Interview with Calvin Schenkel- Seconds #32 (1995)


“I’m happy to take credit
for anything you want to
give me credit for”

By Steven Cerio

CALVIN SCHENKEL is the uncrowned king of rendered absurdities. A painter, designer, and illustrator who was entrusted by Frank Zappa to design the lion’s share of album covers for his voluminous catalog as well as covers for various other groups, including Captain Beefheart, Cal came to embody the proto-Punk pseudo-Psychedelic point-of-scale propagandist. Album cover culture threw Cals’ work screaming onto the mindscreens of Sixties and Seventies youth at a time when the music was analog and the discs were big – real big – and an album cover sleeve was always there like a good friend (dog), its tender crease cradling your seeds oh so tenderly as you split up the contents of that alligator baggie…

Though born, bred, and raised in that drug-drenched era of anti-war slogans and brown Acid, Schenkel’s work had edge – an edge that graphics of the later Punk wave were seldom able to match. Schenkel’s influence still flows heavily through the work of Winston Smith and Gary Panter – two artists with a few notches of their own on the headboard of classic Rock imagery.

Whether riding the wave with Zappa or hiding out and painting in the Mojave with Beefheart, Schenkel always had the smarts – grabbing onto the reigns of his id and crashing it directly onto the paper, canvas, or film with a style that is at one moment silly, the next moment elegant. At some point his work echoes the throes of a crumbling machine gone berserk, spewing out Surrealist visual non sequiturs and Dadaist absurdities held together by only the thin threads and mucilage paper glue offered by its feeble and faltering composition – an illusion; similar to that created in much of Zappa’s musical work. It’s an amusement turned sarcastic; an intentional retardation of logic, and it comes from a mindset straight out of the manifestos of Surrealism. While some of Schenkel’s works delight while they destroy, some of his other stuff presents a snideness with the over-sweetening of sustained beauty and harmony of composition.

In the nineties Schenkel is still keeping his distance from the spotless skivvied Art Forum boys and their wine-sipping fans. Schenkel carves himself a deeper niche – one filled with history, creation, and freedom. And with Rykodisc’s newly-renovated and repackaged release of the Zappa catalog, Cal’s work is once again gleaming from the “record store” shelves like moistened gum drops and broken glass.

SECONDS: I guess you’re known first and foremost for your Frank Zappa covers. How do you feel about being so closely associated with him?

SCHENKEL: I have a lot of respect for his work, so I feel that it’s definitely an advantage. I think the disadvantage is that it’s always a subsidiary thing to be known in relation to someone else – especially with Frank, who was notoriously stingy for giving credit. Right now, it’s certainly an advantage because it’s going to help me to use that history to show my other work.

SECONDS: How much was Frank involved in the concepts for the covers?

SCHENKEL: It varied a great deal from the process of actually just illustrating his concept… For instance, One Size Fits All was basically an illustration based on a story, with some input from Frank as to what he wanted to see in it. Then there’s interplay, too, where I would have ideas beyond that preliminary state. On One Size Fits All, the back is pretty much my concept.

SECONDS: Was he much of an art fan?

SCHENKEL: Yes and no. I don’t think he was really studied in art or followed art trends, but he was certainly aware of basic art movements. Back to how we worked … One Size Fits All and The Grand Wazoo were obviously based on existing stories, but then a piece like Uncle Meat was entirely my design and I showed him what I did and he like it. It ran the gamut from a great deal of control with a pre existing concept to no idea to start with and me coming up with something and showing it to him.

SECONDS: Did your stuff fit Frank’s image or did you help define his image?

SCHENKEL: That would be really hard for me to say. I think that would be for someone else to say because I would have to be immodest. I think that, sure, there was definitely interplay, you know?

SECONDS: You guys were sharing an apartment right?

SCHENKEL: First of all, I lived with him for a very brief period. When I first met him in New York, the art studio was in his apartment – but that was only for a brief period. I didn’t actually live there, but I would commute to work at his place. When we moved to LA when he had rented the log cabin, I had a wing of it. It was my living quarters and art studio, which I rented separately from him. There was probably more of a chance to fraternize when I lived in that close proximity than when I didn’t, but even when I lived in my own place I’d be hanging out a lot and listening to what he was doing with the music. I think that it was just that I happened to fit the mold. I’m not sure I totally did understand it, but it just happened to coincide with what I was doing. I liked working in a lot of different directions and doing very eclectic stuff and working in different styles and Frank was doing that with his music. That’s one reason why it did work. In fact, many times in later years, there was very little relationship because Frank was much more isolated in his studio, working. I’d be dealing a lot more with his wife Gail or secretary. There wasn’t as much communication

SECONDS: How about Zappa’s ethos of ugliness – ugly Americana? Did you ever feel that would saddle your work with a tag you might not be able to transcend? Did you ever want beauty in there?

SCHENKEL: I don’t remember that being a problem particularly, because I could see the beauty in ugliness, too. I think that’s part of my art statement, too. There’s aesthetic beauty in a lot of things that normally may not be considered beautiful.

SECONDS: If you look at your covers for Burnt Weenie Sandwich or Uncle Meat, there was no other covers at the time quite like that –

SCHENKEL: Actually, Burnt Weenie Sandwich was done much earlier for another project when were still in New York, which was around the time of Lumpy Gravy and We’re Only In It For The Money. It was done for a project that Frank got involved in with Alan Douglas. We were going to be supplying advertising and packaging for a little label that Alan Douglas was starting, Moop. There were some ads done – crazy comic strip stuff, very surrealistic. Then I did a series of covers – I don’t remember what most of them were – but Burnt Weenie Sandwich was originally done for an Eric Dolphy album. Then at the last minute Alan Douglas backed out. That piece of art sat around for a couple of years and then Frank decided to use it. At the time he decided to use it, we had a minor falling out. I was out of the picture and he had this nice piece of art and decided to use it for Burnt Weenie Sandwich.

SECONDS: Back then, particular Rock bands and particular artists became known together – you and Frank, Roger Dean and Yes, Hipgnosis and Pink Floyd

SCHENKEL: It would be really hard for me to critique that because I’m not familiar with as much stuff now as I was. Everything is so diversified now that there’s so many different directions and there’s also so many different ways stuff is going out. One thing in hindsight is when you look back at stuff, you see more of what’s classic and less of what’s mediocre. I think there’s always good around. I see a lot of good graphic art and I see a lot of mediocre art, too. As far as that specific connection between artists and groups, I don’t know of it myself. I don’t know that it was a real major thing. If you try and look for examples, you’re not going to find a lot of them.

SECONDS: Frank’s early work has that intense Psychedelic thing happening but he’s always been such a militant anti-drug guy. Was he making a statement about the Psychedelic thing?

SCHENKEL: Definitely. I didn’t use drugs either. I experimented with them a little bit when I was younger but I was never involved in the drug scene, which is one of the reasons that I did like working with Frank. I found it to be a problem with other people I might have started working with … it was a big problem to deal with the drug scene.

SECONDS: It seems most people think that when Zappa says “We never did drugs,” it’s bullshit.

SCHENKEL: He was an artistic genius and I also think he was able to see what was going on in society.

SECONDS: Whether or not you and Zappa did drugs you were still part of that culture by default. Frank and yourself are very much the exceptions – most Rock music comes out of a subversive and problematic origin. You have the look and feel of the lifestyle even though you don’t live it. How do you feel about that? Are you opposed to drug use?

SCHENKEL: On a personal level, it doesn’t agree with me. I think that’s primarily metabolic. I experimented a little bit with drugs when I was younger so I’m familiar with the experience. I found that a lot of people I know that use drugs for the insight it gives them, have gained insight. I think drugs can be used to gain insight – depending on the drug and user – and I’m not against that insight, but I think that insight doesn’t only have to come from drug use. The insight is coming from the individual; the drug is only a mechanism.

SECONDS: Do Zappa fans make up a big part of your fanbase?

SCHENKEL: Definitely. Over the years, I’ve been able to cultivate it myself. I’ve done some mail-order catalog merchandising and I hope to do a lot more of it in the future. I’m working on some projects now and I really want to work with Ryko to do something. I’m not particularly aggressive, and I haven’t been in the past – like going to galleries and looking for outlets for my work. I’m kind of a hermit, you know? Once you get to communicating with certain fans, it just kind of grows. I’ve built a pretty big base of people that I deal with.

SECONDS: Do you have reservations when it comes to promoting your work?

SCHENKEL: It’s very hard for most artists to market themselves. Some may be better than others. I’m probably in the group that’s the worst at it. Being a very introverted type of person, I find it so much easier to deal directly with people because I’m talking to somebody who knows my work and likes my work. There’s a common base for communication. If I go out to a gallery – it’s changed a lot because the people involved in that echelon of art marketing are more aware of my work. But back when I started doing it, it was just an enormous obstacle. I spent a lot of time looking for work. A lot of people were aware of my work but it just wasn’t ready for the market at that time.

SECONDS: It seems like your style started the whole Punk graphics thing.

SCHENKEL: I’d love to see that mentioned in some history. I’m happy to take credit for anything you want give me credit for. It’s hard to give yourself credit; it’s hard for an artist to market themselves. I think probably the most successful artists are able to do that, or have someone close to them do that for them – that’s another thing that’s been difficult, because I’m pretty isolated. I haven’t found someone to work with me to do that. I’ve also been on the outside, even when I was in LA, which is the middle of the market. Where I am now, there’s no market at all. If people find out about me, great, but I rarely go out looking for work. I probably will now that there’s this big thrust of material that’s suddenly out there. I definitely will take advantage of it, but I’ll do it in a way that will be very impersonal. I’ll just send out promotional material, a mini-portfolio …I really hate calling people and looking for work.

SECONDS: You’ve always straddled the fence between illustration and design.

