Ten visual artists explore the relationship between sound and vision
Sometimes ambient, often abstract, and always creatively representative of the genre – we speak to five artists who’ve used their medium to represent different genres of music for Spotify’s Fresh Finds playlist collection.
It’s Nice That has partnered up with Spotify Fresh Finds, the go-to playlist collection for emerging artists across genres. Pairing up a global group of independent visual artists with musical ones, the group have created a series of patterned backgrounds representing each genre. This week we take a deeper look into their process.
The creative practises of music and visual art have long been intertwined. Music’s influence can be seen in artworks as far back as Henri Matisse’s Dance (1) from 1909, accelerating through to countless influential album artworks from the likes of Peter Saville during the late 1970s to 80s. Since the dawn of MTV, music videos have since provided a bountiful ground to push this relationship, whether it’s Radiohead’s iconic animated rendition of Paranoid Android, or the viral quality of those early OK-GO videos laying the ground for music to have a watchable quality as much as a listening one.
To explore this relationship further and across many disciplines, It’s Nice That has partnered up with Spotify to create a series of original artworks for its Fresh Finds playlist suite, which exists for fans to discover emerging independent artists, categorised by their genres.
The project is centring on playlists carefully curated by the Spotify team, across the campaign. For example, artists such as Alfie Kungu have focused in on the qualities of hip hop, the hazy airbrush style of Robin Clifford Ellis interprets indie, and elsewhere Antonio Carrau’s collaged patterns imbue the vast boldness of Latin music. Sometimes ambient, often abstract, and always creatively representative of the genre they’re tackling, the final ten artworks see ten visual artists illustrate the exciting momentum that builds when you hear an artist you love for the first time, no matter the genre.
Whether you’re a die-hard electronic music fan or more likely to be listening to country, it’s safe to assume every individual has a pop-sounding track they love, even if it’s a guilty pleasure or nostalgic revisit. It’s this latter quality that Brazilian-born, Lisbon-based illustrator Paola Saliby chose to represent when handed the pop genre to visualise. “Pop music takes me right back to my pre-teenager years, when I used to carry my discman everywhere and would listen to Spice Girls, Alanis Morissette and Britney, repeatedly,” she recalls. As the illustrator has grown up, a broader spectrum of artists and genres presented themselves, and while traditional “pop” music has taken a bit of a backseat, “I’d say it’s always been present,” adds Paola. “Recently, like most millennials, I started to become nostalgic and sometimes listen to 90s playlists,” noting the exception of “the gorgeous Lizzo” as an artist she’s often bopping along to.
To represent the pure joy that pop music evokes, Paola’s artworks portray how for the artist “Pop music is about dancing, singing out loud and having fun,” resulting in artworks with a high level of movement and energy. Working intuitively to elicit this feeling, the illustrator describes her creative process as embodying that “improvisation and unpredictability that reminds me of body movements when dancing,” she tells It’s Nice That.
In terms of tools to translate this sensation Paola opted to use her iPad and a series of digital brushes. A process that sees her move slightly away from her traditional practice of working with paint and analogue techniques, a digital playground allowed more room for Paola to experiment, describing the practice as “more spontaneous and gestural”. Creating a series of loose shapes which could bounce around the templates for the playlist’s cover, even Paola’s spacing aims to “represent the lively mood that the genre is all about,” she says. “It was a great opportunity to create something less figurative because it allowed me to go with the flow, without planning too much.”
Working with another category that encapsulates many types of artists and sub-genres, Paris-based illustrator and animator Thami Nabil was briefed to represent Fresh Finds’s experimental artists. Noting how he wasn’t led to focus on a specific genre to target visually, and more to evoke the exploratory qualities of the artists featured, “My priority has been to try to produce visuals that work no matter what image they are superimposed on,” he tells It’s Nice That.
Listening to a wide range of artist’s while exploring the genre – from 1960s Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto, Italian composer Ennio Morricone and Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum – Thami began the project with the aim to create a “flowing atmosphere” across his background designs. Also working by hand throughout the project, the illustrator notes attempting to work towards “a somewhat raw look” and like Paola, opted to work intuitively: “I must confess that I didn’t think too much about it, I mainly tried to make a coherent series.”
To create this natural approach, Thami picked up objects fans of his work will notice as regular contributors to his style. Often working with felt-tip pens, which create a detailed pattern quality on top of his already ornamental illustrations, having the final outcome be digital led Thami to experiment with the qualities of scanning in his drawings. Creating free flowing patterns, which he describes as like “a series of modules”, once scanned Thami would select an area that felt appealing for its texture, “zooming in on some of them with a rather rough look”. In turn developing a few renditions “that were a bit confusing yet interesting,” these served as a basis for the illustrator’s final renders. The artist digitally collaged these fragments together creating a background of watercolour-like textures, pulling from various sources and merging them together – just as experimental music artists do.
