Portrayal of an Artist – Part 2 [Music Parody]

Yesterday I shared the first part of a project I created with friends for the now defunct website artlick.com (see part 1 here), where we satirised the music industry through a series of fake album covers entitled Portrayal of an Artist. The back catalogue is absolutely huge, so here is the second part of that look back through the album designs (alongside some thoughts on the accompanying creative process). Hope you find it interesting. Join me now to explore the slightly more esoteric output of my musical back catalogue from an alternate universe…


Albums: French Aphrodisiaque; French Aphrodisiaque (Live in New York)

Conceived as a pair of fusion jazz albums released on the same day (ala the Guns n Roses stunt of releasing Use Your Illusion I & II simultaneously) with the added twist that one was a studio record, and the other a track-for-track live performance of the same record. We had created the artwork for the first album and were pleased with it (it now has echoes of The White Stripes, but I didnt personally discover them till many years later) Then one day we were inspired by a large red cube shaped sculpture down in the NY financial district near our office. Dave took a photo and added the white stripe to it in Photoshop, and a second sleeve was born. We were then torn between the two and stumbled upon the idea of the dual release. I wonder why more bands don’t do exactly this.


Album: Office Politics
Single: 95% of what you do here is utterly useless

 

The punk album. I get the sense I may have been less than enamoured with my job at the time, or certainly was channeling some frustration about it anyway, when we came up with this album (and the exaggerated lyrics printed on the back cover). It began with a photo of my head in a photocopier.

The general concept for this one, as I recall, was to put out a raw, more rough looking punk record, but due to cluelessness and contrivance on the part of the artist, it failed to be in any way punk at all. In fact, a punk rock album centred around working in a generic office, couldn’t be less punk rock really. There was a lot of that kind of commercial “punk” music actually floating around at the time, like Green Day, so I’m sure that inspired it.

The record label was Bourgeoisie Beat, which I still reckon is a cool name, and I still dig the logo. I may be misremembering it now, but I wonder if we also imagined a backstory where this record label was a sub-division of some mega label, and this was their effort to have some kudos and be cool.


Album: Pure Yang

This one came from a photoshoot we did one night in my apartment, where we ordered a ridiculous amount of food from the delicious local Chinese restaurant. If memory serves I was also going through some spiritual quest where I was trying out meditation, and I think my roommate Mike had recommended the ‘I Ching’ to me. So all of those influences are part of this one. The record label, Bass Envy, is possibly my favourite label name, but I have zero recollection of what genre of music the label was supposed to put out. At the time it was undoubtedly crystal clear, but I no longer remember. Isn’t it funny how something matters so intensely in a creative process at the time, but with distance, not only does it matter less, you probably don’t even know why it really mattered in the first place. Having said that, I think all of this meticulous attention to detail that myself and Dave put into every one of these pays off in the final product.


Album: Replenish
Single: Lost your nerve yet?

For some of these records, the album title came first, and then the artwork. And on other occasions a cool or funny photo would provide a spark of an idea and the album would blaze on from there. This was definitely one where the photo came first. Dave and Jenn had been defrosting their fridge and this huge chunk of ice had fallen out. We knew instantly that we had to take a photo of some kind with it. When we discovered that the camera had a multiple photo burst feature on it , the idea clicked into place to photograph me breaking it over my head (anything for art, of course!). Now, a reminder that the camera was a super early digital device with a 3.5″ floppy disk recording the images, so it was sloooooooooow. Hence, only the first two photos really captured the moment, and we certainly couldnt go for a second take. But on reflection, the negative space of the subsequent frames was actually kinda cool.

For the single we took a burst shot of my poor forehead that had taken the brunt of the impact of the ice block and had left a little cut. So that had to be documented too of course. And I think we imagined this music to be quite hardcore and abrasive Electronic Dance Music, so it ultimately belonged on the Purification Records label. Our reference point for it musically was a band I never listened to more than one song of called Speedy J (which was more than enough)


Album: Flip you for real
Single: Early Sunday morning

The only album that Dave appears on, and is co-credited as writer and performer. The title came from a line by Benicio Del Toro in The Usual Suspects ( a film we both deeply admired), and it was one we used to jokingly quote at one another often. So it then somehow morphed into us flipping off the camera and turning that into a collaborative album.

And this was our “censored” version of the album cover. We really should have stuck one of those old school Parental Advisory stickers on it.

The record label is Purification Records again, as I’m pretty sure we saw this as an ambient soundscape-y sort of record, maybe even drum-n-bass. In fact, around this time, there was a regular gang of us going to a monthly live drum-n-bass show called Prohibited Beatz hosted by Swiss drummer Jojo Mayer in Manhattan (how pretetnious does that sound!) and that was definitely part of the creative osmosis on this one. I was, and still am, a huge fan of LTJ Bukem, so that may also have been an influence. Either way, the song title “My porch is a ballroom dance floor” ranks up there as possibly the greatest one we came up with.