SCHENKEL: After thinking about it for years and years, I’ve always come up with the conclusion that I’m really not in any camp. I’m just an artist. That’s one of the great things about working for Frank, that there was always something new I could experiment with and there was always a lot of different realms I could deal with. That’s what I enjoy most about art. I never could find a niche that was just the thing I was going to concentrate on. A lot of it was practical in the beginning when Frank had the need for a lot of different things. I got into advertising, working with type and working with all the elements of a project because it all needed to be done. Then I got into doing animation and even set design because it needed to be done. I enjoyed stretching in all those different directions. For me, that’s what I really like about it. I don’t consider myself a designer or an illustrator because I’m not good enough. I just don’t have what most illustrators have, and that’s the honed, polished, single-minded look. Some illustrators have a specific look and that’s it. A lot of that’s practical, too, because that’s the easiest way to sell your work. I could never fit into any mold – I’m too crazy.

SECONDS: Do you think that’s related to the way you are personally?

SCHENKEL: Probably is. I just have a very weird metabolism. I get real slow spots and real high spots with energy. The only way I can really get a job done is to work all night on it. The hardest part for me is getting started. Once I’m into it, I can’t quit. There are times I’m working on a project that’s so intense that you have to work all time on it, whenever you can …I have a tendency to spend more time on the beginning phases of a project and then have to rush to finish it. Once I’ve designed the whole thing, finishing it is relatively easy.

SECONDS: When you were developing your style, who influenced you?

SCHENKEL: It’s a hard question to answer because I’ve been influenced by so many people and different things. From the standpoint of the work I’m known for, it would be the Surrealists and Duchamp. If I’m working on a specific project and I have a particular style in mind that I want to work in, I will allow myself to be influenced by certain artists, particularly older master artists …I love looking at all schools or art.

SECONDS: Would you have liked to been around for Dadaism?

SCHENKEL: Actually, I think that now is always the best time to be around. Being around now allows you to really appreciate that period. If you were around then, you wouldn’t be appreciating now.

SECONDS: You’ve now repackaged the part of the Zappa catalog your originally worked on.

SCHENKEL: That only amounted to about a third of the full catalog.

SECONDS: It’s still a giant amount of records, though…

SCHENKEL: I should sit down and count them out. There’s probably no more than twelve.

SECONDS: Of all the record covers you did not do for him, which one was your favorite?

SCHENKEL: I’m not going to give you one answer to this because I like all of them – well, a lot of them. I really like David McMacken’s work – Overnite Sensation, 200 Motels …He has a fantastically sophisticated, polished style. I really like Neon Park’s work a lot although the cover of Weasles Ripped My Flesh is not my favorite Neon Park work. Wait, let me not forget Gary Panter because I love his work too. I think the covers he did for the Zappa stuff for Warner Bros. without Frank’s involvement don’t represent his – I don’t want to say anything negative here but I think I like his other work more too. I think that they’re not as complex as some of the other stuff.

SECONDS: How is musical composing similar to visual design? Did you learn anything from working with musicians that helped you to expedite the production of your own work?

SCHENKEL: I don’t think I would say so, although I probably did. Some of the work I do is more of a …almost a dance. Some graphics, where I’ll be working with technology – it’s like playing an instrument in a sense, too. I see it less with illustration and traditional media.

SECONDS: Do you do any painting?

SCHENKEL: I’m doing some large stuff, working on panels and on unstretched canvas. It’s starting to really turn into what I want. It’s hard to explain what it’s about. In terms of the working process, I’m working primarily in acrylic, but I use a lot of mixed media and sometimes I incorporate found objects. A lot of it is kind of Abstract but it does have Surrealistic tendencies. I just like painting – it’s so much fun and fulfilling. Then I’m also doing more fan-oriented stuff where I’ll do a pastiche of an illustration from elements from the Zappa covers. I’m doing some limited-edition prints in different prices and sizes – some silkscreen, some multi-color litho. I’m also doing what I call album reconstructions where I take an album cover – which I have to get from collectors now – like Uncle Meat and I’ll open it up to a four panel spread and then I’ll work on top of it using found art and painting all types of gooey materials. To do a piece like that is a little more affordable than starting from scratch and it also has that relationship to the old work. I’ve done quite a few of them over the years and I’ve got them to a point where they’re a little more formalized. Another thing I’m doing is selling t-shirts and cards and I hope to have a catalog of that before the summer’s done. One thing I want to do with this catalog is a newsletter which will have some background and stories. I’ve come up with some of the history of these covers and I want to write that down. I want it to be a real free-form crazy thing.

I used silkscreen, print and splatter whatever else onto this huge sheet of board and then chop it all up into little pieces. I found each one is this unique little piece of art and I didn’t want to sell them. It’s a real cheap way to create something and sell it for an affordable price. I found that when I do the mail-order thing, it is nice to have affordable stuff because a lot of the fans don’t have a lot of money to spend. It makes it worthwhile to sell a hundred t-shirts when I do a catalog mailing.

SECONDS: What kind of designs are you going to be doing for those?

SCHENKEL: I’d silk-screen all different stuff and then I would wind up with a whole bunch of samples that I wanted to keep for the next batch so I wouldn’t forget what I did. Then I decided I needed to formalize it. Now, every time I do one I’ll print the same shirt in an edition. They’re pretty cool. The next time I do it, I’ll do a different edition with different images but it’s the same idea. I always have my Rraallff shirt, which is that dog guy and also my E-mail address on America Online. It’s just a giant blowup of this little drawing and I have that on the front of some of them. I always have some odd ones. Sometimes I do a t-shirt of the month when I’m really cookin’.

SECONDS: Who are your favorite contemporary artists?

SCHENKEL: In the Fine Art realm, one artist I’ve been looking at is Sigmar Polke. He mixes Pop with Post-Modern ideas. We mentioned Gary Panter – I really like his stuff. I like a lot of artists that I don’t even know their names. I love Captain Beefheart’s stuff, I always have, and he’s finally getting some recognition.

SECONDS: Didn’t you hang out in the desert with Beefheart? Anything strange happen?

SCHENKEL: It’s really hard to remember all the details … we hung out a lot and painted. We’d go on little trips. One time I went out to take some photos of him.

SECONDS: For the Trout Mask Replica cover?

SCHENKEL: No, that was much earlier than when I was hanging out with him. There were a couple of brief, intense periods relating to Beefheart – or, to call him by his proper name, Don Van Vliet. At other times, Don and Frank weren’t getting along, so he wasn’t around or I wasn’t around. There were just a couple of brief periods and one of them was when we did Trout Mask. I don’t remember whose idea it was to do what we did but I would say it was a collaborative thing. The way it came about, I went and found this carp head at some fish market. We took it back to my studio, which was the same place that I did the Uncle Meat cover – another very interesting thing that happened there was the cover for the Wild Man Fischer album – and I took the trout head and hollowed it out – the thing stank like hell – and Don had to hold it up to his face for a couple of hours while we shot.

SECONDS: Was he complaining?

SCHENKEL: Not really, he was really good-natured about it all. I have this incredible piece of 8mm film of him playing the baritone sax through the trout head. It was like an actual animated version of that cover. That was when I first met and we had a lot of interesting conversations about art, philosophy and reality. He would come by when I was working on the cover and we would hang out and talk. We got into some interesting conversations. The whole band was living in Woodland Hills when they were working on that album. I went out there to do photos, but then I didn’t see much of him until around the time of Bongo Fury, a good four or five years later, when he got involved with Frank again. At that point, he was living in this little trailer in Lancaster, where he grew up. I would go out there and we’d paint all night. It was right across the street from the desert and we’d just walk out into the desert and watch crows. Don was into nature, as I am too. Since I didn’t use drugs, it was the equivalent of tripping in nature. Don is a very unique person – I don’t want to say “peculiar.”

SECONDS: Tell me the other covers you did for other bands.

SCHENKEL: I did Trout Mask Replica for Captain Beefheart, I did the first three Tom Waits covers, I did a lot of stuff I wouldn’t want to mention – a lot of groups that just disappeared.

SECONDS: Tell me one of them.

SCHENKEL: I can’t think of one I want to mention. More recently, I’ve done stuff for obscure groups that no one would ever have seen.

SECONDS: How should Frank Zappa be remembered?

SCHENKEL: If I were to sum up his meaning to music and art in this century, it’s as someone who opened new doors by experimenting with so many different things, expanded the envelope, and brought other types of music into Rock.

SECONDS: And how should we remember you?

SCHENKEL: To some extent, in the same way – for connecting diverse parts of art. I think one of the things that I feel that I did was bring different types of art into that commercial records package. But I haven’t begun, so there’s nothing to remember me by yet.

Interview with Frank Frazetta- Seconds #29 (1994)

flexes his muscles

By Steven Cerio

FRANK FRAZETTA’s work doesn’t fall into an easily-definable category. It is at home on a paperback book cover or on a gallery wall. Though his subject matter is highly illustrative, reminiscent of Sunday supplements and Comic culture, its elegance and painterly qualities propel it into the realm of Fine Art.

Perhaps you know Mr. Frazetta because of his seminal cover art from Vampirella #1. Or perhaps you go back far enough to remember the days when Frank’s paperback covers for Edgar Rice Burrough’s extensive Tarzan series screamed out from every book rack in America. It was those kinetic covers, through their erotic implications, that put Frank on the map.

To some aficionados, Frazetta is the Michelangelo of modern Fantasy Art. Frank’s romanticized versions of the human form, culled from men’s magazines and old children’s books, were lushly erotic and scantily clad. When his style coalesced a few decades ago, its highly-exploitive element was regarded as a necessary evil of the marketplace. But in these days of bulimic babes, are Frazetta’s big-bosomed broads still welcome?

If you want swords and sluts, Frazetta’s got’em. He’s made his mark drawing multitudes of savagely heroic figures in dynamic poses. Never passive, the figures fight one another with sensuous abandon and are provocatively attacked bye wild animals. In bringing the world of Tarzan and Robert E. Howard’s Conan to life, Frank improved upon the titillating and vulnerable vixens who populated the soft-core Eisenhower era.

