Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies, for which I was commissioned to create the official portraits. There were eight inductees this year: the Alice Cooper Band, Tom Waits, Dr John, Darlene Love, Neil Diamond, Leon Russell, Art Rupe of Specialty Records fame, and Jac Holzman, the founder of Elektra/Nonesuch Records. It was a dream job for a guy like me, and the best part was attending the formal ceremony/dinner/concert at the Waldorf Astoria in NYC on March 14th.
We got to meet Alice, Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway, Neil Smith, and of course the python, as well as Dr John, Darlene Love and a host of others, including Rob Zombie, who did the introduction for the Alice Cooper Band. The room was filled with legends: Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Judy Collins, John Mayer, Neil Young, Bob Geldof, Paul Shafer, Bette Midler, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and of course Jann Wenner, who was the host for the evening. We finished the evening at a private party downstairs where we also got to meet Jac Holzman, a legend in the business who signed the Doors, Iggy and the Stooges, and Queen, to name just a few. We rolled in to our hotel room around 4am, glowing from a great night.
Top to bottom, left to right: Dr John; Neil Diamond; Darlene Love; Leon Russel; Art Rupe; Jac Holzman
Top to bottom, left to right: Alice's python; Alice and the band; Me & Dr John; Janice and Paul Shafer;Tom Waits performing; Elton John and Leon Russell
We returned home to Austin just in time for the kickoff of South by Southwest's (SXSW) Music Festival, one of the biggest music industry events in the world, and one that just happens to go on in our backyard. Over 2000 bands from all over the world converge on downtown Austin for 4 days of nonstop music on practically every corner. In fact, Jack White set up on the street outside Frank's Hot Dogs for an impromptu performance:
The Strokes also played a free show on Auditorium Shores, just across the river, and literally steps away from our house we caught the Meat Puppets at the Waterloo Records stage, tearing through an amazing version of "Lake of Fire":
For a few days, the city becomes a giant festival, with interactive, film, and music freaks mingling and partying together--sort of a Mardi Gras meets Burning Man meets the TED Conference, with beer & BBQ thrown in the mix.
And this year we were able to catch Drawger's own Josh Carpenter (Zimm's computer wiz & man behind the curtain) who was here playing with Floating Action. We put the band up for a night at our place and caught their showcase on Friday night. They were off early the next morning for the next destination on their tour, but we got a little bit of hang-out time while they were here and it was great to see them play again.
Floating Action: Seth Kauffman, Josh Carpenter, Brian Landrum, and Mark Capon
Now I'm back in the studio, easing into the quiet, solitary life of an illustrator again. It's been a entertaining month, but I'm ready for my regular routine. Big thanks to Tim & Elizabeth O'Brien for the hospitality while we were in the city, and to Chris & Heidi for treating us like royalty at the Summit.
A few weeks ago, I got an email from the folks at Texas Monthly to see if I might be interested in doing a portrait of Blind Willie Johnson for their upcoming December issue; they didn't have much more to provide than that initially, but of course I was game—my kind of subject matter. Shortly thereafter I got some more details on the story, and then the rough draft of the article, and as I read it I realized this was more than a straightforward portrait: it was the unravelling of a mystery surrounding a man we still know remarkably little about, and the efforts of a few young fans to shed light on his talent and background.
The final spread
The story itself focuses on the search for the gravesite of Johnson , who died at the age of 48 in Beaumont, Texas, in 1945—a time when black Americans, particularly in the South, were not considered important enough for accurate records of their births, lives, or deaths to be recorded. In addition to the lack of biographical details, this portrait presented an additional challenge in that there's really only one known photo of Johnson (and a blurry one at that), which Texas Monthly was planning to use in the layout of the article somewhere. So my focus changed from capturing a likeness to trying to convey the mysterious nature of this man's life, the beautiful and eerie feel of his music, and the search for the site of his burial. One bit of biographical information that is well-known, and which opens the article, is that in 1977, NASA launched the Voyager 1 and 2 spaceships, both carrying with them a copper and gold-plated phonograph record, the last two recordings of which are Beethoven's Cavatina and Johnson's “Dark Was the Night—Cold Was the Ground.” That too, seemed like a poetic piece of imagery I wanted to echo in the piece ( Here's a clip of that song, which inaccurately displays a photo of Blind Wille McTell):
The gravesite itself became the main vehicle for my image as I read through the story, and learned of the researchers efforts to locate it somewhere within several plots marked in Beaumont for the Blanchette Cemetery (as you can see from the gallery to the right, I love old cemetery markers). Johnson died in very difficult and impoverished circumstances, and the grounds where he is believed to be buried are now overgrown and largely filled with unmarked graves, with many of the markers that still remain made of wood or deteriorating stone. I began by roughing out some thumbnails using the simple grave marker shape, and the image evolved from there. The murky background of Johnson seemed to lend itself to a ghostly image.
