Within the musical territory we all devour daily, there’s an enormous scope for artwork that enhances the way we listen. Cover art really can make or break a release. The range of atmospheres, sounds and themes that have evolved out of the metal underground and other left-field styles has beckoned a diverse breed of artist to flourish in recent times. The zenith of album artwork perhaps lies between the Justin Bartletts and Stephen Kasners of the world, but allow Lurker to introduce you to a brilliant artist at a more grass-roots level. Black Uroborus (aka Stephen Wilson) is a New York-based artist with a penchant for metal, mythology, Lovecraft, nature and spiritual decay. If you’re a kvlt motherfucker you may have already come into contact with his designs in the form of the beautiful VOMM cassette, Black Catharsis. And expect to see a lot more of his work each time you visit the site as Stephen has (very generously) donated us an incredible logo. Undoubtedly an artist of great talent, without further ado I give you Black Uroborus.
Why are you an artist, and at what point did you realise you had become one?
It came at a very early age for me. For as long as I can remember, drawing was one of the things I identified with most. It was actually a recent revelation that being an artist is my destined path, one of which I’ve gravitated towards and had a deep connection to since I could pick up a pencil and draw. I’ve just taken a while to find my “skin”, so to speak. It was always somewhat of a hobby for me when I was younger, yet as I’ve grown older I began to take it more seriously. When you have a lot of strange thoughts and no real way to express them, being an artist is the perfect outlet to embrace.
Could you tell us more about your work? What would you say influences you to create such art?
Most of my inspiration comes from, though it sounds clichéd, general misanthropy. Reverance for nature and the destruction of human kind is a rather large focus of mine; an idea I’ve resonated with for quite some time. It seems to permeate through my work quite a bit as I’m fascinated by trees and roots swallowing up the creations of mankind. Music often deals a rather large influence for my work as well, ranging from black metal, death metal, drone, noise, neofolk and so on. For me, the likes of Urfaust, Circle of Ouroborus, Portal, Dead Reptile Shrine, One Lifeless Eye, and Instinct, to name a few, are HUGE influences on my state of mind. I lose myself in them, and that is often the state I am in when certain images and visions make themselves known. At times, I’ll light some candles, turn off the lights, and begin drawing in darkness without any real motive. What starts as just a bunch of lines on a page slowly begins to transform into something else entirely, and then I take it from there. In other cases, I get it while reading, or at the point where I’m just about to drift off to sleep. My dreams haven’t been as potent lately, but some weirder imagery has come about from them, though they don’t always result in drawings right away. Some exist in sketch form, until I feel confident to approach them head on at a later date, while others have been floating around my head for quite some time. To give an example, back in highschool I had a strange dream where I was watching a man on a dead hill beneath an olive sky, wretch and writhe while vomiting up fragments of trees. One of these days I’m sure I will finally approach it, I just feel that now is not the time. Another image that made itself known to me a few months ago I managed to sketch out, and was actually inspired by Portal. Before I had fallen asleep, this strange, but very vivid image of a Buer like demon, hovering over a hole in a cave came slithering into my head, so I scrambled out of bed and started to sketch it out a bit. After seeing them live here in New York (which was INCREDIBLE!), I was inspired to flesh it out a bit more. One day I’ll turn it into a full fledged illustration if appropriate.
There seems to be a strong occult feeling running through your work. Would you agree, and where do you think this interest has come from?
I do agree that there’s an occult undercurrent, or at the very least, a connection to those subjects. Most of the imagery in my work arrives subconciously at the moment, and later on I notice connections to it that are not too far off from the feelings I attempt to evoke. My interest comes from a very natural obsession, and as a result, I’ve started to research these subjects more and more as of late. I think a better understanding will help control and tame the interest at large, opening up a completely new realm for me to explore artistically. I definitely don’t want to include things for the sake of including them without actually understanding their meaning, thats the last thing I’d ever want to do. There are a lot of people out there who will take symbols and ideas and misappropriate them wildly under the guise of “evil”, when the two are hardly related. To get back on track though, much in the same way my artistic path revealed itself to me, my interest in this is just gravity that I can’t escape. It is something that resonates within me on many levels, and there’s this feeling I get that ignoring it would be a very real waste of my talent.
Do you have any particular artistic training, or is it something you’ve come into alone?