At sixteen, Frazetta had Snowman, his first Comic, published by his employer, Talley-ho Comics. Soon thereafter he drew covers for Buck Rogers and was the ghost hand for Al Capp, creator of Lil’ Abner. Early in Playboy’s history he helped piece together Hefner’s Little Annie Fannie. As the paperback book market peaked, Frank did the work which would gain him fame. But it was his work for Creepy and Eerie that brought him into mainstream Pop Culture.

Frank’s album covers for Molly Hatchet and Dust brought him into the Rock & Roll spotlight. His images sailed smoothly into the collective unconscious of America, as evidence by the wide array of Frazetta tattoos, posters, and Seventies van murals world-wide.

Frazetta has the extraordinary ability to guide the viewer’s eye by focusing and unfocusing on chosen elements within a composition. This technique creates a picture plane which mimics the focal capabilities of the human eye. Objects on the periphery are blurred, indistinct, while the central image snaps with clarity. Such masterly touches have imbued Frank’s works with great financial value – for example rumor has it that his paintings have recently sold for a quarter of a million dollars.

Despite massive popularity over the decades, Frank’s current show at New York’s Alexander Gallery is the first public showing of his works ever outside of his own estate in East Stroudsberg, PA.

At this point in his career, Frazetta is the unchallenged master of the Sword & Sorcery genre. Many other artists have come under his influence – for example, Boris Vallejo, Richard Corbin, Barry Windsor Smith, and Bernie Wrightson. But when Frazetta pulls out the stops, the hero triumphs and the blood flows freely!

SECONDS: Where do you see yourself on the art continuum? How do you categorize yourself?

FRAZETTA: I’d like to think of the quality of my work as fine art. On the other hand, I’m in the wrong field. That’s because of people and their judgments. If you illustrate a book, you’re an illustrator. I’d like to think of Fine Art as being what it sounds like – fine. Quality. There are fine artists that do Comics, there are fine artists that do classical art, there are fine artists that do illustration and yet, if they’re in a certain field they think of themselves as fine artists when they could be terrible artists.

SECONDS: It’s that adjective then.

FRAZETTA: I think so. It’s the quality of art that counts. Whether it has all the great elements that make great art: the color, the design, the composition, the emotion it creates, all those things. If it doesn’t do that, I don’t care how skillfully done it is.

SECONDS: Who were some of your influences earlier on?

FRAZETTA: Everyone. All the masters that ever lived, many illustrators, and certainly guys who did Comics. Foster would be my main influence. From the sublime to the ridiculous I go from Foster to Sega, who did design. Even though Foster did Popeye, I thought he was a brilliant artist. His ability to simplify and tell a story, that’s a great artist. Then you go to the masters who rendered and painted beautifully but told no story at all. It was contrived, it was obvious that they just posed models and weren’t very excited about it, in spite of the skillful approach. Sure it’s great but so what? It leaves me if I have to sit there and wonder about the application of paint. It means nothing. I’d rather look at Harvey Kurtzman. On the other hand, certain classical artists like Goya had magic and power. That’s my own personal judgment. Unfortunately, there’s a million people in this world that have been brainwashed and have to be told what’s good and what isn’t.

SECONDS: How do you feel about abstract painters?

FRAZETTA: There’s a lot of abstract quality in my work. Abstracts are painted for the sake of creating patterns. That leaves me cold. I like some abstract art. If the design is wonderful and has some pizazz I can enjoy it.

SECONDS: I don’t see much Mondrian in your work.

FRAZETTA: Not really. I refuse to put on pretenses about what’s intellectual and what isn’t. For many, many years, anything that was representational was considered corny and old hat. They could be right about that but people that just jump from good drawing to abstract could be copping out. It’s nonsense.

SECONDS: The argument is that the abstract artists thought they were the ones acting directly on your psyche.

FRAZETTA: If it’s calculated and deliberate and there’s a certain intelligence behind it and assuming they paid their dues in the first place, that they did go through the fundamentals of drawing and found it boring and were looking for other avenues, fine. But don’t sit there with your finger up your ass and pretend you’re a genius. I don’t buy it. I’m very capable of painting abstract but I’d just be kidding people. What would I prove? That I can design wonderful shapes?

SECONDS: It ends up being sort of intellectual masturbation.

FRAZETTA: You said that, I didn’t. The subject I do is so hokey and yet entertaining but some of my fanatical fans like Dave Winiewicz have looked beyond that. I was doing a lot of things. I tried to appeal to the masses and at the same time inject little subtleties that would appeal to the intellectuals around. They did see past the obvious. If you look at the background, that’s what makes my work go on and on. Many people, even the fans, don’t realize why they keep enjoying it. It’s like abstract music, you don’t quite understand but because it’s so varied you keep enjoying it and you never get tired of it. There’s a lot going on in my art besides the superhero standing there doing his thing. It’s the way I lead into it, the way I move you around, not just a heroic figure looking wonderful. At least that’s the way I like think about it. I like to compare myself to Stravinsky. When he wrote The Rite Of Spring he went out in left field and people said, “What the hell is that?” To this day, I’ve never tired of that piece.

SECONDS: I’ve always sensed a real fluidity in your brush strokes. It always kind of reminded me of Sargent. Despite the fact you’d have a giant warrior on a horse, it seemed to have a calming effect on me.

FRAZETTA: I’m trying to make people feel wonderful. It’s not meant to create menace or anything like that. I try to be as tasteful as I can with everything I do and make it beautiful, in spite of the mayhem. I’d like to think that even my battle scenes are not ugly. It’s a beautiful piece to look at and you soon forget what it means and you start enjoying it for all these other reasons. That takes time, it takes study. Nobody went to art school and learned it all in a day. I developed as I went on and on and began to be more deliberate about what I was doing. The stuff I did earlier was just as good but it was more instinctive. I just had sense of design, composition, and movement. The fact that I could draw well didn’t hurt. I did a painting that almost approaches surrealism and it won an award and I kind of predicted it would. That one was called “Downward To The Earth.” I just went out on a limb with that. I said, “I’m going to prove a point here,” and I knew that a certain element of people would enjoy it. On the other hand, I realize the majority of my fans would say, “What happened to Frank?”

SECONDS: Do you often do un-Frazetta-like paintings?

FRAZETTA: I do but it generally fails commercially, although my peers enjoy the hell out of them. I don’t pretend this is a deep hunger in me. I do love shapes, wonderful moving shapes, moving your head around just like great music does. You don’t know what certain combinations of sounds feel good but they do. I think it all depends on your intelligence level. People on a certain level always seem to agree on a combination of sounds in music or a combination of colors and shapes in art. Then you get a lower element and you’re down to some lower level and they find another area that entertains them. It just depends on what they understand. I was a crazy guy, I tried to make everybody happy. You see that my fans range from ten to one-hundred-and-ten. That’s tough to do.

SECONDS: Do you work from life of photographs?

FRAZETTA: I work from my head.

SECONDS: Uh-huh.

FRAZETTA: There’s a lot of people that are very skeptical about that but go to the show and ask any artist who’s watched me work and they’re amazed. It comes out of nowhere. Not that I never have referred to a pose myself, there have been many times, but generally speaking, every Death Dealer painting I’ve ever done has come out of nowhere. I could pick out on the fingers of my hand the number of times where I might have posed or my wife might have posed. That was generally when I had a problem with lighting, never the drawing, never action.

SECONDS: The reason I asked that was because of how you keep your backgrounds abstract and washed away. I assumed that was because you were using photographic reference.

FRAZETTA: Not at all. I am a dyed-in-the-wool shutterbug but it never does a thing for my art. I never use it. Unfortunately, I have watched artists refer to models and photography and become enslaved by it. Next thing you know they can’t draw, can’t think. It’s an absolute fact. They get so damn lazy. They find using the model and photographs made the painting look very realistic and they become entranced by that fact. That’s precisely what I don’t want. I want it to look dreamlike, I want it to look made-up, I want it to look unreal. If I start getting lazy simply because I’m frightened of making mistakes, I’m done. Sure, sometimes I have to struggle because I’m trying to solve problems with my noodle but I have this great drawing ability which helps a lot. And this imagination I can’t explain.

SECONDS: With the subjects in your paintings, you seem to have a set body type. Are those based on your own idealized body types or is that because it’s fantasy work?

FRAZETTA: We all have personal likes and dislikes and I love a certain body type in women and men and in creatures and lizards and dinosaurs. I’d like to think that I break it down to the perfect machine, whatever it may be. There’s a certain physical type, a certain look, in a heroic figure of a guy that just is the ultimate. I have a very personalized woman, as you know. You’ve seen my women, they kind of look alike. I’ve tried to escape from that and I was never happy. I’d make a perfectly nice rendering of a female and it would just make me unhappy. “I don’t love her.” She’s got to have a certain look, those eyes that I love.

SECONDS: I’m sure you know what a great impact you’ve had on Fantasy Art.

FRAZETTA: I’m aware of everything that goes on out there. Everything. I’ve seen my imitators and the rest and it’s wonderful, I’m glad. They’ve talked to me about it and I tried to tell them, “You have to do your own thing for your own joy.” Their answer is, “That’s easy for you to say, Frank.” I guess what they’re saying is that they don’t see what I see. I just see, I visualize very clearly. The minute somebody says, “Here’s a job we want you to do” –bang! There’s the image, right between the eyes. I see it and begin to move it around in my head. I not only see it vividly, I begin to select the perfect perspective in my mind’s eye. That’s something I have that I couldn’t possibly teach or explain away. I’ve always had that ability.

SECONDS: Is it challenging for you to illustrate other people’s ideas?

FRAZETTA: Not really. A lot of my most successful works are my own ideas in the first place. Death Dealer and many things I’ve done over the years, I just did what popped into my head and they wrote stories around it. Conan was a commissioned work. They told me about his character and I began to visualize this character as I speed-read through the first few chapters. I went right ahead and developed this character that didn’t even barely resemble Howard’s description at all. Quite a different guy. It was what I thought a barbarian should look like, the ultimate barbarian. His description was quite different. He was leaner with tousled hair and hawkish features. I instead saw a bruised, battered, scarred, monster of a guy. That’s just the way I felt a guy should look like at this point. Once again, it’s all personal. My interpretation of the feeling I get from it. I’m prone to develop characters every day. I just sit there and create images that are powerful, sensual, whatever I’m in the mood to do.

