Jean-Paul Sartre, Francis Bacon and the existential artwork of Methyl Ethel’s Triage

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Following his record sleeve series on VF last year, graphic designer and writer John Foster will hone in on one album cover a month, discussing the finer details of the design, and the processes behind it. This month, it’s Methyl Ethel’s Triage.


Methyl Ethel
Triage
(4AD)

Cover Painting: Loribelle Spirovski
Design: Philip Laslett

It’s impossible to not be enthralled by Loribelle Spirovski’s painting on the cover to Methyl Ethel’s Triage album. Her faces are formed of a mix of layered oils and aggressive techniques and are paired with simple acrylic shapes, smooth backgrounds and fancifully loose linework. Spirovski’s style often reminds me of Francis Bacon defacing someone else’s work, and it is hard to think of a higher compliment.

The piece has a deep musical connection that might come as a surprise, in that it is a portrait of her husband, concert pianist Simon Tedeschi. Methyl Ethel frontman Jake Webb was drawn in at an opportune time. “I’d just finished reading The Age of Reason by Jean-Paul Sartre and was still dripping with the profundity of that experience when I found her painting, which shares the same title,” he explains.

“Having just reached somewhat of an age of reason myself the holy trinity of coincidence was complete. The painting itself references masters that I am a great admirer of whilst still being embedded with idiosyncrasies belonging to Loribelle’s own style.” Webb purchased the work from her gallery and then put his manager on the task of negotiating its use on the sleeve.

Another visual key was continuing the style and themes that Webb had already established with previous packaging for the band. “I find that the painting also shares geometric and thematic motifs from the works I chose for my first two album covers. Its modern aesthetic and personal, contemplative mood perfectly summarise my abstracted feeling with this record.”

Art Director Philip Laslett agreed that the artwork felt part of the family, and with Spirovski a fan of the band, the match was complete. “It’s a real honour and it’s so interesting for me to see how something that I created can be interpreted in a different way and still really resonate with another person’s vision,” she adds.

While securing the artwork was incredibly important, there were more areas left to design. “I decided to use the shapes and colour palette that Loribelle established to come up with other ‘forms within rooms’ that were sympathetic to her artwork,” Laslett explains. He also wanted to build on what they had done earlier on other visual aspects for the band.

“The logo and type was a reinterpretation of the previous design, keeping it very much hand drawn, but using paint and brush this time for a more loosely bold feel,” he adds.

The final result provides a look into a flowing world where lines pull you into narrowing rooms, and shapes dance about, continuing the magic of the painting that graces its cover in every aspect of the packaging.


John Foster is the author of Album Art: New Music Graphics (Thames & Hudson), New Masters of Poster Design (Rockport) and numerous other books. As principal of his design firm Bad People Good Things he has designed hundreds of record sleeves for everyone from Teenbeat to Warner Bros.

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