I had quite a bit of artistic training throughout highschool and an art college I attended. My father’s side of the family is fairly artistic, so there’s no doubt in my mind that I would have come into it on some level without the aid of school. However, it helped me get closer to getting a better grasp upon what I am capable of. Right now, I feel as though I have to constantly cleanse my brain of the bad habits I’ve been instilled with in college. They wanted meaningless, fancy, shiny and pretty artwork with little depth and a lot of style. Explosive color, odd compositions, and an almost A.D.D. obsessed inclusion of seemingly random elements that are all fluff and no substance. I never placed much of any value in making artwork to illustrate an article about Obama’s policy versus McCain, fashion, or spot illustrations about skinny dipping. They’re hollow subjects for me that hold little weight, and so I struggled quite a bit throughout the classes where those ideals in particular really mattered. My heart just wasn’t in much of the bullshit and it really started to show by the end. That’s not to say the entire experience wasn’t valuable on some level, some teachers proved to be ultimately invaluable. In the end, they’ve helped me realize who I really am and where I stand as an artist, and for that I am truly grateful. It’s all just a matter of taking the good with the bad. Once I graduated last summer and had some time to myself to draw and paint, I began to delve more intensely into some of the visions and ideas floating around in my head, exploring these things on my own terms. The last of the superficial ideas began to run dry a few months ago, and some more intense feelings and ideas that I’m more at home with have started to come about, stronger than ever. As stated before, I believe now I have found my skin, and so I’m looking forward to showing the world what I have to offer.
Your work is mainly intended for use in conjunction with musical projects: CD covers, T-shirts, logos etc. What is your preferred artistic medium to get the best results in this area? Digital or organic?
Indeed… music is something where I feel visuals and sound should converge and meet. The artwork should be another form of expression for the music and vice versa. I find it really saddening sometimes when you see an album with incredible artwork and people who can barely play their instruments, let alone write an engaging song. Then there are those cases where the music is excellent, but often you’ll overlook it because it looks as though a five year old drew the cover. I’d like to try and avoid those things and work with musicians who are serious and talented when it comes to their craft, but at the same time visually present their work with the respect and dignity that it deserves.
As for media, at first I started out doing a lot of digital work, but over time I’ve come to realize that using the digital medium is more of a liability than a genuine tool for making artwork. I do admit I happen to use it for some projects still, it can’t be helped, but I prefer to distance myself from it altogether whenever possible. There are some people out there who can do some amazing things with Painter and Photoshop, but at the end of the day, I prefer to have the piece of artwork in my hands. Data isn’t corporeal and it loses a bit of it’s soul when it can easily be printed out and reproduced, or worse, lost. I think for the variety of artwork I’m interested in pursuing over the course of my lifetime, the digital medium would only serve to disrespect it. A hand’s touch is what gives the artwork more of a soul, a reason for being. In terms of ACTUAL medium, pencils and acrylic inks are my personal favorites. Watercolor is something I have been working with as well, but that’s another story altogether. It’s like learning how to draw all over again. At heart, though, I am a draughtsman, and I will forever be such.
Run us through some of your past projects.
Well, my current career as a “professional” is rather limited, but the few things that I’ve done post-college were the covers for Goatdro)n)e) – “III” and the packaging, layout and cover for VOMM – “Black Catharsis”. I’ve also produced logos for Llihje (whom I’ve also done some artwork for), Pink Disaster (who I believe are defunct), Algea, and some personal logos for projects I wish to undertake in the future. My portfolio, however, will be expanding very much this year. The visual madness is underway!
What are you currently working on, and what do you have coming up?
Currently I’m working on some artwork for the record label, Hell Lies in Others, and I’m also working with another, more secretive label that I’m unable to really go into detail about. I think a lot of people will be interested in hearing what it has to offer when it’s finally unveiled. I’m also working on some artwork for Sutekh Hexen for their tape “Ritualistic”, and not long after that, Mazakon Tactics along with a few others. I’m not sure if I can mention any of the other things I happen to be working on at the moment, but interesting things are in the works. One of which I happen to very excited about, as I’m working with a musician whose work I truly respect and I feel our collaboration will result in something really special by the year’s end. Things have been a bit slow in the past, but the momentum is slowly increasing and things are going rather well. As I’ve said before, my portfolio will be drastically expended by the years end. I have Richard behind Hell Lies in Others to thank for that. He’s been a great person to work with, his drive and passion for the music is admirable, and above all, he’s someone who I respect a great deal and have found a friend in. He’s certainly helped me get closer to pursuing the kind of work and projects I love to do. For that I’m eternally grateful.
Do you have a particular favourite project within your portfolio?
The illustration that came around from working with VOMM is something I’m incredibly proud of. “W.E.” is a great person to communicate with, very talented and we definitely had something in common between the music and the artwork, which is great. The one thing I’m happiest about is being able to create something that the musician feels a connection with in regards to the material present on the tape. Working with VOMM was definitely a stepping stone into a brighter (darker?) future, and I look forward to the possibility of working with him again.
Have you ever been approached by any bands that you’re a fan of?