SECONDS: What’s the strongest reaction you’ve ever seen anyone have to your work?

FRAZETTA: Catgirl is certainly high on this list. Death Dealer, some of those. I’ve never seen a whole publishing place go crazy as the day I brought in the first Conan painting. That was an interesting story. They commissioned me to do it and as usual I waited to the last minute. They called the day before it was due in and said, “Frank, how’s it coming?” At this point they had confidence in what I was doing. “By the way, what’s the concept?” I said, and I was being very facetious, “It’s a portrait.” There was silence at the other end. They had their own ideas, the obvious approach, a battle scene. They said, “A portrait?” In any event, I sat down and bashed it out in a day, brought it in, the place was in an uproar. They went crazy, they were drinking champagne. I even predicted it would turn the world of illustration upside down. Kind of arrogant, isn’t it? I knew it was a new look, nobody had ever seen something quite like it before. Maybe I just sensed the world was ready for something like that. Typical of me, after the Fourth or Fifth painting I was bored. I just don’t like chewing my cabbage over and over.

SECONDS: Do you think you would have stayed doing Comics?

FRAZETTA: No way. I always loved to paint and work with color. When I was younger there was no market. You either painted for galleries or you told stories in Comics. Then suddenly there was Science Fiction and I saw a market for what I liked to do. Create strange, wonderful images and tell a story, and there I went. But Comics are fine too because you can draw a panel after panel and tell stories. I love telling stories and now I do it in one page. I like to think that my paintings have a beginning, middle, and end when you look at them. That’s what separates it from illustration. Illustration is a design to lure you into buying a book, it leaves you hanging. “Gee, that looks interesting. I wonder what that means?” I want them to look at my cover and say, “I don’t care what the hell’s in the book. I’m not even going to read it. I just want to cut out the drawing.”

SECONDS: I actually did that to your books when I was a kid. I never read the books you did covers for.

FRAZETTA: You see. It’s complete. You look at it and know what’s happening and you love it for the sheer artistry of it. Who the hell cares what the book is about?

SECONDS: Do you read much?

FRAZETTA: No. I did when I was younger. Now, every time I decide, “Maybe I should read once in a while,” I realize I’m wasting my time. Why sit there hour after hour when I could do a painting in that time? Which would you do? But I used to when I was younger and I didn’t do this stuff. I read books from the library and stuff like that. Nothing very profound, just a lot of animal stories.

SECONDS: What do you think of the state of Comics now?

FRAZETTA: I don’t like what I see at all. I look at it and I don’t understand it. I don’t know exactly where they go. It’s a huge ego trip. “Look at how I can design these crazy panels, look at this great coloring, look at these great effects.” Everything is special effects. I hate special effects! I’m a purist. Do your panel a step at a time and get involved, like a great movie. What is with these special effects? The young kids, they love it. But what do they know?

SECONDS: I was just looking at your Vampirella stuff the other day and it’s just like, “Here you go, here it is.”

FRAZETTA: Yeah, I want you to identify with it. I want you to know what you’re looking at and understand it. If I can look at art in Comics and not understand it, something’s wrong.

SECONDS: I see a psychedelic influence from the Sixties coming back.

FRAZETTA: Sure, fireworks on stage, what the hell does it have to do with music? I go back to Frank Sinatra and Forties, when music was beautiful and romantic –I’m and old guy. It was romantic and grabbed you by the heartstrings. Suddenly they’re screeching and hollering and they’re half-naked on stage. Every one of them has a guitar –what the hell is this? It’s not a question of how skillful you are anymore, it’s a question of how crazy you are. I don’t buy that. That’s bullshit. Same with art. Even at this late date I’m very capable of keeping up with these kids that do this nutty stuff. I just wouldn’t let myself do it. I want it to be beautiful and I have my own ideas of what I think is beautiful and there’s an awful lot of people that feel the way I do. I don’t try to appeal to the masses and the assholes just because there’s more of them, I could care less.

SECONDS: What do you think of the state of fantasy covers right now?

FRAZETTA: It’s pretty boring I think. If you ask any of the artists, they blame someone else. “This is what the editor told us to do, this is the effect they want, skulls all over the place.” What happened to pure art?

SECONDS: With your covers, I’ve never seen anyone use type to compete with your images.

FRAZETTA: I’ll kill them. I wish I could agree with you but they’ve screwed up so many. You got some of these art directors that just didn’t like me and decided to do me one better. They’d crop a cover I designed beautifully – bigger is better with these guys. Zoom in close – wait a minute, I had a whole lot going on out there. “What’d you do that for, you nut?” They just loused up the composition just to get a close shot. That irritated the hell out of me. I didn’t waste all my time in that space for nothing.

SECONDS: Are you happy with this new book of pencil drawings that Glenn Danzig’s company put out?

FRAZETTA: Do you like it?

SECONDS: Oh, it’s beautiful.

FRAZETTA: In spite of the great printing, the originals still blow it away. Something got lost in the reduction. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the quality, it’s gorgeous, but in the reduction it made it look tighter. In the originals they’re looser and more fun to look at.

SECONDS: It stood out as some of the better printings of pencils.

FRAZETTA: Oh it is! It’s great. I’m only saying the originals are more fun to look at.

SECONDS: Do you see yourself in the Met in the future?

FRAZETTA: I don’t plan on that but if some people want to take the ball and run with it, that’s fine with me. I thought I’d be long dead before anybody really saw what I did. It’s pretty hard to crack that are brainwashed. I like to think of them as brainwashed. I’ll be the first to tell them too. I think I’m a pretty good judge of what great art is, I’ve studied it all my life, I went to art school – a Fine Art school, I might add – and learned all the do’s and don’ts. It’s not like I’m some dunce that grew up doing Comics. I had Fine Art training and found most people had no talent. They just sat there and painted a still life or posed someone and that was it. I saw no creativity, I saw no pure talent. Okay, maybe they got pretty good with a brush, maybe the color was interesting, but what does it boil down to? Style and technique, period. I have to be creative. I have to create images that knock your socks off. I want images that have never been seen before and then paint them with the style and technique. That’s what I try to do. I try to have people say, “That’s incredible! I’ve never seen anything like it. I am really moved.”

Interview with Raymond Pettibon- Seconds #34 (1995)

“Art is the last place anyone is
going to derive their inspiration from”

By Steven Cerio

Like most people on the East Coast in the early Eighties, I first witnessed RAYMOND PETTIBON’s work gracing his brother Greg Ginn’s early Black Flag Lps as well as the gate-fold of the Minutemen’s classic Double Nickels On The Dime. On the West Coast, his work had wallpapered walls and telephone poles since the dawn of Punk – a period highlighted by his brief stint as the original bassist for Black Flag.

Raymond’s work was a great gift, going far beyond the droll Rock & Roll iconography so painfully present at the time. His drawing embodied what my suburban friends and I believed to be the Punk ideal: unruly, snide and bleak. Even his draftsmanship wreaked of sarcasm and gloom. His output consisted entirely of drawings with captions.

During the Eighties he self-published close to one hundred photocopied collections of his grim renderings, as well as contributing politically-charged Serial Art to Exit magazine and producing a book of dynamic locomotive drawings. Nowadays he hangs his voluminous works on gallery walls throughout most of the free world. He tacks up his pieces by the hundred in salon style, sometimes putting one piece over another, obscuring both word and image and making the relationship (conversation) increasingly abstract.

In the last decade, Pettibon’s work has borrowed a less diplomatic and expedient tone. He’s thrown away his checkers and taken up chess. Where before his work seemed to emanate from the Cro-Magnon underpinnings of Punk, he has now taken on a lyrical glow which attributes to the literary luminaries William Faulkner, Marcel Proust and James Joyce.

Only a few years ago Sonic Youth convinced Raymond to decorate their Goo LP. Despite the great difference between what emanated from the vinyl and what was said by the images on the cover, Pettibon’s work still felt abrasive and timely.

His image and word juxtapositions, though visually sparse in composition, seem heavy, manifesting themselves as question marks. Lyrically they stand as a testament to logic and speech in their purest states, frozen at the decisive moment before being polluted by the obscene vagaries of conversational speech.

SECONDS: A lot of people know you from the Xeroxed books you were distributing through SST.

PETTIBON: I didn’t distribute them through SST to any extent. I ended up destroying most of them. No, they never distributed anything if they could help it. I tried to keep some in print later. I just did thirty, forty copy editions and ended up giving ninety-nine percent of them away. Right now, there’s nothing in print, but I’m always planning on doing more when I get the time.

SECONDS: Are you going to collect them together?

PETTIBON: Yeah, part of it is to have the documentation evidence and to have a communicative value as well, rather than having them disappear into the ether.

SECONDS: Is it important that people see the books?

PETTIBON: Oh sure. Part of making art is you’re making it for somebody. It’s not done in a vacuum. Some work is problematic as far as reproduction and bookmaking and some is less so. A lot of my stuff tends to work just as well or better in book form. I always like the idea of making books …

SECONDS: From the older stuff, you get this tag on you about the comics influence but I’ve read that you’re not even a comics fan.

PETTIBON: No, I wouldn’t say that. My visual style is no doubt right out of comics. While learning to draw, the figures I looked at were people like Marsh, Hopper, the Ash Can School, the etching style, Goya, then also people like Milton Caniff.

SECONDS: Herriman, maybe? The Krazy Kat stuff?