Similarly exploring the merging of specific genres in her brief was Crystal Zapata. Based in Chicago and working as both a graphic designer and artist with clients ranging from Rimowa to The Smudge and Wieden+Kennedy, one consistent link between her works is an intelligent utilisation of texture. Tasked with applying this style to Spotify’s playlist “The Wave”, a collection of new R&B and soul, it’s a genre which spoke to Crystal personally as a fan of “listening to soul from the 1950s, 60s and 70s,” she tells us. “There are a lot of songs from those eras sprinkled into my playlists that are on heavy rotation.”
Like Thami, Crystal opted for working with analogue tools at first, primarily using coloured pencils. Carefully sketching in one direction the illustrator has created puzzle-like pieces for each of her backgrounds, compositions designed “to feel spontaneous, but they were actually quite deliberate,” she says. Working with a tight colour palette of pink, red, black, green and blue, Crystal’s textures neatly pack together as borders, leaving windows for the signature artists of the playlists to peer through.
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Spotify Fresh Finds The Wave: Crystal Zapata
Working with a more direct genre however was Antonio Carrau, a Uruguayan illustrator visualising the Latin genre. An instant learning curve for Antonio, his first step was to get to know the genre more intimately, admitting how the term Latin is primarily used to only describe one element of the genre. During the project Antonio explored more musicians from his home of Uruguay and also Argentina, as well as bands from Brazil and Peru, naming Los Nuevos Creyentes, SUMO, Los Yorks and Jorge Ben as artists on regular rotation.
To represent the vastness of Latin as a genre, Antonio felt it was apt to stick with his signature collage style. Tuning in his stylistic tendencies for a “handmade and energetic feeling in the work,” the illustrator believes working by hand also mirrors the creative energy of Latin America, as “a lot of people are still working with their hands, or using old school technologies,” he explains. In his handmade collages, like Crystal, Antonio utilises a small colour palette (often working with the paper packs children use at school) and finds possibility in the restrictions. “I’ve been working with these papers for a while now and I really like the results I get from them, having a limited palette helps a lot.”
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Spotify Fresh Finds Latin: Antonio Carrau
When designing his shape-focused works, Antonio always recycles as much of his collage work as possible. “One of the best things about working with paper is that every time you cut out a shape you also get negative shapes,” he explains. Often looking up from his intricate work and finding a desk full of inverted designs, “this results in a big library of coloured shapes which can be used within the same project and fit in perfectly.” Piecing together these works is also an intuitive process, an approach the illustrator shares with Paola’s pop playlist, and the resulting energetic feel of the works.
Not only representing the various artists compiled into these playlists, Frankfurt-based illustrator Isu Kim had the task of creating backgrounds visualising the entire Fresh Finds series. Focusing in on the portraits of the signature artists chosen to feature on the playlist’s covers, Isu explains her role was to illustrate the general theme of Fresh Finds.
Focusing on making the designs as unique as the artists she’s representing, this series marked Isu’s first attempt at creating visual works inspired directly by music. Listening to a range of genres to get her in the swing of things, she notes playing tracks from the Indie genre as a basis for the work, particularly calling out bands like Reptaliens and Götterscheiße, especially the latter’s album Das Original, “if you’re interested in German music!” Taking her own position into account when creating the works, Isu aimed to create artworks which imbue the nature of looking for music, and the happiness it evokes when you settle on an artist you like. “It was very interesting to choose colours and drawing objects, imagining various artists and their unique moods,” she describes. “I hope my artworks look similar to how curious and cheerful I felt while drawing.”
This process involved Isu largely working by hand, drawing each piece on paper with acrylic markers and then taking them into Photoshop to further the composition. This mix of practises mirrors Isu’s usual approach too, as an artist who works across disciplines from “painting on canvas, digital drawing and animation,” she describes.
In turn Isu’s backgrounds combine both miniscule and bold detail in illustration style. Like many other contributors, the illustrator has created free flowing shapes to house the artist’s who sit centre stage. Looking closely however viewers will spot more intricate detail, with layers and layers of frequency-like lines sitting on top of one another.
It’s an apt mix considering the levels of inspiration each channeling into the project and across the ten artworks in total, each new explorations further intertwining music and art.
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.