The Art of Imitation — How Fine Artists Have Drawn Inspiration From Album Covers, Part 2 of 2
By Richard Forrest and Mike Goldstein
Posted April 5, 2023 (and updated May 1, 2023)
In Part 1 of this 2-part series, we focused on Richard’s overview of the people who’ve been inspired by album imagery to create new forms of art in a wide range of different styles and media. To continue on in our exploration and discussion of reproductions and album art reimagined by those so inspired, Mike G reached out to his old chum, Boston-area artist Howie Green, to ask him some pointed (yet pointed with love and respect) questions about his work in the area.
Mike Goldstein – Howie, thanks for your time and so nice to catch up with you. My questions today all have to do with inspiration – i.e., your inspiration for deciding to do album cover recreations in the first place. Some of the people we’re including in the article did them as parodies, others used them as jumping-off points for their own work. For example, the nice man I’m writing the article with – Dr. Richard Forrest – is a collector that decided that he’d do his own one-off recreations of album art originally done by Warhol, Banksy, etc. as he’d never be able to own an original (without spending zillions on one). What was it that started you down the album art recreation path?
Howie Greene – I started doing paintings of album covers in 2004 in a very random way. I was working in my studio and was playing Terrance Trent Darby’s album while I worked. When I was done for the day, I turned off the lights and was getting ready to leave when I noticed the album cover was kind of glowing in the sunlight and looked more like a painting than a photo. I was struck by the image and turned the lights back on and quickly did a small painting of the album cover in the quick loose random color style that I was using at the time. Some lightbulbs in my creative psyche got turned on and that began an ongoing series of over 400 paintings of album cover that I have continued to create.
The reactions to the album cover paintings were unlike anything I had experienced before and my paintings started selling rapidly. I had a couple shows in small galleries that sold out and I found a unique audience for my art that wasn’t relying on a painting to fit in with anybody’s decor. My newfound audience wanted their favorite album covers painted large and colorful and fun.
Mike G – I remember talking with you a lot about your work when I first saw it back in 2006 and was considering adding some of it to my album cover fine art gallery. Up to that point, everything I sold were “real” fine art prints of well-known album covers, so I was a bit hesitant, but after realizing that there were cover images I’d never be able to offer, you offered me and some of my customers the next best thing! People would often contact me after their orders had arrived and shared just how much joy their purchases had given them. I remember one customer in particular who loved the Layla print you’d done – one you’d painted in a slightly-different color palette – because she knew that she was the only one in the world with one like it! It’s clear that both collectors and commercial clients understand the value of what you do when you show them your work.
Howie G – Over the past decade, as I continued to do paintings of album covers, a strange cosmic shift happened, and I started getting hired to create new album cover art. I started creating images in a retro, 60’s, Yellow Submarine style for a marketing project and the images took on a life of their own, much to my surprise. I now have two licensing companies handling my images in that style and it has been warmly embraced by the music community. I have created album cover art for 15 or so bands and performers and an album cover I did for a Biggie Smalls tribute album created such a stir that I have done over 50 small and large paintings of that image for collectors as far away as Australia – and even a four-foot-square version for the folks who handle Biggie’s estate.
So what goes around comes around and that random little quick painting of Mr. Darby’s album cover created a new audience for me and a new portfolio of work that continues to grow. Who knew?
Mike G – as I mentioned in my original note to you the other day, we’re also going to include a discussion about AI bots and how they’re being used to create album art, so I’d like to get your take on what you think of this situation and whether you think it’ll have any bearing on your career.
Howie G – I usually get hired to do album cover and music promo art because someone in the band saw my art online and wants something in a similar style or concept. So, my inspiration is usually based on something I have already done that needs to get reworked or switched around or altered to fit a new situation. And since social media is an all-important tool for promotion and my work lends itself easily to animation, I not only get to do the album cover art, but I also get to created animated “reels” for use as lyric videos or online promotional items.
Personally, I love AI art and find it a very exciting new tool. A close friend of my is deeply involved in the whole venture and I have spent a good amount of time working with him creating images using his wall of AI computers and tech goodies. I see AI technology giving me access to unlimited ideas and concepts that I would never even attempt to do by hand or have any interest doing by hand. AI is nothing without a creative mind driving it. It’s still a new field so most of what is being done is pretty boring, but once creative people see the possibilities and get their hands on the tools to play with I think it will become another great tool in our paint boxes.
Everyone bemoaned the horror of computers in the 80s and 90s, yet access to desktop publishing did not make everyone a good designer. Just the opposite in fact. So, while everyone is crying about the horrors of AI, I just shrug it off and am using it now so I can get a good grip on what it can do.