PETTIBON: I love his work. I don’t know if that comes into my own stuff that much but I like him from afar. There’s some artists you may not even like whose work, for whatever reason, becomes an influence on your own. I think maybe the Caniff kind of school and the guy who uses to …what was his name? Frank Robbins, I like his style. Who else … this guy who used to draw for EC, Bernie Krickstein. Those are probably the primary ones. I’m not a comic fan so much. I love the form but I just don’t think there has been much done in it. I think the comics form is capable of a lot more than what’s been done in it. It should be as legitimate an art form as any but the problem is they don’t want to play on the same playing field as everyone else. On one hand, they’re bitter about being looked down upon by the rest of the art world, but when it comes down to it, they’re happy being in their own world and having their own standards. There’s an attractiveness to being ghettoized. Like any genre writers, they’re making a steady income putting out the same thing they’ve been doing over the years.

I never wanted to be a commercial artist and have some asshole art director for DC looking over my shoulder telling me what to do. I never wanted any part of that world, never thought about it without revulsion. The comics field is its own enclosed little world. It’s just a slacker, jack-off mentality of people who know what they want. They’re the kind of people who are into what they themselves call bad films. They have this inverse high-low kind of thing that they celebrate.

SECONDS: That whole concept caught on a little too heavily. People are going out and watching a movie just because they think it’s bad.

PETTIBON: I haven’t been able to get through a comic book or so-called bad movie. The whole camp thing, looking down on something … if that’s their whole life, they can’t get anything out of the other end.

SECONDS: Something like poetics – how deep does that run in everyday life?

PETTIBON: It depends on what you by poetics. I don’t set-up these hierarchies, either. What I mean is that there’s a certain type of person who break them down just to celebrate garbage. I can appreciate Rap music, I think there’s great writing in Rap and other forms outside of academic poetry. You have poets writing for poets and that’s always been the complaint. Every generation looks down on the previous generation with its apocalyptic vision like everything is going down the gutter, and it’s not true. Things always revive. Good things are always going on. It’s not that bad.

SECONDS: What do you find more powerful, the drawn image or the written word?

PETTIBON: I guess the written word can work graphically within your own mind but my work’s always been weighted more towards the words. I don’t think there’s any question.

SECONDS: With the lettering you’re doing, it seems like the words are fighting for control. Do you ever see yourself doing something with just words and no images?

PETTIBON: I’ve done that before. There’s usually some formal reason behind it that calls attention to itself as words without images. I also do writing of other sorts where I’m not dependent on visual images. In the work we’re talking about, it is art and it’s not that often that I can get away without the use of language. I wish I could more. They depend on each other.

SECONDS: Do you think you were made aware of words earlier than most because your father was a writer?

PETTIBON: I think that’s what it comes down to. I was always reading, although I was always drawing, too. It was just a part of my life. I was really the same person at five years old as I am now.

SECONDS: You can tell that?

PETTIBON: Definitely.

SECONDS: When people are talking about your work, there always seems to be references to the Burroughs/Gysin cut-up techniques. I though your work was more automatic and more in a Surrealist manner.

PETTIBON: Surrealism really doesn’t touch much on my work. There’s cases where you could say it does. The actual physical cut-up technique – not really. I have done physical techniques, like I used to cut-up a rectangle and a Ouija board and roll it over the text of the page and you make associations that way. You can do it from one page to the next. I don’t know if that makes sense. There’s trickery like that. A lot that stuff is something you can just do in your head.

SECONDS: Freud said all automatic writing was the condensation of thought and words.

PETTIBON: Yeah, I can see that. Usually when I’ve done that, rather then being automatic writing of an expansive sort, it’s been more reductive. I think my later work depends more on longer sentences. All my work from the beginning has been directly related to reading that was putting yourself in the field of language until something comes out. Sometimes I would use phrases from it, and usually it’s between the lines.

SECONDS: You’re a real vivid reader, right?

PETTIBON: Well, it’s part of my work, fortunately, because I like doing it.

SECONDS: It seems that over the years your stuff has become more cryptic. Do you see your later work as more open to interpretation?

PETTIBON: Probably not. I think if I brought you through the work you’d see what I was trying to get at. You can say it’s open-minded, whatever, but it’s never a random association between the language and the image. There’s always a reason.

SECONDS: Do they occur at the same time or do you have drawings sitting around that you add the words onto later?

PETTIBON: I do both. I used to always start with the words – the thought. Now, I start with the image.

SECONDS: It seems like you’re mocking formal speech because a lot of the poetics are so over-the-top.

PETTIBON: I wouldn’t say I’m mocking it, I just like that kind of high Modernist, Seventeenth Century …what some people would call purple prose. If it’s expressed through the mouth of Vavoom or Gumby, that might be comic element to some people. That’s cool – I’m glad people think it’s funny.

SECONDS: It seems reality is secondary with you.

PETTIBON: Escapism is letting the narrator bring you along and manipulate you without your conscious knowledge of it. Reading, to me is not escapism at all – it’s the complete opposite.

SECONDS: Manson has shown up in a lot of your stuff.


SECONDS: What does he represent to you? Of course, there’s the classic image of Manson and what he means to Middle America …

PETTIBON: That image of Manson doesn’t have any interest to me. Manson is someone who’s an original exegesis of The Bible and The Beatles. He takes this blank piece of work, The White Album, and by the time he’s through with it, it’s blood red. He’s taking these Rock lyrics and making apocalyptic importance out of them. The Bible as well, The Book Of Revelations … everything’s open to interpretation. That’s the way Manson works and that’s why he’s an important figure to me.

SECONDS: You had a lot of tie-ins to Punk. How do you feel about your work on the Black Flag and Minutemen covers?

PETTIBON: Well, I just knew these people. They asked for work and I did it. It was really such a minimal thing. It really wasn’t anything of what I did.

SECONDS: No one ever told you what pieces to do, right?

PETTIBON: Not when I could help it. Unfortunately, that tends to come up because everyone thinks they’ve got great ideas. I managed to shy away from it whenever I could. There’s a few abominations where you’re backed into a corner, but otherwise …

SECONDS: Do you think you’re asking a lot from the viewer? Do you think your work is demanding?

PETTIBON: Do you mean morally?


PETTIBON: I’m not making any demands of people. I would if art had the ability to do that with authority, but that’s highly doubtful with the debasement of art in this country. Art is the last place anyone is going to derive their inspiration from.

SECONDS: How about demanding visually? Do you hope to exhaust the viewer?

PETTIBON: Not really. The way I look at it, there’s no contract with the viewer the way a professor assigns a certain amount of pages to the student. I’m not making any demands on the viewer. I don’t have a crusade about that. The gallery audience is not a captive audience like in music or theater. There’s been shows before where you have this palpable resentment between the audience and myself. Just walk out. I’m not expecting anything from anyone. For one thing, I’m working where even the crassest pulp book takes at least a few hours to read – and people are complaining that it takes more than ten minutes to look at a show of mine? Here I am, considering large bodies of work into small fragments and it’s as if I’m making demands. The whole thing is absurd. If someone is interested in my work, maybe some people go back a few times. That’s nice but I don’t have to know about it. It’s not an issue with me. When I read art reviews, it’s like reading restaurant reviews. The whole show is reviewed as if it’s set up with an appetizer … whatever. I like the idea of being able to do shows of a few works, that’s cool too. The show in New York I didn’t have any hand in.

SECONDS: You didn’t hang that one?

PETTIBON: No. I didn’t make the decisions of what to show. There’s stuff I would have preferred not to, there’s ways I would have done it different … sometimes it works better just to let someone else do it. If there’s any complaints, maybe it’s from an art student whose assignment was to go look at the show and make notes on every piece.

SECONDS: How do you perceive your own show?

PETTIBON: Usually, I try to just dismiss it. I think it’s an expression of love – that’s what’s behind it for me. Anything less is not worth all the years of twenty-four-hour days three hundred sixty-five days a year. Nothing else would compensate for all of that.

Interview with H.R. Giger- Seconds #25 (1994)

Biomechanical modifier
H.R. GIGER watches the clock

By Steven Cerio

Most rock fans know H.R. Giger’s work from his designs for the Alien film series and his album covers for such heavy hitters as Emerson Lake & Palmer, Deborah Harry, and Danzig. The universally-recognized space monster that haunted the starship Nostradamus was the direct result of Giger’s fertile, fevered imagination, and the brooding bitch on Brain Salad Surgery emerged from his quasi-misanthropic mind. But those burning images are only a fraction of Giger’s self-contained universe, where biomechanical surrealism pervades dehumanized characters whose hearts and minds have been replaced by tubes and wires. Part pornography, part pop science fiction, Giger has scared and influenced a generation of artists and film buffs.

In Giger’s universe, machines often appear to be parasitic upon humans in wending episodes of domination. He depicts a humanity that is weak and in need of robots for essential tasks such as eating and fucking – humans are perpetually relegated to life-support systems. That’s one of his work’s turn-ons, but in fact, Giger feels that he is portraying a positive relationship between machines and humanity. Despite the fact that it is symbiotic, it is horrifying – a vision of hell from the future.

To say that Giger’s images are erotic is an understatement. Heavy S&M abounds. Phallic shapes grow from the fleshy floor as vaginal ovals appear atop volcanoes. However, in his interviews he downplays any sexual symbolism by saying that most people have a tendency to see penises in every column and vaginas in every hole.

H.R. Giger is important because he is a fantastic surrealist obsessed with life, sex and death. There are never depictions of flesh alone; flesh is always accompanied by machines. Humanity is slowly being replaced by metal and circuits. Botched babies and imperfect cocksuckers wait patiently for their turn to find sexual and spiritual fulfillment through mechanization.

Currently, Giger has given up painting in favor of sculpture and drawings, and is compiling a book which will contain photographs or tattoos of his elaborate images. His most recent exhibit, Watch Abart, at New York’s Alexander Gallery, displayed his Swiss fascination with clockwork and his interest in Daliesque surrealism. Over-sized spiked timepieces and macabre holograms greeted visitors as the space was transformed into a chronological twilight zone.

Giger’s business relationships have sometimes been as turbulent as the dark world he has created. For example, he was in a legal dispute over the blockbuster film Alien 3. Giger contended that the film’s producers failed to properly credit him for his monstrous designs; consequently he was denied an Academy Award nomination. He is now involved in litigation over copyright infringement concerning artwork used by Glenn Danzig for the cover of his album How The Gods Kill. Giger claims Danzig used the image for merchandising without permission. Hopefully minor legal adjustments will fix this malfunction before the machine shuts down.

