For the past 25 years, the ARIA Awards have been celebrating Australian design by handing out those big spiky trophies for Best Cover Art.
Judged on originality of design concept, overall design appreciation and merchandising impact, we speak to some of the people responsible for a selection of winning covers from the past decade – from James Hackett to Jonathan Zawada to Jonathan Wallace.
Diorama was a change in direction for a post-grunge Silverchair with a brighter, more colourful sound. That’s where the vibrancy and colour come from in the artwork. The band and record company’s idea was to create a doorway framing a diorama, with the scene inspired by the more tangible stuff in the lyrics.
Some of the first designs were in a montage illustration style. To put these together, I took a bunch of reference photos around the studio and home to work from. One of the reference shots was of a door that had sunlight flaring through the opening, surprisingly not too far from where the final cover ended up. We decided to focus on the door as the transition from one world to another – the light acting as an invitation to come inside.
In the end, the light spectrum became the bigger idea and things came together from there. Being a simpler image than originally intended, it seemed important to obsess over the details to create a greater sense of authenticity. The scratches in the architraves, the tearing in the wallpaper, the door knocker etc were all pieced together from those original reference photos.
THE DISSOCIATIVES, 2004
Daniel Johns was a tad hung over on the day of shoot and his puffy eyes needed a bit of work in Photoshop. Generally, the Dissos’ artwork was very hard edged, even to the extent where the enlarged eyes met the cheeks. However, I submitted to the wishes of the management label Eleven for the cover, and blended the eye areas a little. I think it was good advice, as we were probably getting too purist about things anyway. The brief for the cover was generally ‘just go for it’ and raise the bar on the singles artwork we had done. There was some debate as to what the guys should be doing on the cover. Silverchair fans were starting to give Paul Mac the very unfair ‘Yoko Ono’ badge and their collaboration was talked about a lot in the music press. Daniel came up with chess ideas, and it seemed to make sense in respect to their creative partnership. The Dissociative world is visual electronica; flowers are speakers with headphone petals, vines are audio cables and the chess pieces are made from Technics 1200 turntable tone-arm weights and parts of a Canon XL1 camera. Yes, I admit there were moments of obsessive compulsive disorder during this project.
AWAKE IS THE NEW SLEEP, 2005
The idea for the cover came up really organically; Ben [Lee] and I used to make a little altar in our hotel rooms on tour, usually with a few flowers.
One particular room of an old hotel we were staying at had beautifully embossed, but peeling, wallpaper. We pushed carnations and roses into the spaces, which created a compelling and nostalgic effect of perfect flowers growing out of a dishevelled wall. About a week later we were eating lunch, talking about ideas for the cover of Ben’s new album, and we pretty much planned out the whole thing based on our previous flower experiments on the hotel wall. The entire shoot took place over one day in our old friend Dan Estabrook’s home studio, which included a few trips back and forth to the florist and hardware store. It was a cosy and inspired time for us both, and I love how so much of that warmth comes through in the final artwork.
I’ve worked with The Presets since the very beginning, so by the time we came to make the Apocalypso cover they were happy to leave me to my own devices. I never get any brief from them and I hadn’t heard any of the music when I came up with it, so I just had to trust that my interests at the time were matching theirs. I had found this weird short comic in an old issue of Heavy Metal, where somebody had constructed this entire story out of combinations of masks and action figurines. I really liked this idea of shifting scale and this eerie, foreboding darkness and that became the starting point of the cover. From there, everything else came pretty organically, the costumes, the set, the props all came out of the ether. I remember when I asked Julian [Hamilton] to wear a piece of bark which I had cut eye holes from as a mask, he said that he didn’t necessarily think it was a good idea, but he trusted me to do what I thought was best – that sort of trust is totally unheard of and lucky for us all it all seemed to work out for the best.
The design of Zonoscope began for me with a call from Dan [Whitford, Cut Copy member and co-founder of Alter], who’d been working on some ideas for the album. He showed me Tsunehisa Kimura’s Waterfall and some images that he was working on. We discussed the idea of creating something new, versus using Kimura’s image under licence. I felt quite strongly that the ideal would be to run with the Kimura, but we didn’t know if it would be possible. Everyone was pleased when his family agreed.
Waterfall, counterintuitively, is quite a peaceful image – its dreamlike qualities are central to the album artwork, much of which responds to it in one way or another. For example, the illustrated cover for the single ‘Take Me Over’ could be a very loose reinterpretation.
The album cover itself looks through the ‘Zonoscope’ at the city. The title is set in Futura Extra Bold, akin to cinema of the same era as the image (e.g. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey).
From desktop magazine.
Photography: John Deer – photography.cleverdeer.com