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12 Famous Artists Who Designed Album Covers

An album cover is much more than a place for a musician to stamp his or her name. The right imagery can help create a totally immersive experience. From The Velvet Underground to Radiohead, some of the world’s most talented musicians have enlisted the help of famous artists to create some truly memorable album covers. Here are 12 of them.

1. RADIOHEAD’S A MOON SHAPED POOL BY STANLEY DONWOOD

Stanley Donwood has designed every one of Radiohead’s album covers since The Bends, including the album art for the British band’s latest record, A Moon Shaped Pool. He designed the artwork in a barn near the studio where the band recorded the album, and was able to listen to their sessions and react to it, in the moment, in acrylic.

2. THE SMASHING PUMPKINS’ ZEITGEIST BY SHEPARD FAIREY

Street artist Shepard Fairey designed the album art for The Smashing Pumpkins’ seventh studio album, 2007’s Zeitgeist. Wanting to make a political statement on climate change, the artist created a black-and-red image of the Statue of Liberty about to be submerged underwater.

“I think global warming is an issue that is currently relevant, time sensitive, and a symptom of the shortsightedness of the U.S.,” Fairey told The Gauntlet. “As a broader metaphor, the drowning Statue of Liberty, a revered icon of the U.S., symbolizes the eminent demise of many of the ideals upon which the nation was founded.”

3. PATTI SMITH’S HORSES BY ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE

Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe snapped the cover of Patti Smith’s debut studio album, Horses, in 1975. He shot the image at his apartment in New York City, using natural light and a Polaroid camera.

4. EELS’ END TIMES BY ADRIAN TOMINE

In 2010, The New Yorker cartoonist Adrian Tomine provided the cover art for End Times, the second in a trilogy of concept albums from Eels. The album cover features a ragged old man, which matches with the album’s themes of divorce and getting older.

5. JACKIE GLEASON’S LONESOME ECHO BY SALVADOR DALÍ

In 1955, Jackie Gleason asked his good friend Salvador Dalí to design the album cover for Lonesome Echo. Dalí wrote a description of his artwork in the record’s liner notes, which reads, “The first effect is that of anguish, of space, and of solitude. Secondly, the fragility of the wings of a butterfly, projecting long shadows of late afternoon, reverberates in the landscape like an echo. The feminine element, distant and isolated, forms a perfect triangle with the musical instrument and its other echo, the shell.”

6. LADY GAGA’S ARTPOP BY JEFF KOONS

Lady Gaga recruited artist Jeff Koons to design the album cover for ARTPOP. He created a nude sculpture of Gaga with a giant glistening blue sphere between her legs and fragments of famous works of art, like The Birth of Venus, behind her.

“With the cover, I wanted to have Gaga there as a sculpture, as a three-dimensional type of form and with the gazing ball,” Koons told MTV. “Because the gazing ball really does become kind of the symbol for everything—and this aspect of reflection that when you come across something like a gazing ball, it affirms you, it affirms your existence and then from that affirmation, you start to want more.”

7. N.E.R.D.’S NOTHING BY TERRY RICHARDSON 

Released in 2010, N.E.R.D.’s Nothing featured Pharrell Williams on the album cover. Photographer Terry Richardson shot Williams—who was wearing an army helmet with red, white, and blue feathers—in profile.

8. THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO’S THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO BY ANDY WARHOL

Before finding worldwide fame, The Velvet Underground was the house band at Andy Warhol’s Factory. So it makes sense that the legendary artist would design their self-titled debut. Early copies featured a peel-away yellow banana skin sticker that revealed a bare pink banana. The album art was expensive to manufacture, which delayed the album's release, but the record label believed the cost was worth the effort if it meant having Warhol’s name attached.

“He just made it possible for us to be ourselves and go right ahead with it because he was Andy Warhol,” Lou Reed once said. “In a sense he really did produce [the album] because he was this umbrella that absorbed all the attacks when we weren’t large enough to be attacked.”

9. DEBBIE HARRY’S KOOKOO BY H.R. GIGER

A year after winning an Academy Award for his design work for Alien, H.R. Giger created the album art for Debbie Harry’s debut solo record, KooKoo, in 1981. The album cover features Giger’s iconic “bio-mechanical” design, as it merges Harry’s face with giant acupuncture needles. Giger also directed the music video for “Backfired,” the lead single off of KooKoo, along with “Now I Know You Know,” which features the same themes and style.

10. BLUR’S THINK TANK BY BANKSY

Blur enlisted enigmatic street artist Banksy to design the album art for 2003’s Think Tank. He created a couple embracing, as they both wore deep sea diving helmets. Although Banksy usually doesn’t create commercial art, he made the decision to work with Blur because he was a big fan of their sound. The original piece later sold at auction for £75,000 (about $110,000) in 2007.

“I’ve done a few things to pay the bills, and I did the Blur album,” Banksy said. “It was a good record and [the commission was] quite a lot of money. I think that’s a really important distinction to make. If it’s something you actually believe in, doing something commercial doesn’t turn it to sh*t just because it’s commercial.”

11. DAVID BOWIE’S WITHOUT YOU BY KEITH HARING 

In 1983, David Bowie and Keith Haring collaborated on the artwork for the single “Without You,” which appeared on the album Let’s Dance. Bowie was a big fan of the New York City-based artist and collected many of his pieces.

12. KULA SHAKER’S K BY DAVE GIBBONS 

Comic book artist Dave Gibbons created the art for Kula Shaker’s debut record, K, in 1996. The album cover features various politicians, celebrities, and athletes—including John F. Kennedy, Karl Marx, Gene Kelly, Katharine Hepburn, King Kong, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Grace Kelly—all surrounding the letter K.

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Art
5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

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Dan Bell
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Design
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Kottke.org reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.

[h/t Kottke.org]

All images by Dan Bell

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