Vilified by American Puritans for riveting, taboo-ridden images like the poster included in the Dead Kennedy’s Frankenchrist album package or his own seminal book of psycho-satanic airbrush paintings, Necronomicon, Giger remains the undisputed champion of the fever dream. We spoke with this renown alien artist about sex and art in hell.

SECONDS: After your recent show at the Alexander Gallery, there were many complaints about the twenty-five dollar door price. That wasn’t your idea was it?

GIGER: Oh my God, no! The gallery owner was upset because I promised to come by the gallery one day to meet some fans. Then something happened and I couldn’t get there. I was told there were some kids waiting for me, and they were playing football in the gallery and making a lot of noise. The gallery was furious and afraid that things could get damaged. The owner said, “I need protection – more security for the art. To cover it, I need to charge a twenty-five dollar fee.” There were so many kids, he was frightened. I heard that here in the States even museums don’t charge that much. I told him, “You can’t do that,” and he got all sour. It was very difficult to convince him. In the end, I said I’d take the risk on myself if something happened, and then he gave the show for free. No one wanted to pay the twenty-five dollars. They all went down the hallway to see the Robert Crumb show for free. The gallery wouldn’t display the one sculpture I had done that wasn’t in metal. They said the polyester and rubber are not quality materials – only metals. They said you can’t show that uptown. It was the last piece I made, so I didn’t have time to do it in metal. That’s the reason why they didn’t want to use the show poster we gave them, because it showed that same piece.

SECONDS: Tell us about your Watch Abart exhibition.

GIGER: I wanted to call it Giger’s Swatch Abart, but Swatch wouldn’t let me use their ‘S’. At the time, I was negotiating with them. They wanted to work with me, but later on they became afraid because they felt my images were a bit too strong for their philosophy. Swatch is one of the best watches because they are very cheap and I can take a shower and swim with it on. That’s why I’ll always wear one.

SECONDS: Is there a nationalistic inspiration for the watches?

GIGER: Perhaps. Watches are a unique thing. They’re different from other objects because they run in time, which has to do with life. One of Dali’s best paintings was the work in which he likened watches to melting Camembert cheese. I made my crosswatches unfunctional art objects with four bands.

SECONDS: You met Dali at one point, right?

GIGER: Sever times, but he didn’t always recognize me. He always thought I was Austrian because I worked in a detailed style like the Viennese Fantastic artists such as Ernst Fuchs. When I was at Dali’s house, he presented me as a painter from Austria to the girls in his home – he gave the girls any name he could find because there were so many people visiting that he couldn’t remember their names. The people would all come after 5 P.M., when he was done working. There were all sorts of artists and good-looking people, all sorts of gangsters. He liked to be surrounded by musicians. Amanda Lear wrote a book about him. For some time she was like his lover. At the time, they didn’t know if Amanda was a guy or girl. David Bowie brought her in and told Dali she was a man in order to make her more mysterious.

SECONDS: I read in one of your books that Dali tried to seduce your old girlfriend.

GIGER: Yes. He was very successful because people always did what he wanted; they treated him like a king or a priest. They also wanted him to play the king in Alexander Jodorowski’s version of Dune that was never filmed. Dali was supposed to get paid I-don’t-know-how-many millions for each hour.

SECONDS: What school of art do you consider yourself from? Fantastic? Surrealist?

GIGER: Both schools are relevant. Fuchs seemed to be technically the best out of the old masters. He’s a good friend of mine. We’re opening a museum in a castle a few kilometers from Vienna. It’ll be the first international Museum Of Fantastic Art and the first show will be called The Treasure of Morpheus. It will open in 1995. There will be three hundred artists with four works each. One of the artists is Mati Klarwein, who did the covers for Santana’s Abraxas and Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. I really enjoy his work.

SECONDS: What is the relationship of your art to psychedelia?

GIGER: I think there’s a relationship. Not so in the colors but I have some older works that look very psychedelic.

SECONDS: What have drugs done for the art world?

GIGER: You know, drugs are forbidden in Switzerland. Even psychedelic drugs that open you up are forbidden. LSD was invented by Albert Hoffman, who is Swiss. He had his first psychedelic experience on a bicycle, after accidentally getting some LSD on his fingers. He didn’t know what he had discovered. He was looking for something that would help women in labor. He changed the world. Many artists symbolize the psychedelic experience with a bicycle. This man is now 88 years old. I met him about six months ago. He’s very healthy and intelligent. Each day, he hangs upside down with his wife for half an hour, like a bat, in gravity boots.

SECONDS: You know Timothy Leary too, right?

GIGER: Yes, but not too well. When he was in Switzerland, he was looking for a place to hide because they wanted to put him in jail. My father was a pharmacist and knew Leary was in trouble. He was not very excited about Leary being in Switzerland, so I didn’t tell him I was trying to get help for him. He wouldn’t have been pleased.

SECONDS: It’s been rumored that you’re not allowed in the States since the incident with the Dead Kennedys poster.

GIGER: Not allowed in the country? No, that’s not true, I was never charged or prosecuted. They were looking for the painting in Jello’s home, they thought it was a photo or something. We explained that this painting was shown all over the world in galleries, on television, and even at the Bronx Museum without any controversy. The painting is one of a triptych illustrating the circle of life, represented by babies, skulls and penises.

SECONDS: Do you think they approach erotic art differently in the States?

GIGER: Yes, they like erotic art very much, but not officially. They have trouble showing my books in store windows. Necronomicon came out fifteen years ago, you would think by now that they’d have no problem with it. They’re seeing sexual penetrations that aren’t there. They’re looking for them. They wanted to hide the breasts on the cover by putting type or stars over them.

SECONDS: I’ve noticed a lot of guns in your work.

GIGER: Yes, before I was able to get a lady, before puberty, I was collecting guns. My father gave me my first gun, an automatic pistol.

SECONDS: Do you still have it?

GIGER: No, because later I was more interested in revolvers; I admired them from cowboy films. I liked them because they could fall in the sand and still shoot.

SECONDS: Do you use them for anything other than a phallic symbol in your work?

GIGER: Any object has sexual symbolism. A long thing is always a penis, a hollow thing is always a vagina. That’s all very simple. I don’t approve of guns for the killing of humans or animals. I distance myself from their violence. In my work they represent magical action. Working with an airbrush is also a magical action, but it’s non-violent.

SECONDS: Are you still painting?

GIGER: No, I stopped painting. I’m working directly with my ideas through my ink drawings. I like having my ideas immediately fixed on paper or in books, even through comics or storyboards. I realized drawings were the quickest way to transmit my ideas to people, something I noticed as I was faxing sketches to them. There was no sense in faxing copies of airbrushed paintings, since they would print in such high contrast.

SECONDS: How are people reacting to your new drawings?

GIGER: They don’t enjoy them as much as the airbrushed paintings. I’ve noticed that artists prefer my drawings. Non-artists fixate on the airbrushed works because they come closer to reality. To me, the paintings are too finished and too cold. What I do like about using the airbrush is that it’s easier to render texture with it. I don’t like shiny objects such as new airplanes, but with the airbrush I can create the passage of time on an object.

SECONDS: What criticism about your work bothers you the most?

GIGER: After Alien people only talked about me but I’d rather have people talk about my work. After the Oscars I became kind of a celebrity. People think they can do with you what they want, they don’t feel it’s necessary to talk about your work anymore. They just want to make small talk, they don’t take you so seriously. After Alien the museums stopped buying my pictures. They think that if you do film or architecture, you don’t have anything to do with art. I read someone say in a review of my art that you can’t make paintings with an airbrush. Stupid guy.

SECONDS: What’s the highest compliment you’ve been paid?

GIGER: The greatest compliment is when people get tattooed with my work, whether it’s done well or not. To wear something like that your whole life is the largest compliment someone can pay to you as an artist. I have no tattoos. The only tattoo I’d ever want to get is a cross on my arm to show my doctor where to draw blood from.

SECONDS: How do you feel about your fans?

GIGER: I like my fans very much. When I see that people enjoy my work, it gives me great happiness and the energy to go on. Everyone needs a little admiration, just like everyone needs a little sex, love, and vitamins from time to time. But some fans are too enthusiastic and disturb me at home. This I don’t enjoy, I like peace and quiet when I’m home.

SECONDS: Have you ever looked to religion for inspiration?


SECONDS: Is your use of Satanism purely poetic?

GIGER: My interest came from literature. I was quite interested in mythology and magic and that’s why those images appear in my art.

SECONDS: When you paint your nightmares, are you doing it to exorcise them or to celebrate them?

GIGER: If I have a problem in my life, it’s that my dreams aren’t very good. The stress destroys my dreams. It brings back memories of military service and school. If I have the same disagreeable dream repeatedly, I’ll paint it to liberate myself from it.

SECONDS: Who are the beings in your work?

GIGER: They’re often people I admire, like beautiful women – my goddesses. I like to create images of faces in ecstasy.

SECONDS: Your work is often described as violent, but I’ve always sensed a feeling of serenity and contentment.

GIGER: I hate violence but violence can be played out in sexual play. I have always thought of my paintings in a way, as being beautiful. I don’t look at them as ugly, to many people the beauty is hidden. I do have some paintings that I think are ugly, but I had to do them for some strange reason, although I don’t know why. I don’t enjoy looking at them.

SECONDS: I understand that you have had problems with the producers of Alien 3 over your omission from the credits.

GIGER: That’s right …

SECONDS: Is that something you can discuss?

GIGER: These are things I don’t like to discuss because it’s horrible. I’ve had a lot of bad experiences with people not being honest.

SECONDS: So will you shy away from film work?

GIGER: I no longer have any illusions about Hollywood and the movie-making process. I worked hard on Alien 3 improving the creature from the first movie. They tried to hide the fact that I was the designer. When it was shown in theatres, nobody knew that I worked on it. My credit, as promised in the contract, was not there. Shit, after a long argument between lawyers, it was finally fixed for video, but it was also too late for me. I hope it’s better next time.