I love the tightrope aspect of this career: never knowing what's going to come at you or where the material might lead you in a solution, and this opportunity turned out to be great fun. TJ Tucker is one of my favorite art directors because he gives me so much freedom; for this project, all I needed to send him was a rough scrawl, and he approved it with only one addition: would I repeat the form on the facing page—turning the full page project into a spread—and carve the typography into the board? It was a perfect solution, and I agreed right away. I did a quick indication of my type approach and sent it off to him, and got the thumbs up to go. Then I put down the phone and thought.... how do I do that?
Below are some photos of my shop and the process of creating this piece, which involved some old woodcarving tools and a Dremel, as well as some painting and drybrushing to bring out the lettering and age the surface. My lo-tech woodworking skills fit perfectly with the rough, awkward feel of the gravestones, so perfect lettering wasn't my goal; on that, at least, I succeeded. I've also included some shots from the woodshed behind my home, where I keep piles of old boards for working with. Like my approach itself, it looks a bit disorganized, but I know where I'm going and what I'm looking for.
I recently got a call from Steve Charny at Rolling Stone to do a portrait of John Mellencamp for the Record Review. His new album, titled No Better Than This, digs in deep to his roots in Southern music and traditional American songwriting, and was recorded in three locations: Sun Studio in Memphis; the First African Baptist Church in Savannah; and room 414 in the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, where Robert Johnson recorded some of his greatest works. The perfect project for me!
I wanted to capture the working class tough guy presence Mellencamp evokes—as well as that wild hairstyle!—while contrasting it with the Southern spirituality in this album. I did a quick sketch for Steve incorporating the First African Baptist Church in the background, which I felt best conveyed both the unique locations for the recordings and the bad guy/good guy vibe Mellencamp strikes. Working in the strong vertical format was fun, too—it lent itself nicely to the elements in the composition.
March 31st marks the 15th anniversary of the murder of Mexican-American singer and "Queen of Tejano" Selena Quintanilla, known to her fans simply as Selena. While she was an internationally known singer particularly famous in the Spanish-speaking world, her popularity in Texas remains uniquely special: monuments & museums have been erected in her honor here. So when TJ Tucker at Texas Monthly asked me to create the memorial cover for this month's issue, I realized right away how significant this portrait would be for many readers.
I took these photos recently at the Selena memorial on the Bayfront in Corpus Christi.
My wife Janice is from Corpus Christi, where Selena lived most of her life, and happened to be visiting there in 1995 when Selena was shot, just a few miles away. The outpouring of emotion she witnessed from the community was profound, and given the deep Catholic roots in Corpus, the loss literally felt as if it took on saintly dimensions. Selena's rise from humble roots to international fame inspired a generation of Latinos here, and I knew capturing that iconic status would be an important part of the portrait.
Initial pencils for the cover.
TJ and I initially discussed the idea of doing something along the lines of a "Stations of the Cross" as a vehicle for showing the significant chapters in her life. I've done a number of pieces over the years in that manner, but as I developed the concept, I felt the image should have a singular and more positive focus, rather than the broader storytelling device that would inevitably include her murder. I did a few quick sketches to show TJ the impact of the different approaches, and he agreed. With another, slightly tighter sketch TJ could show the editor, I was given approval to go to final art.
Some steps in the process of creating the piece.
I create these pieces in as traditional a way as I can given the time constraints of editorial publishing. I have a shed full of old wood I can pull from, so for this piece I began by picking the right weathered board (approximately 10" in width, and about 3/4 " thick) and preparing it by shaping, sanding, reinforcing the backing, and adding a gesso ground. From there I transfered my drawing, locked it in with a warm middle ground wash, and built the piece up much like a traditional tempera painting. Once the central painting was complete, I created a template for the metal work that surrounds the piece so I could begin the process of cutting, clipping, nailing and tooling, a technique I developed by spending alot of time staring at old icons in museums. I added the hand-lettering last, since the subhead for the article was still being written as I worked on the piece.