Will AI replace artists? No, of course not. It’s just a tool, and like CGI and other technology tools, it will get used badly and used wisely. AI is here and it’s progressing rapidly and it ain’t going away so, as an artist I embrace it and exploit all its possibilities to my best advantage.”
Here are some more examples of Howie’s work – I’ve included a couple of his most popular recreations of well-known covers, along with some of his originals done for clients in the music industry:
Album cover-inspired variants
Continuing on in our exploration of this topic, I want to point out that, during my years working as both a retail gallery owner and then as a writer for and editor of this web site, I’ve come across more than a few examples of album cover influenced works of art – some of which were rather sad and uninspired efforts to ride the coat-tails of the work done by the band/label-sanctioned designers/photographers, quite like the badly-printed t-shirts and posters being hawked outside concert venues, while others proved to be quite intriguing, with these creatives exploring unique production tools, techniques, media and other forms of inspiration that led them to produce some of the most inspired/fascinating/head-scratching creations you’ve ever seen.
The first examples I’d like to share with you are renowned artist Paul Whitehead’s GENESIS-inspired paintings and prints. While he’s etched his name onto the permanent list of great album cover artists for the work he’s done for many of the best-known prog rock groups, he’s also done other works that seem to have been made using some of the creative juices left over from his early association with the band Genesis. In my old art gallery, I was honored to be able to sell Paul’s prints of the covers and promo pieces he’d done for the band and their “Famous Charisma” label, such as the prints for Trespass, Foxtrot and Nursery Cryme, plus the tour graphic he’d done for the programs and merch sold during the 2007 “Turn It On Again” tour of the UK and Europe (not to mention the marvelous “Mad Hatter” logo for the record company) that I purchased directly from Paul’s print shop, but as for my desire to sell prints for the covers done by Hipgnosis and some of the other artists who’d made some of these memorable images, I had to rely on the kindness of the publishers who’d snapped those products up or simply resign myself to the fact that they weren’t available in any fashion. Then, one day, I got a note from Paul’s people letting me know that he’d done a series of prints based on some of the titles of later Genesis recordings – both albums and singles – along with some that served to illustrate some of their lyrics and others that cleverly combined imagery from multiple titles into collages. Of course, I was intrigued and, after seeing what he’d created, quickly added them to my gallery’s offering. Examples of these works include titles such as Seven Saintly Shrouded Men, Trick of the Trespass, Wind & Wuthering, Selling England, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and several others., and I think you’ll agree that these all would have made great packages for the band’s music, had they ever chosen to go in that direction.
Bonus link – watch Paul paint an updated version of his cover for Foxtrot during a performance of The Musical Box (a fine Genesis tribute band) in 2020 – https://youtu.be/rOV5zFHw6NI
While we were considering what to include in this article, Richard reminded me that artist Shepard Fairey, who besides his poster work and a long list of album cover credits (not to mention his world-famous OBEY giant logos and Obama “Hope” imagery) also released a series of album cover-inspired prints a dozen years ago back that have since become quite collectable. Over 80 different works of art were created for this series titled “Revolutions” which, as much as I enjoy wordplay, was a pretty ingenious title for the work of an artist whose talents have been used to promote both revolutionary politics and causes and music delivered on spinning platters.
The series was introduced back in 2011 at the Robert Berman gallery in Southern California with Mr. Fairey – a long-time DJ whose set lists put his love of punk, rock and hip-hop music on full display – putting together the musical backgrounds for the show’s opening night party – https://obeygiant.com/revolutions-the-album-cover-art-of-shepard-fairey/ The series was built around artwork Fairey created for an imaginary record label and featured his trademark OBEY verbiage and graphics prominently – https://obeygiant.com/prints/party-moontower-box-set/ As he put it in the promo verbiage he used to take orders on the two limited-edition sets of 36 prints he was selling at the time (which also included, in the $950 box sets, a stencil, a CD and a sticker sheet of 9 stickers), “With my art I try to capture the same energy and spirit that makes music so powerful and democratic. REVOLUTIONS is a celebration of all the great music and accompanying art that has inspired me over the years.”
A few years later (in 2016), Fairey produced another set of prints with another well-known artist – Jamie Reid- whose graphics served as the album covers for one of rock music’s most-seminal (and short-lived) bands, that being the Sex Pistols. Having two such influential artists work together to produce a couple of limited-edition prints that showed off their unique styles was truly a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I wish that I’d been smart enough to buy a print (or the box set, now trading at over $5,000) when they were released.