[Warning – Slightly NSFW]

Album: Se tirer d’affaire, s’en sortir tant bien que mal
Singles: Ne pas, ne jamais, ne rien ; Cannelle

This one was a truly hilarious creation to work on. We figured an artist this enamoured with himself would go full hipster and create an album so pretentious it would be written entirely in French (I am not even sure what it means entirely – Any French speakers out there, please let me know!). To capture that spirit we went for a Jim Morrison-in-a-bathtub-in-Paris photoshoot that showed of my Adonis-like physique (I have to work out to look this bad). In the end I really love the way Dave stitched together the images to make something even more quirky than the originals we shot.

The singles were simply variations on the decadent bathtub theme. The old New York bathroom added a fun flavour to the look and feel of the photos (especially the old school taps in the wall)

Fun fact. This is the same bathroom we took the photos for Replenish in


Album: Continuity in a Box: The Sovereignty Sessions

We envisioned this one as an early years demo tape style release on a renegade label. Or perhaps a session so deliberately bad it would never see the light of day (much like the infamous bang sessions by Van Morrison). To capture that vibe, we made the record look almost like a homemade piece of cover art. At the time there were a lot of live CDs of bands floating around the East Village record shops, and this design was heavily influenced by those DIY creations. Musically I imagined poorly recorded demos with audio quality akin to the first few Mountain Goats records recorded direct to cassette tape on a boombox.


That’s all for now on this phase of the Kalle Ryan album back catalogue. Catch up on Part 1 here. Continue reading in Part 3 here

 

Portrayal of an Artist – Part 1 [Music Parody]

I’ve mentioned before that I ran a website called artlick.com with my friends Dave and Jenn. We were fascinated with this burgeoning place called the internet and the opportunities it presented to be creative. We had a keen interest in all artforms, especially writing and graphic design, but with very little experience of how to code, so we just jumped in and started building a site full of our own artistic creations, quirky installations and mad ideas (and we learned along the way). There were bucketloads of interesting projects and creations from the site that I’m hugely proud of, and I will post about them further in the coming year, but I’ll kick off with one of the most fun projects we ever embarked upon – Portrayal of an Artist.

Through my friend Ravi, we had acquired an early digital camera (it had a 3.5 inch floppy disk that you inserted into the side to capture the photos!) – and, for us, it was a great way to creatively play with such a futuristic gadget. One day on our lunch break we took a snap of me goofing around the server room in our workplace, and following a little bit of digital doodling later we had a suitably silly looking album cover.And so, our shared love for music and album cover art spawned an entire section of the site dedicated to this parody and satire of the music industry. The idea was ultimately to make fun of the many different styles of album cover art, and a broader sideswipe at self-important, stupid rockstars who put out an eclectic set of genres of music to reinvent themselves — with all the whims of moving labels; lack of quality control; wildly misjudged titles and lyrics.

Some of the photos are still really funny to me, and some are really beautiful and otherworldly. There are some particularly poignant photos in here of the old World Trade Centre too that proved to be a glorious backdrop to some of the albums. Dave did such a class job with some of these covers – some real gems that would look good on a shelf, and others that still make me laugh out loud. And as I look at them I often daydream about what the songs might actually sound like. I really should record them some day. There are also loads of fake album reviews to go with them, which I will also dig out and share at another time. But for now let me take you through some of the creative process that brought them to the world wide web. The back catalogue is absolutely vast, so I will post a chunk of them here today and share even more tomorrow!


Album: DATABANK
Singles: <ANTON> ; <PUNCHCARD>

The first album came about, as I said above, when we pottered around the servers at our office. The word DATABANK was emblazoned on the original databank itself, so we kept it and figured it would make a good album title. That then sparked the idea to create a couple of singles, which Dave used to hone his burgeoning Photoshop design skills.

I remember us spending huge amounts of time on coming up with the right titles for the songs, so they would fit well with the genre of the album (which we assumed was some kind of electronica). Also, there are little details on there that we added for our own amusement; we thought it would be funny that the album version of Anton was 34 minutes long, but the single was drastically edited in length. We extended the joke but reduced the running time even more preposterously for the Punchcard single.

 

Finally, the name of the record label was incredibly important (for this and subsequent albums) and I seem to recall Dave coming up with this one, saying that it felt right for an electronica record. Can’t argue with him. Even now.


Album: Footsteps in Chalkdust
Single: Walking home in the rain

The next album was a great marrying of old ideas with new ones. I had been playing with the idea of pretentious singer-songwriters and had written a sort of poem with ludicrously earnest titles a few years earlier (and pretentious sample lyrics) . My good friend Corrie Leane, a brilliant artist from Waterford, had designed some cover art for them during a poetry/painting collaboration we undertook a few years previously.