Hats off to TJ for pushing this cover to be a clean, art-centric image—he even got the subscriber issues run separately without a bar code, and kept all type at the top of the page. As always, it's a pleasure working with him.
A friend sent this photo to me today—always fun to see!
A few months ago I was contacted by Cult Records regarding a piece I did for a gallery show in LA in 2006, "The Ally". It was featured in an article on my work in Juxtapoz, which apparently caught the eye of Julian Casablancas of The Strokes. He's releasing a Luxury Edition Deluxe Set of his new album "Phrazes for the Young", and wanted to license this painting to accompany the song "Glass". Today, I received my autographed copy of the set, which is limited to 1,000 copies world wide and is beautifully designed by artist Warren Fu. The other art in the book was created by Andy Kehoe, James Bellesini, and Warren himself.
If you're interested in getting one of these limited edition box sets yourself, you can pick it up here.
Music has played a big part in my life, and I've had the good fortune to work on a number of great projects related to that passion over the years. So when Justin Reynolds at the Village Voice contacted me about doing the cover for their upcoming Fall Arts Guide, which features the Brooklyn-based band The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, I was a pushover.
The band's label provided some reference for me to work with.
Roughs, along with some old cigar box type i liked for inspiration; next to it, the pencil I sent Justin.
Justin was looking for art that would incorporate type into the design, and was drawn to the album cover and concert poster work I've done, where hand-lettered type plays a big part in the image. I've always enjoyed combining those elements—the control freak in me, I guess—and the idea of doing a group portrait that brought together this band's urban roots with a Fall theme struck me as a fun challenge. With their music on in the background for inspiration, I roughed out a few general ideas and then sent a pencil to Justin.
In process: pencil on board with a light grey wash; toned wash over that; rendering up the image
I got a quick OK and was off to the races. Here are a few shots of the work underway, as well as some details of the final art. I used PS to incorporate the teaser line type in the banner—that was a bit much to hand paint in the tight turnaround time I had—but the rest was done the old-fashioned way, though I did some last minute touch-up to the banner type in PS and delivered as a digital file for speed.
As luck would have it, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart are playing Austin later this month, just a few blocks from my home. I'll be there, enjoying the show!
Detail of the piece; the final art is roughly 10" x 12"
This detail is for Kroninger, who is still working on his signature.
This summer, I was contacted by the folks at Decca/Universal Records about doing a cover for the legendary bassist Charlie Haden, the jazz great and Liberation Music Orchestra leader who has recorded countless classics with the likes of Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett, and John Coltrane. But this record—Rambling Boy—is something of a departure for Haden: a bluegrass album that takes him back to his roots. Charlie grew up in the equally legendary Haden Family Band, whose live country radio show back in the 40's and 50's brought him into the circle of the Carter Family, Jimmie Rogers, and Hank Williams. For this album, he brought together his wife Ruth and his own children, daughters Tanya, Petra, Rachel, and son Josh to record with him, as well as friends like Elvis Costello, Roseanne Cash, Vince Gill and Pat Metheny.The result, which will be released this week, is a beautiful collaboration that's anchored in family and tradition.
Hats off to Fanny Gotshcall and Pat Barry at Decca for being so great throughout, and to Charlie and Ruth for their commitment and dedication to getting this cover just right. I know they're going to have huge hit on their hands with this album.
And by the way: The Sunday New York Times ran a feature on the album in the Music section yesterday, which was pretty exciting to see. And there's also a wonderful profile of Rambling Boy on NPR's Sunday edition, with cuts from the album and a great interview with Charlie and the family. Well worth a listen.
I did this one a few years back for TJ at Texas Monthly, and it remains one of my favorites
Down here we have a slogan: "Keep Austin Weird." Nothing and no one embodies that spirit of off-kilter mellowness more than our own Willie Nelson, who turns 75 today. Tonight, KGSR FM is broadcasting a birthday celebration for Willie that includes Patty Griffin, Bob Schneider and Alejandro Escovedo, so tune in, light up, and wish Willie many weird birthdays to come.