One more interesting variation on the theme is the work of photographer Emilie Sandy, who I first met and interviewed back in 2015 after learning about her Déjà Vu photo portfolio. As I noted in the intro to my interview with this talented designer and photographer, Emilie’s goal was to get inside “both the production processes and the minds of the people who’d taken many of her own favorite covers. Using her professional relationships with photographers including Anton Corbijn, Chris Gabrin, Gered Mankowitz, Terry O’Neill and others, the U.K.-based photographer collaborated with these talented people to have them re-create (to the best of their ability) and/or re-interpret some of their best-known album covers. The resulting series of images was called ‘Déjà vu’ and, I think you’ll agree, they certainly work to shed a light on the subjects, their approaches towards making memorable album cover images and how they have ultimately influenced a young photographer’s career and her own approach to shooting photos that will endure.”
Another category of related artwork I’m keen to include in this exploration would be album cover imagery created using photo collages and mosaics; cover reproductions built with everyone’s favorite plastic blocks and other derivatives built around album cover imagery. I’m not sure if you’ll all like what you’ll see in the final products, but I think you’ll all appreciate the amount of work it took to create them and that some of them are pretty spectacular…
Those that follow my posts might recall that In April, 2022, I posted an interview with Brooklyn, NY-based graphic artist and fan of all things LEGO™ Adnan Lotia, who had been getting a lot of positive press about the album cover recreations he’d done using the company’s BrinkLink Studio “virtual LEGO” software. At the time, he’d already produced dozens of images, including those for well-known covers by Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Stevie Wonder and many others. Since then, he’s done hundreds more, which those with an Instagram account can view at https://www.instagram.com/uvupv/ .
And Adnan’s not alone in the LEGO-based album art world, with another talented builder named Nick Jensen (AKA “Nick Brick” – https://www.nickbrick.com/) getting a lot of attention for some of his album cover remakes, including one of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories – https://edm.com/lifestyle/lego-artist-3d-daft-punk-random-access-memories-album-cover Nick’s also done his own versions of album cover images based on covers for Green Day (American Idiot) and Muse (Origin of Symmetry) and I’m pretty sure that – as LEGOs are one of the world’s most-popular toys – this is just the tip of the iceberg.
In early 2023, I was reading a travel article about how some of the towns in Newfoundland were working hard to shift their economies from what they’ve relied on for ages – fishing the icy offshore waters – and learning to rely more on tourism as a source of income (if you’ve never been, you’ve got to go – it’s beautiful up there!). In the article, they introduced a local entrepreneur who was chasing two of his passions – fine art and distilling spirits – and as a fan of the products produced by both of those pursuits, it really caught my attention. What also caught my attention was that the person being featured – Peter Wilkins – had produced a series of art pieces that were based on his photographs of album covers spinning at high speed on turntables so that the resulting circular images showed only the relative positions of the graphics and their respective colors. For example, his image based on the Are You Experienced? LP cover for Jimi Hendrix shows circles of the psychedelic reds, yellows and blues (and all of the variations within) but, when you see it, you know immediately that it’s that record cover! I reached out to Peter and was able to interview him about his process and the inspiration behind this particular series, the results of which was published on the ACHOF website in late March, 2023.
I also want to learn more about the seaweed-flavored gin he manufactures (not yet available in the U.S., sadly), but that’s for another article (or, if things work out, a trip up to St. Johns), perhaps.
Looking into the future of album cover-inspired art
As computer graphics software has matured and expanded its capabilities over the years, one of the things that both designers and photographers have done to extend their capabilities (and the value of their portfolios and archives) is to use these resources to create new works built from other images. Early examples of these works were nearly hand-made, with photographers and designers working to identify the bits and pieces and colors of individual photos that, when laid out just properly, would create a whole new image. An MIT student named Robert Silvers invented an advanced production process that created what he called “photomosaics” and received a ton of publicity (and a lot more work!) after LIFE Magazine commissioned him to create the cover for their 60th anniversary issue in 1996 featuring a mosaic of actress Marilyn Monroe. Since then, the AI-elements of these software packages have advanced to the point that those of us who are less-capable (or less-patient) can point the software to a portfolio of “source” images (hopefully, fully-licensed or wholly-owned ones!) and then ask it to create a whole new image from them. These “photomosaics” are fascinating to view up close and are now widely in use. One example that’s been seen by millions is the basic promo image for the popular Netflix series about match-making taken to its ultimate extent (The One), with some other examples I’ve seen over the years being produced by artists such as rock photographers Lynn Goldsmith and Jay Blakesberg out of their own photo archives.
