Tag Archives: Born and Raised

Visually Oriented: The Lost Art of Commissioned Album Artwork

-Emily Fraysse

On November 22, 2010, hip-hop artist Kanye West released his fifth album titled, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, a collection of different musical components like baroque and soul with underlying themes of excess, celebrity, ego, race, drinking, drug use, and consumer culture. What gained a lot of attention, however, was the artwork album artwork. Kanye announced on Twitter that not long before it was released, the album had been rejected by major chain stores because of the graphic artwork.

The portrait, by George Condo, shows Kanye being straddled by an armless winged female. Both are nude. Condo’s Picasso-meets-Looney-Tunes style artwork was described by the New York Times as, “tasty, erudite stuff, freaky but classy, a Mixmaster version of old master, with a big glop of Pop tossed in.”

After the album came out, Condo announced that Kanye wanted a cover image that was risky and would be banned. He eventually created eight or nine different paintings for the album including a disfigured portrait of Kanye and a painting of a crown and sword in a grassy landscape. A second cover was made featuring a ballerina, which at the last second Kanye changed it to a photograph of a ballerina instead.

On the completely opposite end of the album-artwork spectrum lies a lonely, weary traveler by the name John Mayer. After disappearing from the public eye for about two years due to the surgical removal of a granuloma near his vocal cords, he returned with a brand new album and a brand new look. The fifth album for the singer/songwriter, Born and Raised, was his shot at redemption. And, he succeeded. On May 22, 2012, he released his folk and county rock album with an exquisitely designed cover. The recording companies Sony Music and Columbia Records had commissioned David A. Smith to design the cover at the beginning of 2012. Although they never met in person, Mayer and Smith talked regularly via Skype and on phone in order to get the exact look that Mayer was looking for. Smith specializes in traditional, ornamental reverse glass signs and decorated silver and gilded mirrors.

The handcrafted piece was first drawn out separately before vectoring and finishing it in Photoshop in only twenty-eight days. Smith documented the process and success of his work on his website and later in a video.

Both of these artists, Kanye West and John Mayer, did something that not many artists do these days: commission artwork. In John Mayer’s commission, people are claiming that he revived a type of lost art that is slowly coming back into popularity. These special commissions can add a certain uniqueness, beauty, and distinction for artists today.