Here's the beautiful cover of this month's Texas Monthly, shot by Platon and designed by the great TJ Tucker. Hats off to them both, and to editor Evan Smith for allowing a cover this nice to go out into the world without the clutter of type.
For the last three days, I've been living in the heart of one of the biggest music festivals in the country: South by Southwest. Over 50 venues showcase almost 1400 bands, and most of the action takes place within a short stroll of my house/studio. This year's biggest act was the opening gig of the Stooges new tour, following the release of their first album together in 33 years. The piece above was done a while back for a book and exhibition at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and it seemed like the right time to break it out.
I'm an Iggy fan from way back, having first seen him live when I was a teenager, and over 20 times since. I even got to meet him once, at a now defunct record store here called the Inner Sanctum, and found him to be a very nice and approachable guy. In concert, however, he's a force of nature, and last night's show was no exception. It's hard to believe that a guy about to turn 60 still looks like this and is willing to throw himself into the moshpit mid-concert to battle it out with the fans (which he did several times last night). The band even invited the crowd up on stage during the final number, which was absolute chaos. All and all, a Fun Time.
Along the way, I saw some other great acts, including my new favorite Peelander Z, a Japanese band now based in NY that's part punk and part Teletubbies, and from what I can tell the official band of Kaiju Big Battel - itself a cross between pro wrestling, bad science fiction movies and performance art. We also saw the Polyphonic Spree, the Little Ones, and a number of other bands that were new to me.
Peelander Z - like nothing you've ever seen.
Another aspect of the Fesitval is the showcase Flatstock, which brings together some of the best gig poster art & artists from around the country. Yee Haw Industries, Methane, Burlesque of North America, and several other great groups that create the most amazing concert art are all under one roof, and selling their posters at very reasonable prices.
Today, the crowds are starting to head home and city is beginning to quiet down again. There's always great music here in Austin, but SXSW represents one of the main reasons this city has developed the reputation it has internationally for music, and one the best times of year to come and see why Austin is a destination.
Done for Rolling Stone's Immortal issue, just a few months after his passing
Today marks what would have been the 75th birthday of one of American music's greatest talents, Johnny Cash. I thought this would be an appropriate time to post a few of my Cash-related images and share the best story I'll ever have to tell about how art can take you through doors.
Back in early 2003 I got a call from Dualtone records to do June Carter Cash's upcoming album, "Wildwood Flower", but before the project got past the scheduling stage, June passed away, following heart surgery. I'd already received a copy of the recordings, and was blown away by how moving these songs were: mostly Carter family classics, they were done with Johnny and her daughter-in-law Laura Cash, as well as a host of other family & friends, and most of the songs were recorded in the living room of her ancestral home in Virginia. Unlike anything I heard before, this was an album about love, family and the awareness of its inevitable end. I'd lost my own mother not long before, and this music spoke to me.
The Wildwood cover
After a few weeks, the project restarted, and working with their son, John Carter Cash (who produced the album), I created the cover art. Not long after, I got a call from John Carter asking if I might be willing to come to Hendersonville, Tennessee, and paint another portrait of June in the home of Johnny Cash himself; apparently, my portrait of June on Wildwood was his all time favorite, and he wanted a version for himself. As soon as I could pick my jaw up off the floor, I said of course. So in early August, 2003, I spent 3 days there working on the piece in his lakeside home - the one you see in the movie - while he came and went. At the end of my stay, they invited me across the road and over a hill to the Cash Cabin Studio, literally a tiny cabin in the woods, where I sat in while Johnny, Marty Stuart, John Carter and a few others recorded some songs (including Sheryl Crow's "Redemption Day"). He even did a a cappella version of Jack of Diamonds. Just over a month later, I got the news he too had passed away.
I've had the honor of doing alot of music-related work, and along the way gotten to meet some amazing folks through the serendipity that it sometimes brings, but I doubt I'll ever have an experience that measures up to meeting the great Johnny Cash. People like him come along once a generation, if that, and on a day like today, I'm thankful for that remarkable experience.
I came across this article today about Mary Wilson's visit to our fair city yesteday. She's pushing for legislation called the "Truth in Music" bill, which would prevent "fake" bands from performing as the original item. She argues that this sort of copyband phenomenon deprives the original artists of their livings. Given the many discussions of the issue among artists, I thought it was an interesting read.