The record label (Thin Raft) was also a shared reference I had with Corrie, which came from a Jim Morrison lyric in The Doors song Texas Radio and The Big Beat– “I love the friends I have gathered together on this thin raft”. It was our shorthand for our friendship and artistic kinship. So it felt fitting given this new arty collaboration with a few close friends.


Album: Was?
Singles: Was! ; Memory III

The chronology of these albums (both real and imagined) is pretty fuzzy after all these years. We created these back in 1999 / 2000 I reckon, and this particular album was an attempt to create a singer songwriter album (hence the Thin Raft record label), where the singer had decided to go ultra pretentious and perform only on a piano. And all the titles had to have slightly avant garde sounding Steve Reich / Philip Glass sorta titles. This would be the type of album where critics would nod and agree that he began his more “experimental” phase, perhaps bridging into his next phase of electronica.

 

As a student and fan of the German language, I suspect I was playing with the word “was” which means “what” in German, and the past tense of the verb ‘to be’ in English. Which probably explains why the album title has a question mark and the single title has an exclamation mark. Or perhaps I wasn’t thinking of any of those things.


Album: Dr. Livingstone I Presume
Singles: Cane Toad Nightmares

This album was one that was sparked by an impromptu photoshoot on our lunch break (I know this because my fake watch from Chinatown says it was almost 1pm). I spotted a large potted plant outside a store on Broadway and thought it would be funny to appear from it as if I were an intrepid explorer. The phrase just jumped out at me from something I was reading at the time. I still love the way Dave layed out the title on the cover, with the old school “A-Team” style lettering.

 

We then thought there would be something inherently funny about having LOADS of singles of the Cane Toad Nightmares, given the propensity of cane toads to reproduce so much.

We also felt that the artwork had to have something of a psychedelic “Apocalypse Now” kind of feel to them. The harsh neon colours were a very deliberate choice as I recall.

Again, this was deemed to be a Purification Records release, so some kind of dancey, electronic vibe to it. I’m pretty sure the inspiration for that record label was Warp Records, as we were listening to a lot of Boards of Canada at the time.

I’m still not sure what on earth a Cane Toad Nightmare is. Maybe Dr. Livingstone will know when I see him.


So, that’s phase one of the Kalle Ryan albums. Oddball treasures for sure. For more dizzy album cover delights, read Part 2 of the musical odyssey here

Sketchbook: The Table of Ideas

 

I was sifting through an old series of sketchbooks I kept during my time living in New York and found some fun old doodles, ideas and unfinished concepts. This one, The Table of Ideas, was one that I’m no longer sure what I was trying to do with. I know that it was inspired by some very dense philosophical writings I had encountered in college by two gents who went by Horkheimer and Adorno. However none of the actual substance of the book formed part of this idea, but really just the colour scheme of the book it looks like. See for yourself (the actual book is a bot more orange looking).

 

Then the idea must have evolved somehow to become a working idea for artlick, a website I ran for fun with my good friends Dave and Jenn (more on that some other time). The idea clearly never left the sketchbook stage, possibly because I have no idea what the ultimate goal was – maybe a section of the site was going to be called this, and would be a place to spark conversations and ideas? You have to remember the internet back in 1999 / 2000 was a pretty clunky slow place, so we may have jettisoned this idea purely because messageboards and virtual guestbooks were the main way of interacting with a website, and that was well beyond our primitive web skills.

At some point the idea seems to have been conflated with other ones and reverted back to being The Dialectic of Enlightenment, but now by some new authors Bo Henstergaard and Ulf Hammarsten. I think this was some reference to a Swedish radio documentary I had heard about hemp farmers (strange I know!), and I loved the names of the people being interviewed, so I mucked around with their names to make them sound even more unusual, and then clearly made them the new authors of this seminal philosophical tome. That must have tickled me for some reason

 

At this point the idea had clearly spiralled in on itself and become some weird set of personal references and touchpoints, that mean almost nothing to me now several years later. Still though, I think the central concept of being able to visit a Table of Ideas, whatever that may be, is a nice one. Worth revisiting maybe.

7 stunning paintings you should see in person

First things first, I am not a painter. I am just a fan of painting and in this post I wanted to offer up seven remarkable paintings that have made a huge impression on me and have inspired huge amounts of my own creative output. Hopefully they will spark similar reactions for you. My father was a painter, so he undoubtedly influenced me a great deal in the choices below (as I was growing up he took me along to so many galleries to see these paintings in person) and I am indebted to him for seeing many of them. Today would have been his birthday, so it seems fitting to share this.

