Justin Bartlett Interview (Redux)

This is an interview I did last year with Bartlett... now updated and fixed for all our new readers. Cheers.

Justin Bartlett has become the artist of choice for the dark metal set. Mister Vberkvlt's art has brought the old school thrash flavor of Voivod and Celtic Frost kicking and screaming into the not-so-new millenium. I caught up with him to ask him about his connection to Sunn O))), his upcoming art show, and why National Acrobat is the best Sabbath song ever (it is!).

HSS: OK, I HAD to start with this. I showed some of your art to a friend of mine, and he said "It looks like 80s thrash stuff, but he makes it look modern and cool." Not sure I agree, but what do you think of his comments?

JUSTIN: I can see why many people would say that. There certainly was a lot more hand drawn work being used by prominent bands back then. In the late 80's and early 90's, computer programs like Photoshop became really popular. It seems that even underground bands and artists just switched to using digital artwork created in Photoshop because it became the new "cool" thing to do. Photoshop is only a means to an end, and I think you can do great work with it if you have a good foundation in traditional art.

Unfortunately, it seemed like the artists considered it more of a novelty and perhaps didn't know what they were doing...(just because you can add a filter to an image or glow effect doesn't mean you should.) This of course spawned many horrible pieces of shit album covers during the 90's which probably at the time looked good to the artist and band (Monstrosity "In Dark Purity", VoiVod "Kronik"). A lesser number of bands were using hand drawn and painted covers because digital art was the new trend. Digital art was cheaper and faster to produce. This seemed to have the effect of pushing traditionally created covers further into the depths of the music underground where it flourished and never disappeared.

So, when someone says, "It looks like 80's thrash stuff", I can see why. But to be honest that style never went away it just wasn't as prominent or popular. Hand illustrated or painted covers have had a huge resurgence over the last few years. You can see this everywhere - not just in metal music, but in all forms of design and advertisement. I think what designers have finally learned is how to mesh the two worlds of digital art and analog art successfully. To be honest it's often difficult for me to get a perspective on my work. I am definitely inspired by 1980's underground artwork, but I do not try to make my artwork look like it, or try to make it modern - it is just how I draw.

HSS: You seemed to come out of nowhere with the art for Sunn O)))'s La Mort Noir. What were you doing before that, and how did you hook up with the Sunn O))) clan?

JUSTIN: In reference to the first question, I used to draw a lot when I was a kid and teenager - just for myself - and I never really took it seriously. In fact I only took one art class when I was in high school. I pretty much stopped drawing for several years and taught myself illustrator and photoshop. I did a few album covers, web sites, and corporate graphic design work. I don't know what it was exactly, but maybe because I was seeing hand drawn work being used more (or again) by bands and designers I liked, it just inspired me to start drawing again.I've known Stephen O'Malley since about 1997. His design work was really inspiring to me and we kept in loose contact over the years. When I started doing more design work with bands I often looked to him for advice or tips about album cover designs.

At the time SUNN O))) had some really cool hand drawn artwork created by Savage Pencil and Seldon Hunt - obviously the band had an appreciation for traditional art. This was during the time I started drawing again and I sent O'Malley some scans of my artwork... I am sure you can figure the rest of the story out.

HSS: Your art is instantly recognizable as your own. When did you hone in on this style that you are using?

JUSTIN: When I drew as a kid, I always did really detailed work but it wasn't that similar to what I draw now. It's weird really, drawing was something I was pretty good at; I just never took it seriously. As I mentioned above, I started using digital artwork programs and stopped drawing. I estimate that span of time was around eight years..... I literally started drawing again a few years ago and it just came out like that. I've always had weird ideas in my head, and an increasingly growing sense of stress in my life - and I think I finally found the best way to communicate my visions and use the process as some sort of catharsis.

HSS: You have a style that appears to be heavily hand drawn. But it is 2008, so what percentage of your work is done with computers?

JUSTIN: Most of my work is either all hand drawn, or analog at some point. If something looks hand drawn, then it is hand drawn. A lot of the album covers I've done are created from scans of illustrations or found photographs. Most of the lettering and logos are distressed by hand. Some of my work is a combination of my drawings and a computer. The artwork for "Sleepwell Deconstructor" was created by scanning one of my drawings called "Leviticus" and turning it into vector artwork in illustrator. It was then completely "remixed" into something completely different from the original drawing.

HSS: When you agree to do artwork for an album/CD, do you ask the label or band for a demo/advance copy so you can listen to it and formulate ideas?

JUSTIN: Yes, I think the best album covers are done by artists who try to translate the music into a visual form. If you don't take the time to listen to the music and read the lyrics by a band, you probably shouldn't be designing an album cover for them in the first place.

HSS: You're part of an amazing line-up of artists for an upcoming show called Catalyst. Tell us a bit about that. How did it come about?

JUSTIN: I don't know about all of the early plans for the project to be honest. I heard from Seldon Hunt and Stephen Kasner a few months ago that they tried to get me involved in this big gallery show, but the curator wouldn't bite. Skip to the beginning of August and I get a call from Brett Aronson, who is the curator putting together the show. What happened during that time was that Stephen O'Malley dropped out due to his music projects and Brett finally got a real chance to look my work.It's pretty amazing to me that I am involved, not from an "art world" perspective, because I have little experience or knowledge in that realm (in fact, this is my first show).

I am pretty excited that I am just included by some rather serious and established artists and designers. The artists involved are Aaron Turner, Josh Graham, Seldon Hunt, Stephen Kasner, Aaron Horkey, Florian Bertmer, Dwid Hellion, and myself. This is a very large show as well, everyone has their own huge wall to make an installation and also a separate area showing the t-shirts, cds, albums, and poster's they've designed for bands. There's a large variation in style amongst the artists involved, so if anyone reading is around the bay area you should definitely check it out.

HSS: Favorite piece of art you've done?

JUSTIN: Hmm.... that's a really difficult question...if I had to pick one...... probably the MOSS "Cthonic Rites" poster.

HSS: Favorite piece of art you own?

JUSTIN: I don't own any original artwork, but I do I have a VoiVod silkscreened tour poster from the "Dimension Hatross" era framed on my wall. I also consider my Nuclear Death, Rudimentary Peni, and VON records truly kvlt artwork....

HSS: Favorite Sabbath song?

JUSTIN: A National Acrobat - the lead riffs for that song are killer.

HSS: Do you have any musical projects/bands of your own?

JUSTIN: No, but I often have dreams about creating awesome songs on the guitar. I am pretty good at Rock Band... does that count?

HSS: Besides the Catalyst show, what other projects have you got planned for the future?

JUSTIN: Nothing concrete in terms of a show - but Stephen Kasner, Seldon Hunt, and I are going to do some sort of three-way (get your mind out of the gutter) drawing project. I also want to put together a series of 9 drawings to make prints of that will come in a pseudo-LP sleeve... it's a tribute to one of my favorite albums - more info later.

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