Read the Link
Saw Beck Tuesday night at the Backyard (which has changed pretty dramatically since my last visit, the result of a giant suburban mall that's been built all the way around its once beautiful hill country setting). Still, the show was great and I'm here to extoll the virtues of marionettes. He had a real live puppet show (by the Team America people) reenacting every move of the entire band, directly behind them and projected onto the giant screen. They were so compelling we hardly even watched the band. When in doubt, break out the puppets....
A few years ago I promised myself that if that season's hurricane didn't destroy New Orleans, I'd finally make the trip to Jazzfest. It didn't, but neither did I. Realizing now that I'm at least partially responsible for Katrina - this doesn't relieve George and Brownie one bit, BTW - I decided to make amends and take the plunge (my apologies for the bad pun/symbolism/metaphor/whatever). A few friends and I jammed into a new Prius for the roadtrip out, with the goal of seeing how little gas it would take to get there and how gassed we could get once we arrived. We did the latter well enough that I can't recall the answer to the former, but I did manage to take some pictures to remind myself of what we saw, so I thought I'd put 'em up here. I've now offically reached that point in life where you bore your friends with your vacation pictures.......
One of the first things you need to do when you cross into Louisiana is begin looking for a place - almost any place - to eat. It's the national pastime there, and with damn good reason. We missed a few opportunities to hit the roadside shops for Cracklin's (fried pork fat - trust me, it's better than it sounds), but we quickly found ourselves at the doorstep of Crawfish Town. What it lacks in ambiance it more than makes up for in cholesterol.
Fish isn't typically associated with heart disease, but then not much is typical in Cajun Country. In addition to the platter of ditchbugs here, there was a dish of deep fat fried fish, crab, shrimp and a few other unidentified things pulled out of the swamp that were delicious when stacked together like a edible Tower of Pisa. Washed down with a few Abitas, this hit every spot available, all at once.
Of course, there's always one more spot that needs hitting, and nothing doe the job better than Bread Pudding - the official dessert of Louisiana. It's the best thing since sliced bread was allowed to go stale and get soaked in milk, butter, cinnamon, raisins, and bourbon.
After this we were wheeled out to our car by the friendly staff and pointed in the direction of New Orleans. A few hours later, we were rolling into town.
I fully expected to see some significant damage when I got there, but I was really struck by both how widespread the destruction was and how quickly the tourist sections of New Orleans were (seemingly) brought back to their pre-Katrina state. There were lots of the old spots missing (Felix's, for one), but passing through the Quarter and the Garden District, you'd have been hard-pressed to think much more than a hard thunderstorm had recently hit. It was really easy to see how, depending on the direction you pointed the camera, you could frame the picture of this city any way you wanted.
With six guys off on the long (lost) weekend, we stuck close to the Jazzfest and Quarter for the trip, so we didn't begin to see the worst of what Katrina did to this beautiful city (we were told again and again that the 9th Ward and others areas would leave you wondering if you were in a Third World nation). Still, just the ride to and from the festival grounds gave plenty of evidence of a job left undone, including these pictures of blue-tarped roofs, temporary trailer homes, and seas of flooded and abandoned cars under every elevated stretch of freeway. You can still make out the high-water lines and spray-painted codes on the exteriors of virtually every house front indicating how many animals and/or humans were found in a given structure. So this is what a post-Apocalyptic America will look like.......
Our first night out, we made it to a great bar called DBA where Papa Mali, Eddie Bo and Big Chief Monk Boudreax were tearing it up. We did likewise, and rolled in around 5am, stopping on the way back to the hotel to get beignets at Cafe Du Monde (I know, I know, but it was good). The bartendress was kind enough to write the band's name on my hand before we left the club, but the evening was far too fun to be that easily forgotten.
Hats and odd outfits are a must for any festival. Folks here know how to make statement.......
......and some even had the hutzpah to tie their's on the back of an airplane. This guy circled the fest for an hour, letting sponsor Shell know what they thought of their civic outreach (in case you can't read it, it says "Shell - great music - don't kill our fish!").
Lots of folks dancing, having fun, and generally being extroverted.
No, he's not dead, just resting between acts.
This lady was catching up on a little reading while the Radiators played.