There are a dozen other extraordinary works that could have easily made this list but these were the ones that came to mind first. These reproductions, of course, only offer a glimpse of the brilliance of the original works themselves. If you can, I urge you to find them on your travels and soak up their mystery and genius. On with the art…

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1. Gas – Edward Hopper (1939)

I could pick any Edward Hopper painting and marvel at it for hours. I love them in the same way I love Raymond Carver stories. Each one of them a lonely, cinematic, beautiful slice of America. They are so sparse & profound with a wonderful underlying drama in each painting. Perhaps more than any other painter, it is his ability to capture the way light falls that is so compelling. In this painting I love the falling evening light above the treeline compared to the banks of light from the white building that run out across the courtyard. And the man at the pump is one of those classic Hopper figures that I love, who seems to throw up as many questions as he answers. Ultimately, Edward Hopper will probably never be the most popular painter of all time, but to me he is undoubtedly one of the greatest.

Can be seen at : Museum of Modern Art, New York City, USA

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2.Böhmen liegt am Meer – Anselm Kiefer (1996)

No reproduction can truly do justice to the stark emotional pull of Anselm Kiefer’s painting. It hangs alone on a wall in the mezzanine of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and dares you to look at it. It is a big, stark, imposing painting with the title “Böhmen liegt am Meer” (Bohemia lies by the sea) written plainly across the dirty horizon on the canvas. The writer in me loves that mixing of the two artforms and the simple poetry of it.

No matter how often I see it, I can’t get over how roughly and coarsely it is painted in big dollops of thick oil paint, with sections of the raw canvas peeking through in other parts. And those splashes of poppies across the burnt out landscape are so subtle and brilliant. Pure emotion. It is a painting that I will never see enough times. My dad adored it so much that we sprinkled a few of his ashes in front of it after he passed away.

Can be seen at : Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA

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3. An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump – Joseph Wright of Derby (1768)

I still remember seeing this bizarre candlelit scene for the first time and almost being hypnotised by it. I still wonder what made Wright-of-Derby choose this particular scene to paint above all others? Apart from the way he conjures light so beautifully in such a modern cinematic way, it is the chilling main character staring directly at me (as if he is willing a reaction) who remains the most compelling part of the painting for me. There is also something particularly ominous about that moon being revealed from behind the clouds in the window on the right. A masterpiece of painting.

Can be seen at : National Gallery, London, England

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4.Bed – Robert Rauschenberg (1955)

I absolutely love the fact that Robert Rauschenberg brazenly sticks objects to his canvas, paints on household artifacts and simply creates these mish-mash constructions of art and everyday objects. It makes sense to me.

This installation/painting “Bed” is so striking. I still can’t get over how simultaneously colourful and grimy it is, while at the same time coming across as really funny and perhaps not really taking itself too seriously. Maybe none of that is true, but it always resonates with me as a really great piece of work that inspires me every time I see it.

Can be seen at : Museum of Modern Art, New York City, USA

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5. Untitled – Jackson Pollock (1948)

I have to admit I didn’t really get Jackson Pollock until I saw his paintings on a wall in front of me. Part of it is the sheer scale of some of the works which doesn’t translate well in reproductions. It’s such a different experience standing in front of these enormous canvases with thick swirling drips of paint that dance across the canvas so beautifully. The other thing is how surprisingly emotional the paintings are. Pollock went through loads of phases but this “Jack the Dripper” phase, which is his most well-known style, will always be my absolute favourite. This untitled painting from the Met manages to be not overly cluttered like some of his other pieces and I am really fond of the simplicity of the red and black on a big raw open canvas. Overload of Pollocks. Yes please.

Can be seen at : Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA

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6. The Taking of Christ – Caravaggio (ca.1602)

Caravaggio’s breathtaking painting hangs in the National Gallery in Dublin and it is a painting that never fails to astonish me (It also has a curious history). It is impossible to not be bowled over by the incredible painterly skill and ability on display.  The composition of the scene and its balance of light & darkness, as well as the little details in Jesus Christ’s body language as he accepts his fate with such resignation are more impressive with each viewing. Apparently there are only about 80 of Caravaggio’s paintings in the world which makes this one an even rarer treat every time I see it. Stunning.

Can be seen at : National Gallery, Dublin, Ireland

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7. Pie Counter – Wayne Thiebaud (1963) 

Wayne Thiebaud was one of those painters I had never heard of until a few years ago when myself and my dad went to see a retrospective of his work in the Whitney in New York. I was absolutely knocked out by his paintings. To see a painter’s extended body of work like that was wildly inspiring, as I really got to see the different phases and creative processes that happened along the way. I was drawn instantly to “Pie Counter” because it appealed to my jokey sensibility but at the same time I loved the bigger statement it was making about consumption and mass production in America. Thiebaud later went on to paint remarkable, colourful, brainbending landscape style canvases that would equally belong in a list like this but for now I will enjoy these slices of pie thank you very much.

Can be seen at : Whitney Museum, New York City, USA

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