We’ve been playing Tyler, The Creator’s new album Scum Fuck Flower Boy on loop since it dropped in July. The heavily-anticipated album release came accompanied by two covers, one by the musician himself (which resembles a cassette tape player), the other painted by American artist Eric White, a disconcerting, surreal portrait of Tyler surrounded by rolling hills, tangerine skies, a field of sunflowers and a buzzing fleet of supersized bees. Intrigued, we dug around to find out a bit more about the artist behind it.
As it turns out, Eric White has a history of designing artwork for bands including Korn, Frank Zappa and Incubus back in the 90s, and, in a meta twist, he’s also made a whole series of LP oil paintings which satirise album cover art. After coming across Eric’s work in the artist’s self-titled book — released with Rizzoli back in October 2015 — Tyler got in touch, and together the pair conceptualised the scene. “Over the years I’ve done a bunch of album covers but hadn’t done one in about 12 years as I’m focused on my personal work now,” Eric tells It’s Nice That. "I’d been a fan of Tyler since the Odd Future days and I saw them play in New York in 2011. I’m always busy and usually behind on deadlines, but this seemed like a great opportunity that I didn’t want to pass up so I agreed to do it and I’m very glad I did.” We caught up with Eric to hear more about his collaboration with Tyler.
How did you first get into painting?
I drew and painted and made stuff obsessively as a kid, and I had an amazing public school art teacher for years. My mum signed me up for a weekend class on the book Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain by Betty Edwards when I was about ten, and it had a huge impact on me. I also really connected with the woman teaching the course and I worked with her privately until I went off to college. She was actually instrumental in convincing my parents that I should go to art school. They were always very supportive and encouraging but both felt I should get some kind of liberal arts degree and study art as a minor. Thankfully I didn’t go that route. I visited the RISD campus during high school and upon seeing easels in the classrooms my mind was made up.
Tell us about the process which goes into making the cinematic, Hollywood-inspired oil paintings you’re most known for. Do you paint from existing images? How long does the average artwork take?
I’m in the midst of that process right now as I’m conceptualising my next body of work. It usually starts with a vague concept or flashes of images. I start attempting to roughly visualise them in a sketchbook to formulate a direction and to refine the ideas. I watch old movies constantly and have a huge stockpile of images I’ve collected over the years as well as a ton of books on film. And often I will set up a shoot with models once I have some idea of what I’m doing. I then bring the images into Photoshop and I build the basic structure of the image in the computer.
Throughout the process I move back and forth between the computer and the easel. I prefer to keep the image open and not have the entire thing worked out at the start, as that can become extremely boring. For example in the Mingus painting I worked out a basic structure and painted his face in the centre before resolving what a lot of the surrounding elements would be. I send the comp to an iPad on a music stand next to the easel and work from that. I generally use the grid system to get the image on canvas and just eyeball the thing, but I will often print out part of the image actual size in reverse and do a graphite transfer to the canvas for any complex imagery like typography or architectural elements.
I work from a combination of found imagery and my own shots. There is some invention, but mostly I work from reference. I use photoshop to build the composition and collage elements together, and occasionally I’ll use a 3D program. For the most part I use oil. It’s the most versatile and forgiving and is the most fun to work with. I also make drawings and watercolours and occasionally use acrylic. The timing really depends on the complexity of the image and size of the canvas. I can do a small one in a couple days, but a medium or large complex one can take months. Outpost 2 and The Letter each took over a month each, painting every day.
On collaborating with Tyler on Scum Fuck Flower Boy, what was the brief? How closely did you work together?
Yes, once his manager made the intro Tyler and I were in direct communication. We met in person initially to discuss his ideas for the project and he showed me some sketches he had done and a few photos he liked which evoked the mood he was going for. There was a lot of back and forth over text and on the phone for a few weeks, and when I had finished a pretty elaborate comp he came over to take a look. There was a little bit of fine-tuning after that, but once we got to a place where he was satisfied with it he left me alone until the painting was done. He’s still never seen the finished piece in person.
And do you have plans to work together in the future?
No plans to work together, but I was interviewed recently for the after show for his upcoming Viceland project, and they filmed me doing a bee paining tutorial that will be on Tyler’s app.
Can you tell us about any other exciting projects you’ve got coming up?
I’m very excited about my next solo exhibition which will happen in New York at Grimm Gallery. For the next year I will be working pretty much exclusively on that.