When Art Meets Music - 15 Stand-Out Album Covers Featuring Australian Art

Did you know that Dire Straits worked with one of Sydney’s most prolific artists, or that a figurative Ken Done artwork fittingly graced the cover of Great Barrier Grief? How about that Stephen Baker’s painting skills extend from canvases, epic poolside murals and trams, to limited-edition guitar pedals?

From long-time friends to new, meaningful Instagram connections, we take a look at a stack of inspired artist-musician team-ups, and highlight 15 brilliant album covers featuring Australian art.

Elle Murrell

Ken Done in his home studio. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

Elle Murrell
16th of July 2019

‘Painters and musicians have long been friends and collaborators with varying degrees of success, but in my experience, there is tremendous mutual respect and almost an awe of each other’s craft,’ tells artist Luke Scibberas. Austinmer band Shining Bird enlisted the Hill End-based artist in creating the cover of their 2016 release, Black Opal. Luke first became acquainted with the members of this experimental pop band by reputation (‘their excellent work’) and then via social media.

In another collaboration, Collingwood-based artist Stephen Baker created artwork for The Smith Street Band‘s fourth album, More Scared of You than You Are of Me, which was a first for the band and ‘extra special’ for Stephen. ‘Having known the members for some time, I definitely had an intimate connection to the artwork and their personalities,’ Stephen explains. A portrait of the singer, Wil Wagner, was decided on unanimously for the album cover. Additional new artworks, all in Stephen’s artistic style and a specific colour palette, were used across a range of merchandise for the release, from covers to posters, T-shirts, and even 50 hand-painted guitar pedals!

From the other perspective, Alexander Gow, frontman of Melbourne-based indie rockers Oh Mercy approached Ken Done by email seeking something ‘vibrant and bold’ for their sophomore album. ‘I was also very aware of his place within the Australian psyche. Knowing the title was going to be Great Barrier Grief, I knew it’d be a perfect match,’ Alexander explains. He visited Ken’s gallery at The Rocks. ‘I met his family, and we just had a chat about art and music. It was enough to make him say, “Yeah, I’ll do it.”’

When creative forms like music and fine art come together, there is an opportunity for mutual growth and the reaching of new audiences. While mass distribution may at first seem at odds with an exhibiting painter’s priorities, both Luke and Stephen found their collaborations to be incredibly enriching.

‘I think it’s a great thing if you trust the musical artist you’re working with, and the result is in keeping with your ideals and aesthetics. Being inspired by someone else’s work is also exciting, having the trust of a musician’s opus to render or capture visually is an amazing experience!’ praises Stephen.

‘One can’t fathom just how the others wrest their respective works. I’ve worked with and maintained friendships with pop musicians, classical and contemporary composers, and music is a constant in my studio, adding a lyrical inflection to my visual story,’ adds Luke. ‘May it ever be so.’

We take you through some stand-out collaborations below. *With more than 11,377,191 albums released at the time of writing, we’ve no doubt missed some of your favourites – please pop them in the comments!

Crayon works by Ken Done. Photo – Eve Wilson. Ken Done‘s artwork on the cover of ‘Great Barrier Grief’ by Oh Mercy.

KEN DONE – ‘Great Barrier Grief’ by Oh Mercy

Paul Kelly reviewed this 2011 album as like ‘sailing on a beautiful boat on a calm blue sea under a cloudless sky. Only there’s a shadow moving under the water. Something dark and hidden ready to strip the flesh from your bones before they wash to the shore’. So, we can see how this ocean-pun-inspired release got the attention of such a renowned, water-loving artist.

Jonathan Zawada – ‘Skin’ by Flume.

Jonathan Zawada – ‘Hi Viz’ by The Presets.

JONATHAN ZAWADA – ‘Skin’ by Flume and ‘Hi Viz’ by The Presets

The Perth-born, LA-based artist is fascinated with ‘the intersection and blend between the artificial and the natural’. With early roots in web design, Jonathan has expanded to into commercial graphic design, illustration and art direction and more recently object and furniture design, sculpture, video, installation and painting. He has taken out two Australian Record Industry Awards (ARIAS) for album artwork (Flume’s 2016 release (pictured above) and Apocalypso by long-time collaborators The Presets in 2008) as well as presented solo exhibitions and installations in contemporary galleries around the world.

‘I worked across the full breadth of Flume’s Grammy-winning Skin album life-cycle,’ explains Jonathan of his album and singles artworks, merchandise, promotional videos, creative direction of the live show, and even an exhibition of audio/video works and printed silks presented in LA and Sydney. ‘The work aimed to explore ways of making the digital become organic and find tension points between comfort and discomfort,’ he adds.

(left to right) Dane Lovett and Dave Snow – ‘Black Fingernails, Red Wine’ by Eskimo Joe. Graeme Base – ‘Steal the Light’ by The Cat Empire. Jack Vanzet – ‘Bloom’ by Rufus.

DANE LOVETT + DAVE SNOW – ‘Black Fingernails, Red Wine’ by Eskimo Joe

Melbourne-based artist Dane Lovett (who opens a new exhibition next week) teamed up with Dave Snow on the 2006 release by the Fremantle-formed alternative rock band. The artwork, stylised portraits of the three-piece, was nominated for the ARIA Award for Best Cover Art, and took out the Single of the Year for its titular track.

GRAEME BASE – ‘Steal the Light’ by The Cat Empire

You may recognise the style of this cover from your childhood, more specifically the book Animalia, illustrated by legendary author and artist Graeme Base. The Melbourne-based creative worked with the alternative rock band on their sixth studio album, which features his signature, magical animal art.