While I am still not fully convinced of the “artistry” of creating photomosaics of famous images (leading us into a back and forth about one of today’s most-discussed topics, that being imagery created via the use of artificial intelligence and related tools, which we’ll save for another day), I was impressed by the individuality of the one I found made of all of the elements of an English breakfast – https://www.mozaico.com/blogs/news/mosaic-art-evolution-designs
As a side note – Personally, I’d like to understand how some people manage to escape detection from the copyright police – https://www.redbubble.com/i/mug/Dylan-Album-Art-photo-mosaic-collage-by-Studio-CFNW11/63245199.9Q0AD is built from images of Bob Dylan and https://www.etsy.com/listing/682851902/pink-floyd-photo-mosaic-print-art-of-all combining a lot of Pink Floyd-related imagery to produce a print vaguely reminiscent of the band’s iconic Dark Side of the Moon cover. Reflecting what we’ve all been reading about lately concerning copyrights, intellectual property, etc. (much has been discussed about how these new “chatbots” and AI-based services that can create images from text prompts actually learn to do what they do, with some of them feeding batches of copyrighted materials into their repositories from which the bots source their “learning materials”), it seems certain that there will be a lot of pain, confusion and argumentation occurring alongside the inspiration, experimentation and the application of new tools and technologies as creatives continue on their quest to do something new and meaningful in their chosen fields.
We hope that you’ve enjoyed this initiation into the album art-adjacent world of artwork inspired by album covers and the talents of the people who’ve made them. While the observation and appreciation of the design, imagery and packaging artistry found in the music business can be a full-time obsession, we think that there will always be those who can surprise and amaze us with by-products that are every bit as impressive and desirable as “the real thing”, and so we’ll keep bringing you examples of such works as we find them (or, we’ll make them ourselves).
Mike G & Richard F
Links to Featured Artist’s Sites –
Howie Green Design – https://howiegreen.com/art.htm
Paul Whitehead – https://www.paulwhitehead.com/
Shepard Fairey – https://obeygiant.com/
Emilie Sandy – http://www.emiliesandy.com/
Adnan Lotia – https://www.instagram.com/uvupv/?hl=en
Nick Jensen – https://www.brothers-brick.com/tag/nick-jensen/
Peter Wilkins – http://peter.wilkins.ws/
Robert Silvers – https://archive.photomosaic.com/bio.html
May 1, 2023 Update – After he’d read the articles I’d posted on this topic, my friend Ken Orth wanted to make sure that I shared the details of a group of artists not previously covered in the “Art of Imitation” that are represented by the famed Snap Galleries, who also offers works of art that draw upon various aspects of recorded music products and present them in new and exciting ways. I’ve shared a bit of info with you all on this in the past as part of my (mostly) annual “Holiday Gift Guides”, but Ken was good enough to share the details of an email from the company’s director, Guy White, who has organized them so you can look at each artist’s work individually.
Here’s what Guy had to say in his recent note on the topic – “There’s nothing nicer that having a commissioned piece made—something personal— that taps into a particular passion, like a favourite piece of music. It could be a treat for you, or a gift for someone special. We work with a number of talented artists who can create bespoke pieces for you. If you have an idea, let us help you bring it to life—we are happy to add some creative juice to your concept, show you what might be possible, and even model some visual layouts on your walls. The links below take you to the sections of our website where you can read more about our personalisation options.
Alison Stockmarr, who creates collage artworks from your chosen singles and LPs, here.
Ben The Illustrator, and his “In My Room” series, where you get to pick your ten favourite albums and Ben will create a room set around them, featuring you in the centre if you wish. Ben will also create individual artwork featuring your favourite album sleeve in his own distinctive style. View here.
Our Temple of Wax service, where we take a cherished vinyl record and transform it for you into a large-scale 3D work of art that you can hang on your walls. More here.
Keith Haynes “Spines” series, which can be made as a bespoke artwork in some eye-popping sizes, here.
Jamie Byrne, who will take your favourite LP and create a graphic novel style artwork with a panel for each individual track, here.
Thanks again, Ken, for the additional info – much appreciated!
Unless otherwise noted, all text and images included in this article are Copyright 2022-2023 Mike Goldstein (AlbumCoverHallofFame.com) and Richard Forrest (Recordart.com) – All Rights Reserved. Photos and images used to illustrate this article are properties of their owners and were used by permission. All of the trade names mentioned in these summaries are the properties of their respective owners and are used for reference only.