SECONDS: What about the screenplay that you’re working on?

GIGER: It’s called The Mystery Of San Gottardo. It concerns a race of creatures, my Biomechanoids – part organic, part machine. The concept of these reduced human beings is that they are a new life form. They consist of only an arm and a leg. It’s the further developing of a recurring image in my work from over the last thirty years. My earliest sketch was called The Beggar, in 1963. The film will be about a man and his unique love for a freak of nature, Armbeinda, who is really a sentient being combining and arm and a leg. This is where I’m focusing my attention at the moment.

SECONDS: Are you also having some problems with Danzig?

GIGER: I like to trust people. If you can’t trust people, existence is difficult because you’re always worried about being taken advantage of. Without friends and confidence and love, life has no value.

SECONDS: Do you listen to much music?

GIGER: Nothing has came out that’s really good or special. I was into Miles Davis, Eric Dolphy, and John Coltrane.

SECONDS: You played piano on Deborah Harry’s Debravation but you weren’t credited for it, correct?

GIGER: Warner Brothers forgot. I think I played too badly, I don’t know. Chris Stein recorded it during the time I was making the molds for Debbie’s mask for the cover of Koo Koo.

SECONDS: In her video, was that you behind the mask?

GIGER: Yes. I do have several masks. When I was in New York I used that one. It was made for Debbie’s face, on her skull. This mask is made from stencils for electronics. It’s melted copper burned out with acid. It has very fine lines and is very delicate. The Koo Koo mask has changed a lot – getting me into the mask changed it a lot. I wore it to the opening of my show in New York at the Alexander Gallery. It was the night before Halloween, and everyone had to come in black tie or in a mask. I wore a mask and a vest made from my four-banded crosswatches.

SECONDS: I read somewhere that you like to wear masks to your shows because of your shyness.

GIGER: Yes, it’s best because you don’t have to smile and you don’t have to hear small talk. You’re a little hidden and that’s not bad sometimes if you don’t know or recognize the people.

SECONDS: Is technology the master or the servant in your work?

GIGER: I’ve always shown machines as servants of human beings.

SECONDS: I always thought you were saying that mechanical was taking control of the biological.

GIGER: No, things such as bicycles, watches, artificial hearts and prosthetics are helping man, but machines can be used to destroy. It depends on how they’re used, everything has its good and evil.

SECONDS: Is man good or evil?

GIGER: Man is both. Without evil, there’s no good. If there were only good people, the world would be shit.

Interview with Storm Thorgerson- Seconds #46 (1998)

Album cover artist who founded
the design studio known as

By Steven Cerio

Recording technology with its resulting media – wax-covered cylinders, shellac discs, vinyl, wire, tape, compact discs, and computer chips – has accompanied us on the long hayride from the dawn of electricity. Evolving at an even quicker rate has been the packaging of those media, especially the record album, replete with glorious covers and gatefold sleeves. As wax and plastic gave way to digital, we found ourselves dealing with miniaturized versions of ‘our beloved album form tucked inside polystyrene (oh sorry, “jewel”) cases. But just as the alarmingly brittle 78 was transformed into a sturdy disc, the CD case will no doubt accept the hand of transformation as well. Packaging is always changing. And whenever “industry standards” get in the way of art, HIPGNOSIS reinvents them.

Hipgnosis design studio was the brainchild of STORM THORGERSON, a graphic designer specializing in creative photography. Being a former classmate of Roger Waters and a close friend of Syd Barrett, Storm was asked to create the mystical collage gracing the cover of Pink Floyd’s 1968 psychedelic masterstroke A Saucer Full Of Secrets — heralding the birth of Hipgnosis. Since then Storm has designed memorable sleeves for Syd Barrett, Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel, The Police, Black Sabbath, and many others as well as continuing to create all of Pink Floyd’s ubiquitous imagery.

The works Hipgnosis has produced are the closest things to graphic miracles that the music business has, even when juxtaposed against the present visual technology here in a decade when anyone with a Mac fancies oneself a designer. In the Seventies, when the most the consumer could expect from the packaging of their newest aural delight was perhaps a somber, grainy photo of the artist in an obvious state of deep introspection, wishing for the positive fruition of worldly concerns, Hipgnosis brought you the gatefold beauty of Houses Of The Holy and Dark Side of The Moon. When in the Eighties the ugly visage of MTV poked its Clearasil-laden forehead over the horizon and Punk had finally grown redundant, Storm gave you unabashedly skillful Surrealist renderings, so painstakingly executed and conceptualized that their meanings and methodology would be discussed in-depth by a long line of longhairs over cheap beers and nickel bags for years to come. When Punk’s wholesome cousin New Wave came to town, the keepers of the graphic torch brought forth black-and-white photos of overdressed combos. Those covers were in general the cover-art counterpart to moussed hair, but with that added touch of grainy insolence. Hipgnosis turned away in ocular disgust, creating Animals, yet another classic Floyd design.

Storm has also authored a shelf-full of books, including Classic Covers 0f The Sixties and three collections of his own work – The Goodbye Look, Mind Over Matter, and Walk Away René – as well as founding and editing the seminal Album Cover Album series, volumes one through seven. The latter have become standard reference books for any Rock enthusiast, to be placed coolly beside the obligatory dog-eared copy of Carburetor Dung or The Trouser Press Record Guide.

To date Storm has been nominated for seven Grammy’s, been honored by Billboard and MTV and, if it matters to you, has five covers that rate amongst Rolling Stone’s top ten covers of all time. Hipgnosis a.k.a. Storm Thorgerson is among a tiny handful of artists capable of receiving mainstream, tux wearing critical acclaim and its benefits while maintaining their vision and integrity.

Storm’s most recent project is the sizable Mind Over Matter, a book written to celebrate thirty years of Pink Floyd artwork. Beginning with the inception of A Saucerful Of Secrets, continuing through the trials and tribulations of a working relationship with Syd Barrett, and then on into the present high budget days of the band, Mind Over Matter is a definite must for Floyd fans as well as art aficionados. This book includes never-before-seen roughs, rejects and variations accompanied by user-friendly texts dealing with method, technique, relevance, meaning, passion and business. The reproductions are of an excruciatingly high quality, with images appealing, even to the Floyd-impaired. The book’s pages drip with enough psychedelic delusion to scramble DNA at a passing glance. Reproductions of gatefolds aplenty and the ghosts of crackling vinyl will have every baby boomer and love child separating weed from stash in a nervous rush.

Mind Over Matter is a busload of high-art forms, as only the higher forms can pack in both bliss and chromosomal liquidation by withstanding the poking and prodding of Art news intellectuals and buzzing American study-hall verbosity alike. Which, after all, is the true test of a form which hopes to survive geological time.

SECONDS: You began working with Floyd with Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, correct?


SECONDS: I thought I read that in Mind Over Matter.

THORGERSON: I didn’t do it but I put it in the beginning of Mind Over Matter because it was the beginning of the Floyd — but I do stress it is not mine.

SECONDS: A Saucerful Of Secrets then?

THORGERSON: Yes, that’s where I started. Actually, they can’t find the photographer who did Piper.

SECONDS: How much of the Saucerful concept was Floyd and how much was you?

THORGERSON: God, I can’t remember – dear dear, it was so long ago – I would say it came out of conversations we had with the band, who did not want the record company to do the cover. This may be because they were already moving away from the idea of psychedelic portraiture or pictures of the band in frilly colorful shirts. You have to remember things were changing then. For the first twelve months of the Floyd’s existence in public, they did wear some pretty colorful gear but I think by the time of their second year they were not as interested as they had been. They actually asked a friend to do it.  Because I knew them and had grown up with them, there wasn’t a need for a great deal of discussion. So the cover is an attempt to represent things that the band was interested in, collectively and individually, presented in a manner that was commensurate with the music. Swirly, blurred edges into red astrology/Dr. Strange images merging into images, a million miles away from certain pharmaceutical experiences. Beginning with Saucerful, they were beginning to experiment with more extended pieces and the music would cascade and change from thing into thing.

SECONDS: How much was Syd Barrett involved in that album? At that point, he supposedly conceptualized everything and the rest of the band just followed along.

THORGERSON: No, this is when they got rid of him. He’s not on the whole record. In his descent – or ascent, whichever way you look at it – it was a beyond-the-zone-of-collective reality; wherever he went was not easy for others to go. Probably one would not want to go there. So it got to a point where they couldn’t communicate very well, neither them to him or him to them. It was quite serious. Not only was he their friend, he was also the main creative source – so what was the point of getting rid of him? It would make no artistic or business sense. They talked to me because I knew Syd but I couldn’t really help them with all this psychology stuff. I was more useful in doing covers for them than I was in helping them deal with Syd. It was very sad because they had no desire to get rid of him and he had no desire to leave but for whatever reasons – they were complex reasons that are not totally relevant to me and this interview.

SECONDS: Anything to the myths of him popping up now and then?

THORGERSON: Oh yeah. The cover of Madcap Laughs, his solo album, was done by me. He was fine there – or relatively fine. Orbiting and fluctuating between strange moods of hyperactivity, enthusiasm and remoteness. It got worse when the record company did a double album re-releasing Madcap and his second album, Barrett, together. That’s about 1970.

SECONDS: That’s the cover you did by piecing together old photographs?

THORGERSON: Yeah. I thought it was better I did it than somebody else. I would have liked to have done it with Syd but he wouldn’t even talk to me. He locked himself in his room. We saw him about five years later at Abbey Road during Wish You Were Here and that was really strange. After that, we never saw him again. What can you do? He’s in a state that is not easily approachable. It’s very sad.

SECONDS: Do you see yourself as part of the history Psychedelia?

