Artist Simon Monk’s hyperreal painting for UK rock collective Black Country, New Road’s Ants From Up There album has been announced as the winner of the Best Art Vinyl Award 2022.
For its 18th year, the competition received over 200 entries. A panel of artists, designers and music industry experts selected a shortlist of 50 covers, before the final three were chosen via a public vote.
“An image of frustrated desire”
Monk is a UK-based contemporary artist interested in using painting to breathe new life into a cheap or otherwise unimportant object. His hyperreal style is achieved through layering translucent colours and using high-quality oils and alkyds (a polyester resin modified with fatty acids and other components).
Black Country, New Road was drawn to Monk’s style for its nostalgic quality. The band’s drummer Charlie Wayne explains how, for him, looking at the painting is “as familiar as looking at a childhood photograph”. Wayne notes that Monk’s work is very different to the band’s first album cover.
At first glance, the album cover looks exactly like an old photograph, but a closer look reveals it to be a hyperreal painting. Monk explains how his subjects “exist illusionistically in front of the picture plane”, which helps to put it in “the viewer’s space”, adding to the hyperreality.
“My plastic bag paintings were started as a solution to the problem of how to make a still life oil painting in the 21st century without it being boring and old fashioned”, says Monk.
He says that he sees the painting as “an image of frustrated desire” as the airplane is being stifled inside the bag. The plastic bag is struggling to contain it, which Monk says suggests “the possibility of soaring liberation.” After listening to the album many times, Monk says he noticed “a yearning, searching, frustrated quality to the music” that is “analogous to the content of the painting”.
Aside from the painting, all other aspects of the cover design – from the hand lettering to the choice of card stock – was led by the design team at the band’s record label Ninja Tune. Monk says the team were “extremely self-effacing” in showcasing his imagery at the forefront of the cover, rather than “obscuring it with type or covering it with filters”.
Monk planned to create a companion painting of a golden elephant in a carrier bag. Unfortunately, he came to the studio one morning to find a torn bag and a broken elephant on the floor. Since Monk only paints from real life, not from photographs, the second painting was never completed. Monk also created two additional artworks inside the deluxe vinyl box sets available from Ninja Records.
Hardcore oil painting
Coming in second was the artwork for French punk/hardcore trio Birds in Row’s third full length album Gris Klein, created by band member and tattoo artist Bart Balboa.
The cover features a cool-toned oil painting of a person admiring a bunch of pink flowers, produced on linen. Although Balboa used a predominantly dark and neutral colour palette, the person’s lips – which sit at a central point of the canvas – are cherry red, while the budding flowers have been painted in pastel pinks.
Balboa revealed that this was the last painting he had managed to finish before falling into “an artistic void”. He also created an accompanying stone lithograph print for the LP.
Imagining a post-apocalyptic landscape
West Yorkshire-based illustrator Jake Blanchard’s work for Richard Dawson’s album The Ruby Cord came in third place. The album concludes a trilogy of LPs that began with the pre-medieval world of Peasant, released in 2017. The Ruby Cord aims to transport listeners back to the present day, where they are faced with a somewhat dystopian future.
Though Blanchard’s style is characteristic of psychedelia, he also takes influence from the natural world as well as mythology and ancient cultures. His focus for the cover was to illustrate the albums 41-minute opening track, Hermit, which imagines a character “wandering through a post-apocalyptic landscape burdened with supplies”, says Blanchard.
After producing the final sketches, Blanchard moved on to the line work with pen and ink, so he could scan the illustrations and colour it digitally. “A few elements were changed or added with a graphics tablet and then I made and added textures including the background watercolour”, he says.
According to Blanchard, he worked closely with Dawson throughout the design process, who was very open to his suggestions.
All 50 nominated album covers will be featured in an art installation in the window of the Hari hotel in London. The winners will also feature in several exhibitions put on by Art Vinyl over the year in locations across the globe, such as Tipton Eyeworks in Budapest.
The designs can also be viewed online, on the Art Vinyl website.