‘At college, I had always wanted to be the guy who did the record covers,’ reflected Graeme when he spoke to The Garret Podcast. Though he missed out on a job at a major record label, we’re glad he got a chance in 2013 to collaborate with what couldn’t have been a more fitting group!

JACK VANZET – ‘Bloom’ by Rufus Du Sol

The creative director and multi-disciplinary artist has created everything from music festival branding to identities for tech companies and restaurants. Then there is, of course, the record cover art, including the 2016 chart-topping album from alternative dance RÜFÜS DU SOL, which was also nominated for an ARIA for Best Album Artwork.

Jack is also a recording artist himself and boasts further artistic collaborations with the likes of Childish Gambino, The Australian Ballet, Vance Joy, and Chet Faker to name a few.

Stephen at work in his studio. Photo – Sam Wong for The Design Files. Stephen Baker – ‘Birthdays’ by Smith Street Band.

Stephen at work in his studio. Photo – Sam Wong for The Design Files. Stephen Baker – ‘More Scared Of You’ by Smith Street Band.

STEPHEN BAKER – ‘More Scared of You than You Are of Me’ by The Smith Street Band

The Collingwood-based creatives and friends worked together on the 2017 rock release, which expanded to single covers and a host of merchandise.

‘The cover art had to reflect the honesty of the lyrics that had been written by Wil Wagner, the lead singer of the group,’ Stephen explains of the album collaboration.

Right sections of Brett Whiteley‘s artwork Alchemy, 1972-1973.

Brett Whiteley – ‘Alchemy’ by Dire Straits.

BRETT WHITELEY – ‘Alchemy’ by Dire Straits

The British rock band released live album Alchemy in 1983, featuring an adapted section from an original painting, also entitled Alchemy, by artist Brett Whiteley.

The epic oil-and-mixed-media painting was created between 1972 and 1973 and spans across 18 wood panels (203cm x 1615cm).  Regarded to be a self-portrait, it is currently in the collection of the Art Gallery of NSW and you can read an insightful essay about it here.

The cover of the Dire Straits album includes the far-right section of the artwork, with the addition of a guitar with lips held by a hand.

Luke Sciberras studio. Photo – Robyn Lea. Luke Sciberras – ‘Black Opal’ by Shining Bird.

LUKE SCIBERRAS – ‘Black Opal’ by Shining Bird

The Austinmer-based experimental pop band selected Luke Sciberras’ artwork, Buffalo Country for their 2016 release.

This painting came about after ‘a wild night spent on the edge of the Katherine River in the Northern Territory, full of rumblings and myths of buffaloes and crocodiles but also stars and poetic gloaming,’ Luke tells. He believes it was a perfect match; ‘It’s dark and earthy but has a warmth that I think suits the album nicely’.

Tin & Ed – ‘Built on Glass’ by Chet Faker.

Julian Hocking – ‘Television’ by City Calm Down.

TIN & ED – ‘Built on Glass’ by Chet Faker

The Melbourne-based creatives produced photography, art direction and design for Chet Faker’s debut LP.

‘Through a series of still lifes, the artwork talks about the impermanence of objects, memories, and relationships. We’ve used objects that are millions of years old and others that are man-made and very new to create an expanded sense of time and history.  The series also explores a number of themes from the album, one of which is strength and fragility and how these two things can co-exist,’ they explain of the collaboration, which saw them awarded the 2014 ARIA Award for Best Cover Art.

JULIAN HOCKING – ‘Television’ by City Calm Down

The Melbourne four-piece will release their third album next month, and have enlisted an Melbourne-based artist to create art for its cover. Julian is known for his richly conceptual exhibitions of mixed-media abstract and figurative works.

Karen Lynch – Civil Dusk by Bernard Fanning.

James Drinkwater – ‘Paint’ by Holy Holy.

KAREN LYNCH – ‘Civil Dusk’ by Bernard Fanning

An analogue collage artist who uses paper, scissors and glue to reinvent vintage imagery into surreal retro-futuristic landscapes, Karen worked with Bernard Fanning on his 2016 solo release.

The album’s name is drawn from a photography term, civil twilight, ‘talking about the light in the sky when the sun has gone below the horizon, but you can still make out all the objects’ and is a direct reference to the core theme of decisions and their lasting consequences.

Bernard’s wife came across Karen’s work on Instagram and he found her style to fit ‘perfectly with the lyrical themes’.

JAMES DRINKWATER – ‘Paint’ by Holy Holy

The Newcastle-based painter’s work spans painting, sculpture, assemblage, and collage. He teamed up with this Melbourne-based duo for their sophomore record, and they even made a film about their artistic collaborations.

‘James’ paintings are richly patterned like an intriguing carpet – the shapes varied and inventive, the colour subtle with strong contrasts of light and dark and warm sonorous passages. As James says, they are about memory and intimacy and one’s eye can wander through the paintings imagining a multiplicity of images in this richly layered world,’ describes his contemporary, artist Elisabeth Cummings.

Reg Mombassa – ‘Garage’ by Mental As Anything.

Reg Mombassa – ‘Foggy Highway’  by Paul Kelly & the Stormwater Boys.

REG MOMBASSA – ‘Garàge’ by Mental As Anything + ‘Foggy Highway’  by Paul Kelly & the Stormwater Boys

Before he co-founded new wave/pop-rock band Mental As Anything, Chris O’Doherty studied art, and exhibited his own paintings in a now-iconic signature style.

Though he is widely known for his work with Mambo and Greenpeace, the Sydney-based artist has also created several covers for his own band, as well as other notable musicians including Paul Kelly (2005).

Chris draws inspiration from ‘the wind, semi-professional birthday clowns, heavy machinery and the behaviour of domestic animals’.

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