THORGERSON: You can answer the question better than me. [laughs] I think Saucerful was sort of quasi-psychedelic. There are psychedelic mental processes that go on in the work, if you like. Psychedelic as a manner has to do with strong colors and patterns and a blurring of boundaries in between things. We did a bit of it in the repackaging of Saucerful and Meddle recently but it’s very minor. For the most part, I don’t think so. The cow is hardly psychedelic. It’s just a goddamn cow, isn’t it? What can be more un-psychedelic? Ummagumma is quite layered and narcotic but I don’t think it’s psychedelic.

SECONDS: I remember in high school staring at covers like Led Zeppelin’s Presence and trying to figure them out. I’m still trying. Are you trying to cause confusion?

THORGERSON: I think my imagery provokes inquiry but it’s quite friendly. Sometimes it’s criticized as being pretentious or over-meaningful but I never thought it was. The man on fire shaking hands on Wish You Were Here is a man on fire shaking hands. He was on fire for real, too! It was just an odd thought, but you can read all sorts of meanings into that – and people do – but it’s not there to be meaningful. I’m answering your question in an ambiguous fashion because that’s what it is. There is art that’s over-pretentious and over-symbolic. And it’s trying to pretend to be something way beyond what it is – but I don’t think we did that. The pig over the power station was just because the album was called Animals and they were going to use a pig in the show. It doesn’t have any deeper meaning but you could certainly give it some if you wanted to. I like to provoke you a bit but I don’t think it’s the reason d’etre. The statues for Division Bell do have resonances but I also think they’re just elegant sculptures. I hope people enjoy them for being an elegant shape.

SECONDS: For the beds on the cover of A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, most people would just have had a painting of it but you went out and used real beds!

THORGERSON: That was a nightmare. Those beds are real. There’s about seven hundred and fifty of them. And you know what? They’re wrought iron – they’re heavy as shit! In a desire to make it a real art installation, we got the beds and took them down to the beach. The trucks held them at the top of the cliff and we had a bout thirty people carry them down by hand. It took us about six hours to put the beds out. It looked great – then it rained and you couldn’t see anything! So we had to cancel the shoot and take all seven hundred and fifty back up the cliff, put them back in the lorry, wait two weeks, and do it again. At that point, I wondered if I was stark raving mad. I said to David Gilmour when we were doing it, “Nobody’s going to believe we were this fucking stupid.” I wanted it to have a “My God!” quality when you look at it whereas I didn’t want anyone to think that about Division Bell. I just wanted people to enjoy the sculptures, which are based on a psychological drawing called “The Candlesticks.” You have a picture of a candlestick, which is actually made up of two profile heads, and your eyes are supposed to fluctuate between the two. The two heads on Division Bell are talking profile-to-profile and together make one head looking at you. That’s the important thing, not “Oh my God, how did they do this?” Division Bell was difficult to do for other reasons – the band didn’t like it at first. That’s ironic because it was supposed to be a picture about communication and we couldn’t even communicate it to the fucking band! The other problem was that it had to be done in the depths of winter, and in England January is enough to freeze the bollocks off a monkey. It’s like when they do a film and have lots of people in some freezing place and it drives people completely mental. Not withstanding that, I think it’s my best work for the Floyd and that’s why it’s on the front of the book.

SECONDS: I’ve always thought you were heavily influenced by film.

THORGERSON: I went to film school, you see. A lot of my stuff has narrative edges. I wear two hats, a film hat and a design hat. See, I also make the films for the Floyd. I’ve made concert films, videos, documentaries and commercials. The last commercial we did for the Floyd was completely incomprehensible. It was used in England to advertise the back catalog. It was about an art gallery that had the Floyd covers hung in it. People were talking about the artwork but they were talking in Icelandic, Hindi and Japanese, I don’t think anybody in England could understand it at all but it made us laugh.

SECONDS: Houses Of The Holy definitely has a cinematic element as well.

THORGERSON: It does. It partly comes from a book, Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke. In this book, the aliens arrive and hang over the cities in large ships – Independence Day ripped the idea off, I presume. The end of Childhood’s End is about children and it seemed the book had a resonance similar to Zeppelin. I try not to blatantly borrow. I think only once I used an old photo. We always do our own photos and illustrations. It’s all new stuff.

SECONDS: The stone formations on Houses Of The Holy are natural?

THORGERSON: They’re in Ireland, and they seemed to be the Celtic connection that Zeppelin had. The black object on Presence is supposed to represent the ultimate power. I think Zeppelin were the most powerful band that ever was.

SECONDS: The one cover of yours I never understood was And Then There Were Three by Genesis.

THORGERSON: That one’s a failure.

SECONDS: What were you going for?

THORGERSON: We were trying to tell a story by the traces left by the light trails. It was a torch, a car, and a man with a cigarette. The band was losing members and there were only three of them left. The lyrics of the songs were about comings and goings and we tried to describe this in photographic terms by using time-lapse. So there’s a car going off to one side and then the guy gets out of the car, walks over to the front of it, and lights a cigarette. But as he walks he uses a torch and the car he was in leaves. There’s a trail left by the car, a trail left by him as he’s walking and then he lights a cigarette, which on the cover is where there’s a flash of his face.

SECONDS: Weren’t there two different versions of the cover of UFO‘s Force It?

THORGERSON: There were, that’s right, because the Americans regarded it as too provocative.

SECONDS: Right, the two women.

THORGERSON: I think we sprayed them with a white airbrush to reduce their presence. Houses Of The Holy was banned in Midwestem states, Flash was banned in Spain, Scorpions’ Love Drive was banned in several countries

SECONDS: Love Drive – was that the one with the girl and the car?

THORGERSON: Not exactly the most politically correct scene you’ve ever seen. I thought it was funny but women read a different inflection into it now.

SECONDS: Did you also do Animal Magnetism by The Scorpions?

THORGERSON: Yeah.        .

SECONDS: I love that cover!

THORGERSON: That one was funny.

SECONDS: The girl drinking the can of Heineken and the guy with the Doberman Pincher – I could never figure that one out.

THORGERSON: I don’t think we figured it out either. We just knew there was something rude somewhere.

SECONDS: Do you miss the gatefold LP?

THORGERSON: I think so. Gatefold LPs were a place to exercise our magic. I’m sure the punters miss them as well. Its just CDs are so much easier to store, maintain and utilize. As a designer, the CD being physically smaller presents some problems. But designers have to pay the rent and eat, so they adapt and make the best of it. The packaging is more manipulatable with CD’s. There’s more things you can do because it’s cheaper. I think Pulse was really fun. My red light is still flashing. It’s like talking to me and saying, “Hi.”

SECONDS: You’ve done some really elaborate packaging design. Have you ever had a problem with funding from the labels?

THORGERSON: No, it’s usually all discussed beforehand. There will be times when, as we say in England, you “come a cropper” – a fuck-up. One of the best pieces of packaging we developed is the “lugless box” for CDs With your jewel box, you know how often you have the little things that hold the booklet in and sometimes you can’t get the booklet in and out with destroying it? There used to be up to six “lugs” to hold the book in but I got rid of four of them, so there’s only two and It’s easy to put the book in and out.

SECONDS: So they changed it at the factory then.

THORGERSON: Yes, they changed the mold. So you can break the mold. I don’t know if they’ve done it in the States but all the Floyd CDs in Europe have the least amount of lugs.

SECONDS: Do you consider yourself a better art director, designer, or photographer?

THORGERSON: It’s a bit of all those, isn’t it? I was an amateur photographer. I was interested in camera and lens because of the film side of it and also because I can’t draw. Some people call me an art director, but I don’t know if I’d say that. I’m a designer in the sense of devising what it is. Division Bell is my idea but the statues are actually designed very well by a sculptor I hired named Keith Breeden.

SECONDS: You seem to use more photographs than paintings.

THORGERSON: That’s because I can’t paint! [laughs]

SECONDS: Do you not enjoy painters?

THORGERSON: Oh, I do very much. It’s just something I can’t do and if you can’t do, you adapt.

SECONDS: Magritte influences your work. Are you influenced by any of the old Surrealists?

THORGERSON: I wouldn’t know, really. Our first book from 1978 was called Walk Away René because we thought we’d left that influence behind but people used to say we were Surrealist anyway. I think our stuff isn’t as odd as his. I don’t think the cow, Ummagumma, or Division Bell is remotely like Magritte.

SECONDS: You seem to have avoided the retro-styles.

THORGERSON: That’s not entirely true. I like Animals because the building is a very Art Deco building. Presence is very much about nostalgia, they’re very Forties and Fifties photos. At the time, I was fed up with people using Forties and Fifties photos so I said, “I’m going to take some Forties and Fifties photos and fuck with them.” The black object is interpolating itself and suggesting that Zeppelin has spread across the time. It’s also a cynical artistic joke about people that were using dated photos from a library and calling it a “design.”

SECONDS: Have you ever designed any Jazz covers?

THORGERSON: Brand X was kind of Jazzy. I did a nice cover for John McLaughlin and then did a lousy cover for him and his two friends Al DiMeola and Paco DeLucia. I actually think Jazz covers are really good. Maybe people think what I do would not be suitable for Jazz. When you work freelance, you work when somebody rings you up. There’s so many bands I’d like to work with but you can’t pick and choose easily. A lot of it is luck. We worked for Led Zeppelin because they saw a cover we did for Wishbone Ash that they really liked. They rang up and said, “Did you guys do that?”

SECONDS: How do you feel about the art Roger Dean did for Yes?

THORGERSON: Tricky question. [Iaughs]

SECONDS: How often do you get exactly what you want visually with a design?

THORGERSON: Rarely! The imagination is unfettered, so you can imagine great landscapes full of strange beings but it’s hard to affix it in reality. But if you were to ask me how many of my pieces am I satisfied with, my answer would be a lot more now than I was before.” One has a capacity to get too critical. I don’t know whether that’s just my Englishness, but I am quite harsh at times, which is why I tend to feel things didn’t work as well as they might have. One of the pleasures of working for the Floyd was that the majority of the sixteen or so pieces I’ve done for them were okay. I was credited here in a newspaper the other day as doing some of the best covers in the Seventies – and some of the worst! [laughs] That’s quite Rock & Roll, really: nothing but extremes.