At the moment, not exactly. There are a few things that have come up with bands I admire, but nothing is absolutely concrete yet, so we’ll see how that goes. It’s mostly been “communication by association” with Hell Lies in Others, at the moment, but outside of that I’m usually the one approaching the bands. I’m confident that as time goes on, things will change. I feel the future holds many great things.
How are the economics of being an artist? Can you support yourself on commissions alone, or do you have to hold down a day job as well to supplement your income?
Supporting myself on my art is still far off, but I’m quite alright with that. Money was never the goal for me and I’m not entirely concerned about it at the moment. Sure, it would be amazing if I could make a living off of my artwork, but I’m perfectly okay with having to get a day job to supplement my income (one of which I’m currently still looking for). I think for me, that’s the thing… This is something I enjoy doing. The world could fall down around me and as long as I can do my artwork, it can provide me with more satisfaction than a paycheck ever could. For the time being though, I’m doing okay. Hopefully by next year, things will be much better, but as we all know, in a year’s time we could be living a real version of the game “Fallout” (yes, yes… I am a total nerd).
(Us too. Fallout 3 is game of the year, all years.)
Do you have any other creative endeavours that you pursue outside of visual art?
Absolutely. Within the past year I’ve taken up playing guitar, and for the past 11 years I’ve had an on and off relationship with drums. Unfortunately, there’s no place for me to keep them at the time being, but when I get the chance to actually play, it’s pure bliss. I also have some noise equipment (one of which was built for me by my good friend Evan of Frailty of Angels). I’ll also be participating in a to-be-named project soon enough, so that should definitely be interesting. As a solo endeavour, I’ve had varying degrees of success, though there is no finished music from my corner as of yet. It’s probably not a surprise, but I have some ideas for bizarre black metal and some bizarre, noisy doom. We’ll see what happens. Evan has said “Get a fucking demo together!!” after I had sent him a few things I’ve been working on, so I’ve been doing just that. He’s an incredibly talented guy, both musically and artistically, prolific as fuck and a really close friend. His output has motivated me quite a bit in recent times, and if it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t be doing this interview.
Are there any specific famous artists or artistic movements that you would say influence your work?
So many artists… Zdzisław Beksiński, Wayne Barlowe, Odilon Redon, Francisco de Goya, Denis Kostromitin, Justin Bartlett, Michael Canich, Francis Bacon, some of the fine folks over at Doom Forever, Forever Doomed, etc.
Zdzisław Beksiński’s work has had the greatest impact on me as an artist. He never placed much meaning behind the images he conjured up (or so I’ve read), but a lot of them resonated with me as soon as I laid eyes on his work, and found them to be synonymous with much of how I feel about this world we live in.
Francisco de Goya is another of my favorites… amongst many of his more traditional pieces, he painted quite a few bizarre images along with his gruesome depictions of war.
Justin Bartlett is quite an obvious mention, his work has really inspired me to pursue the things I’ve always wanted to. I don’t doubt many people who are reading this are already familiar with his work, and appropriately so. Disgusting, brutal, and everything inbetween, but he does it with such finesse and it’s nice to see someone getting attention without compromising in the least.
Michael Canich is also a very talented individual and his work reads like comics on an acid trip. They really have to be seen to be believed, as the intricacy of his work is nothing short of stunning. He recently put out a small zine called Doodle Attack #1, which I’m pretty sure by now is sold out. Hopefully a 2nd one will manifest at some point.
Last, but most certainly not least, Denis Kostromitin, who I’ve spoken to quite a few times, is a really talented individual. His work is incredible and rife with sophistication and hidden imagery. He’s currently building a website to show off his artwork. When you see it, it will completely blow your mind. He also has a project called The Wendigo’s Grave, which is fantastic, and appeared on Dead Reptile Shrine’s Burning Black Infinity (for which he also painted the cover). Total respect for him and his work.
Any final words of wisdom? Maybe some advice for those hoping to become professional artists and illustrators?
There aren’t any tricks, smoke and mirrors, or shortcuts. Getting to a point of being an artist takes work, practice, dedication and an unpoisoned state of mind. It’s a frustrating, lonely existence being an artist sometimes, one that is both rewarding and damning. For those looking to pursue the arts, draw, and keep drawing. Draw everything. Carry a small, 4×6 sketch book and draw everything, even the most mundane things. Draw people on the subway, bus or train, trees, statues, your room, your hands, your instruments, your family, friends, animals. Don’t focus on a style, that’s a one way ticket to sabotaging your own efforts. It’s best to just let it grow naturally. Look at other artists, visit museums, take mental notes, and be honest about yourself and who you are. It’s a long, twisting, forever changing road… one of which I will be on until the day I am dead.