Acclaimed NYC visual artist and illustrator Arik Roper‘s work has become an essential part of the aesthetic to underground heavy (that’s not to say “stoner”) rock and doom. Posters, album covers, shirt designs for the likes of Sleep (both Jerusalem and Dopesmoker), Southern Lord Recordings, Rise Above Records, StonerRock.com, Buzzov*en, Eyehategod, High on Fire, Boris, Ancestors, Mammatus and countless others have made Roper‘s trademark epic and highly detailed style a visual staple every bit as important as Orange amps blasting out Sabbath riffs. There are many albums that just wouldn’t be the same without it.
With one book — Mushroom Magick: A Visionary Field Guide — already under his belt and ever-more praise and exposure being heaped upon his work, Roper‘s growing reputation has him high in the running for one of this generation’s most recognizable artists in or out of the metal underground. His pieces maintain signature elements, like common wavelengths running through them, while subject matter and inspiration vary widely. Adaptable and distinctive, he shows not only the technical development attained from his time at New York‘s School of the Visual Arts, but a natural talent which can come only with time, practice and innate ability.
Roper was kind enough recently to take some time out and discuss via email his artistic process and evolution, how he got started drawing and which piece of classic cover art he most wishes had been his own. Interview is after the jump. Enjoy.
How did you first get into fantasy art and how did you make the jump from there to doing art for bands?
I started off on underground comix and Heavy Metal magazine when I was a kid. There’s a lot of crossover with fantastic art and music so naturally I got into album covers. I was into all the ?60s/?70s psychedelic stuff as well as the fantasy metal album art. That imagery fueled my imagination, I loved the combination of art and music. Like most people, Pushead was an influence. I liked what he did for Zorlac Skateboards and Metallica particularly. In high school, and especially after, I started to doing flyers and shirt designs for some bands and it took off from there.
How technical are you as an artist? You went to school for it, but before that, when you were first starting out, were you self-taught? How did your style develop to where it is today?
I began drawing when I was around three years old, I barely recall a time when I wasn’t doing it. I learned some things from my parents in terms of skills; my mother was an illustrator also. By the time I went to art school, I was well into developing a style. I went through some phases with that. I was mostly into the detailed Pushead, Berni Wrightson, Vaughn Bode, Rick Griffin, Frazetta fantasy style when I got to school, but then graffiti became influential to me in the early ?90s, so for a while I went into that bold graphic style . By the mid ?90s I was so sick of the graffiti influence that I had almost no interest in it. I then kind of came back to the roots of what I was into before, more detailed surrealism fantasy and sci-fi art and classic illustration from the past few centuries.
Is there a particular piece that you?re most proud of? A theme you like working best with?
No particular piece that I like the most, but some I like more than others. I’m open to different ideas and themes, I like landscapes and environments. I’ve been moving into studies of shapes and figures and different mediums. I’m more interested in developing real understandings of natural forms, figures, real life illustrations, light and shadows, human forms, etc. I think artists need to keep growing and expanding their visions, there’s a lot of redundancy in the heavy music art field. It’s been inundated with bones and skulls. I’d personally rather look for inspiration in other parts of the world and I’ve been getting more into “classic” art and painting as fuel for ideas.
If you compare the art for (just an example) Earth?s The Bees Made Honey in the Lion?s Skull and High on Fire?s Death is this Communion [lead image of the feature, above], they show completely different palettes. Are you usually given some idea of what the band or label is looking for visually, or is it up to what you hear in the music?
It’s mostly up to me in all aspects. I try to coax ideas form the bands but often I’m the one who comes up with some ideas and proposes them, then we decide on one. With Death is this Communion, I wanted it to have a bleak unsaturated look, very stark and earthy. On The Bees Made Honey in the Lion?s Skull the palette was the opposite. Dylan [Carlson] from Earth had an idea for that one. He wanted very vivid colors along the lines of Hindu art which was something I referred to. The title relates to a passage form the Bible. I research facets of the themes such as that when working. If a theme refers to a literary or historical event or anything else that isn’t entirely made up by the artist, I’ll study those things while brainstorming. It gives the work a more informed vibe even if it’s not literally spelled out in the art.
A lot of your work has one or two central figures on a large, epic background, sometimes very sparse. What do you feel is the interaction between those depicted and their surroundings in your work?
I’m not sure what that signifies, it’s not often deliberate. Maybe just my preference for composing. I do like the mysteriousness of a figure being alone in a world or up against some natural part of the landscape. It also works well compositionally for me. I tend to have a focal point and much of the surrounding will be drawing the eye toward the focus as opposed to a busy image in which a lot of things are happening at once.
One piece of cover art you wish you?d done?
I guess Space Ritual by Hawkwind. That album is one hell of a combo of elements, the graphic design by Barney Bubbles is perfect. Obviously there are too many others to name but that one stands out as something I’d like to have come up with.
What?s in the works next?
Now that my Mushroom book is done, I’m thinking about doing another book, I don’t know what that will be yet. Mainly just preparing for my show here in New York in October. Brainstorming as always.
Tags: Arik Roper, New York City, Visual art