Steph from Eridanos Tattoo & Gallery interviews Dan Seagrave
What are your top five favorite visual artists?
I don’t have a top 5 exactly, as I’ll always think of someone who I would have added if asked on a different day. But right now, I’d say Max Ernst, Casper David Friedrich, Piranesi, Turner, William Blake. But also Ivan Albright, HR Giger, Henry Fusilli, Henry Moore, Frida Kahlo, Van Gogh. Albrecht Durer. I’m a bit of a locations tracker when it comes to where artists painted on site, which is why I also enjoy some of these artists’ works. I took a trip to France one time and tracked down a lot of Van Gogh’s locations where he painted scenes, for example. I’d like to do a similar thing with other artists, especially Durer, as you get to look back 500 years and compare – and he is rare for his time to go out and paint watercolours on location.
You gained notoriety for your iconic album art. For these album covers, were you given thematic requests, specific direction or did you have free reign? Can you talk a little bit about that creation process?
With the early work, there was more freedom, as there was less communication without email. So it made for a more private environment to create, with less over-analysing of the progress. I had to come up with something and it couldn’t then be easily dismissed or trashed. And back then, my sketches were always quite rough, and not exactly how the final linework would be. I tended to work just from the album title alone for many of these. So Clandestine, for example, was simply the word I was working from, which was very evocative, and from that came the picture, you see. It was also based on the environment where I lived. Ancient woodlands and burial mounds were there; an iron age fort near the village where I lived. These kind of things all feed in to what became a kind of visual poetry. I alway work to some kind of a brief, be it knowing the overall theme of the record, and then getting the song titles to reenforce the mind’s eye view. But it can be great to just let something happen without too much of a precise brief – that can lead to a surprising result.
An example of an older piece that the band didn’t like was the Edge of Sanity cover for Spectral Sorrows. They had sent a photo of a waterfall, and kind of wanted me to paint that. So I did, and then improvised all the external surrealistic formations around that. The reason I did that was because otherwise it would have been not worth hiring me in the first place. I have to bring something beyond just a photo reference reproduction. I’d say that the hardest commissions tend to be the ones that have really specific art direction, where things are suggested to look a certain way, or be so big in the frame, etc. The more info I get, in a way, the less confident I am in attempting to render the image, because I feel the client will not be happy with my suggestions or way of doing things. It’s about finding a balance, and the trust of a client to allow me to discover an image. Sometimes that can take one sketch, and other times up to 20 or more before landing on the right thing.
What inspired the Migrators series?
I don’t really know about inspiration. But it drifted its way in by the back door. I just found myself doodling winged creatures, which kind of resembled moths or insects. In turn, I made a painting for a group show titled ‘Instar,’ which became the early prototype of sorts, and the idea drifted again into the theme of a short film I made. So it hung around mostly as a doodling exercise, without any real concept or intent. I finally one day started getting looser on the sketches, and realised it would be interesting to paint the forms that were borderline abstracted. I’d gotten a bit bored of the symmetrical version of it, where it seemed more like specimens. The distorted shapes seem more interesting to me, and the trick then is to paint them somewhat realistically without it making too much sense as nature would have it. Keeping one foot in a completely eroded reality, because that’s kind of where these things would reside.
You were very active in the Death Metal realm in the early nineties. How do you feel about death metal circa 2016?
I was, and then it ended in early 1994 for me. I felt that end coming in 1993. It seemed like it had run its course. Though, it actually of course continued. So strangely, since the year 2000 when I started back in to album art, I’ve subsequently made a lot more record covers than during that 90s era. I’m pretty happy with the genre splintering as seems to have happened, spawning from Death Metal. People still make the music, so it lives on. I’m not a purist about it. I do think that if people are really into DM, then the true core era is 88 – 93, give or take. So they will always have that to dip into. But I think there is some really interesting stuff going on now. I’m certainly no expert with the music, though. I tend to keep up slightly vicariously through my work, and with the odd live gig thrown in at times. For me, this kind of music is best experienced live. I reckon that the DM foundations have really helped keep the metal scene alive in general, because before that came along in the 80s, metal was looking like it might splutter out with all the glam and hair metal acts. Of course, it’s intriguing to see that this era has legitimacy of sorts now, and a lot of dedicated fans nostalgic for it, whereas at the time, it really was a real underground thing – and believe me, none of my friends were remotely impressed by the work I was doing for those bands. Though, the same could almost be said now!
How often do you get the opportunity to work on personal collections? Are you working on anything currently?
I either have to take a few months off from any distractions to do something, or it happens in dribs and drabs amongst commissioned work. These days, it’s just that there is more for me to do looking after the general business of things; doing all the paperwork and correspondence can be quite time consuming. These days, there is more of that than the actual act of creativity, and that’s unfortunate in a way, because the creativity is what everything hangs upon. I’m at the stage where I have to protect that creative impulse and not be entirely giving too much time over to the non-creative things and find the work balance. When I made my last film, I took a few months off and turned down work, because it was the only way it would get done. Unfortunately, I have so many incomplete projects now – let’s say ongoing. But I’m quite reticent to do one of those crowd funding things. Please send me money so I can indulge at everyone’s expense for a year to make one really detailed painting. I’m not saying I won’t do it. I may go crowd fund-crazy eventually. But yes, I have a few projects for myself, so there is always something to do.
What advice do you have to visual artists trying to work in the music industry?
That’s one of those dangerous questions. My thoughts on advice are that even if it’s good advice, it may not translate to someone else’s predicament, or temperament. So the best advice is perhaps not given, it’s acquired by the beholder simply because they are the kind of person who will observe and try. Things are a lot easier now, though, because you really can contact almost anyone these days. So the window of opportunity has never been greater.
What questions do you wish publications asked you (that they don’t)?
Thank you for ‘finally’ asking me that. It’s a damned relief.
Eridanos Tattoo & Gallery exhibits Dan Seagrave’s Migrators starting September 17th, 2016