Vis-Ed: Forbidden Kingdom–A look at the mystical, spiritual, and symmetrical work of Melbourne-based cover artist Leif Podhajsky
- Words: Josiah Hughes
Obsessed with symmetry and geometric shapes, Melbourne-based artist Leif Podhajsky is attempting to harmonize the universe one piece at a time.
Whether he's colliding nature with space or exploring the human body through photo experiments, Podhajsky's multi-disciplined output resembles an encyclopedia of the metaphysical. He also has the precise artistic skill set to be a master at the dying medium of album art. There's no greater evidence than the striking visuals he provided for Tame Impala's Innerspeaker and Lykke Li's Wounded Rhymes, both of which possess the depth and detail of dusty '70s LP covers. Here, Podhajsky tells us about his equal love of Krautrock and magic.
XLR8R: What does a day in your life look like?
Leif Podhajsky: I usually get up sometime around 9:30, shower and make a coffee, feed the cat, then hopefully sit in the sun for a while. I have just moved into a new home studio after having one in the city for a few years, so I don't have to go very far to begin creating. I check my email and see if there's anything that will stress me out for the day—this can take a while. I usually make breakfast quite late and then begin working on whatever project I have going on. If I have no projects, I will usually continue working on a number of art pieces that I work on simultaneously. This pretty much takes up my day until late at night. I have been traveling quite a bit for work and play lately, which has been a new element in the mix and a really nice change to my usual routine.
Is there a central theme running through all of your work?
There are definitely certain themes that reiterate throughout my work, such as the importance of nature as both a source of balance and harmony in our lives... issues with our delusion and devaluation of time, and our stubbornness in appreciating a single moment as beautiful. I am also very interested in exploring altered or higher states of awareness and the knowledge and wisdom I think we can attain from these places. There are a lot of different themes and ideas which I like to delve into, but I guess it comes down to love, knowledge, and answers as how to be happy and content.
Are there specific rules or guidelines for how you create your pieces? And do you ever break those rules?
The only guideline for me is to try and reflect, in the best way I can, the concept or idea I wish to examine. Sometimes I have this concept before I start a piece, and other times it's organic and develops with the work I am creating. I believe breaking rules is the best way to go forward and learn new things, but I guess when it comes to more graphic-design-related projects, I like to stick to clean and simple lines and a more traditional approach.
How do you start a piece? How do you know when it's finished?
I usually start with an idea or concept, which I either sketch, write down, or preserve in my head. Then I begin an extensive search for images, photos, cut-outs, textures, anything which I think may help form the idea. I have a large image library to draw from, and am forever collecting and adding to this bank. Then comes the hard part: actually making the first mark. This is all about getting into the right headspace. For me, I use music as a way of submerging myself, letting go of the idea enough to explore the possibilities without a preconceived notion of how it should turn out. Sometimes this comes easy; other times, it's much harder to find. The mistakes I make often lead me in new directions toward a finished piece. Knowing when it's finished also can be difficult. This is actually my favorite part of a piece of work, adjusting colors and contrast, getting it perfect. This is when I sit back a little and get a buzz on what I have made, but sometimes you can overdo it and have to realize when no more tinkering is needed.
Do you ever feel like you don't have any ideas?
Quite the opposite—I feel I have almost too many ideas and different things I wish to explore. I am really interested in doing some sculptural stuff this year, and have been dabbling in some motion projects also. So I like to mix it up and always push myself to new levels. If I get a little stuck, doing something removed from what I am working on can help to clear the mind and let new ideas in. I think travel is one of the best tools for getting inspiration.
When you make album art, is the process different than making your other work? Are you given guidelines from the artist?
Definitely with album art there is usually a brief and time constraints, but I use a lot of the same approaches across both commissioned and personal works. Developing creative ideas and communicating this idea visually, typographically, or however it is, in a way which engages its audience whilst always attempting to push boundaries and, of course, with commissioned work, please both musicians and record labels. So the difference may be in the concept or brief, and therefore subject to different creative outcomes. But this is part of why I love giving visual identity to music—you have to engage with the artist and the sound and create something which reflects both their vision and yours. I have been lucky to work with some great artists so far, where I think we have really got the balance perfect.
What is your favorite album cover?
I have always been interested in album art and this fusion I talked about above, so it's hard to narrow it down to just one. I recently did an article for Modular for my top five album covers and I gave them 12 after much deliberation. I love Storm Thorgerson, Peter Saville, and Mati Klarwein, plus an array of unknown artists that created covers for Can, Beefheart... and the keyboardist from Black Mountain [Jeremy Schmidt] does some exquisite work for their releases. But I would have to say [my favorite is] the cover by Ron Raffaelli for the self-titled Free album, which features the silhouette of a women made of stars, leaping across the sky, with beautifully restrained typography reading "Free." It gives the cover a floating, dream-like quality. And this shit was way before Photoshop came into play.
Free cover, Ron Raffaelli
What artists inspire you?
There's really too many to list: Egon Shiele, Dali, Remedios Varo, Maurizio Cattelan, Bas Jan Ader, Augustin Lesage, Rudolf Steiner, Goethe, Alex Grey, Gustav Klimt, Escher, Jonathan Zawada, Neil Krug, friends and family.
What music do you listen to while you work?
I just finished two mixtape [covers]—one with my good friend Isaac from the band Young Magic, which has a lot of stuff I have been listening to lately, a lot of Afrobeat, early Nigerian and Ghanaian, Turkish pop/psych like Mustafa Özkent and Selda. But I also have been loving stuff from Teebs, Dunian, Yuk, and Shigeto, so it's a mixed bag. The second mixtape is a Krautrock, psych, and progressive collection. I think part of why I like doing these is I get free reign over creating the album art, which is really fun.
What are your goals when you make art?
Personally, I am looking for answers and knowledge, and making art helps me identify and develop certain aspects of my life I think need modifying, balancing, or changing. I like to always be pushing the boundaries of what I thought I could achieve and gain new ways of seeing things, and then after this, putting my work to an audience to see how others identify with what I have created is always a humbling and beautiful experience.
There is a certain mysticism and sense of spirituality in your work. Does that reflect any of your own personal beliefs or is it more of a visual aesthetic that you're drawn to?
It definitely reflects certain spiritual or mystic ideas I wish to explore. I believe the world is going through a huge shift at the moment, and for me, my work reflects both a personal change and a change I think that needs to take place in society. I guess the aesthetic reflects the themes I am looking at. I use a lot of balance, recursion, and symmetrical techniques, which reflect the themes we talked about in the first question, like nature, time, magic, love, and the importance of living in the moment.
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