As streaming continues to enjoy its status as most people’s go-to means of consuming music, it’s easy to assume that album artwork is somewhat less important than in previous years. When you’re holding a vinyl in your hands, the image becomes part of the product, and seeing the art becomes part of the listening experience, but when the art is diminished to a small thumbnail on a Spotify playlist, you’d assume its impact is surely lessened. But this isn’t quite the whole truth. The cover may only fill 10% of the screen, but it’s also the only space that is completely within an artist’s control. Even as some consumers ditch full-length albums for playlists comprising their favourite songs, the artwork is vital – the only key visual variation as we swipe through a gargantuan collection of tracks. Indeed, with vast quantities of music quite literally available at our fingertips, music lovers are used to seeing fantastic and unique artworks on a daily basis, so it takes something truly special to capture hearts and minds. And in recent years, the works of Polish artist Mariusz Lewandowski have done just that.
If you’re a fan of underground metal, chances are you’ve come across a glorious painted cover in the last couple of years, often featuring vast barren landscapes overseen by monolithic structures or hooded figures. These are (literal) strokes of Lewandowski’s imaginative genius, which have captivated the scene like no other. His works recall cosmic horror in their ability to show mankind in all of its naked inconsequentiality, but there is also a mournful quality to the dark spaces and melancholy blues contrasted with explosive yellows and fiery oranges, with robed grim reaper-esque figures being prominent in many of his paintings and any life present often appearing lonesome. This style has graced artworks from artists across the heavy music realm, including Bell Witch‘s Mirror Reaper, Mizmor‘s Cairn, False’s Portent, Shrine Of The Serpent’s Entropic Disillusion, Fuming Mouth’s The Grand Descent, Sepulcher’s Panoptic Horror, Eremit’s Carrier Of Weight, Psycroptic’s As The Kingdom Drowns, Cardiac Rupture’s The Creator’s Hand and Rogga Johansson’s Entrance To The Otherwhere.
With such an impressive and ever-growing list of clients, Lewandowski’s work is becoming more and more prominent in the scene, so we decided to reach out to the man himself and talk about his art, his inspirations and his feelings on metal. What follows is an excerpt of the full interview, which can be found in Astral Noize Issue 5.
How would you describe your work and your painting style?
It doesn’t matter to me whether you call my work surrealism, magic symbolism, abstraction or horror-art – because I have heard it, it doesn’t change anything in my paintings. I paint from the need of my heart and it is as natural to me as breathing.
Are you trained as an artist or self-taught?
I never planned and there was no decision that I would become a painter. I had this passion since I was a child and I have been constantly polishing my skills over the years, without hitting schools or art colleges. My professors were Rembrandt (master of light) and Zdzisław Beksiński, who made me realise that there are no boundaries in art, and many others who I admired.
Why do you think the music industry, especially metal musicians, have taken such a liking to your work?
I have no idea why metal musicians were the first to notice that my art can come to metal. Apparently we have some common element that attracts us to each other.
How would you describe your musical tastes? Would you call yourself a fan of the bands you’ve painted for?
I am a fan of good, true and honest music and I think metal as such.
Metal should be listened to loudly, so I listen to it so much that when painting I switch to something that suits the night, because this is the time that suits me best for work.
Some bands have used paintings of yours that already existed, but when creating a commission for a band, do you listen to the music before you paint it? How do you approach such a project?
Starting with a new project for a band, I get acquainted with the general idea of the album, close my eyes, listen to the music and wait for a shot in my head, and then the process of implementing this idea begins.
A lot of your paintings seem to feature huge monolithic landscapes or constructions, or huge people and creatures often in robes and hoods. What draws you to these recurring themes?
Hooded figures and mega creations, natural or as if built, are only symbolism of transience and at the same time the power of the human mind.
What do you take inspiration and influence from when painting?
It seems to me that the most important topic in my paintings is man, or rather his fragility and smallness in the surrounding universe. Note that some have been trying to convince us for thousands of years that our existence in this world is just preparation for real life after our death. And I ask how they know it. I love life and people and I don’t miss the apocalyptic vision of the world. I just want to show that our galaxy, not to mention our earth and man, are just pollen in the cavernous depths of space.
For a deeper look into Lewandowski’s work, read the full extended feature in Astral Noize Issue 5, available to order here.
Words: George Parr