Category: Art

A Perfect Monster

A perfect monster: John Dyer Baizley
A Perfect Monster is the artistic alias that implies surrealistic associations and describes best John Dyer Baizley, Baroness frontman, guitarist, and songwriter. He manages to combine the roles of an influential rock star, accomplished fine artist, and a devoted family man seemingly with ease and always with a disarming smile. It is debatable if his fine art or musical creations prevail in his work. Highly valued as a musician as well as graphic artist, he is always driven by the belief that the album art and music must work together in “unique and special way”. Actually, his both passions interlace and boost each other. Having what he calls "a lifelong interest in art", since his early age he has been encouraged by his parents, with background in art and wide interests themselves. His mother, Susan Baizley recollects,
"His Christmas presents were always art materials until I bought him his first guitar at 7 or 8. I bought him a snare drum before that. Everyone said, “I can’t believe you’d buy a kid a snare drum!” And I’m like, “Well, I wanna know where he is.” (Decibel, issue 81)
As for his formal professional training - he withdrew from the Rhode Island School of Design after attending it for three years. After a period of break from making art of any kind, it was the start of Baroness that kicked him off into action again. The band became the reason for the creation of outstanding album art resulting in a coherent outcome, which he explains,
"I try to make sure that there are points of synchronicity between the two, so there are references within the artwork to the music and vice-versa. The whole thing is meant to be taken at once." (Rock-a-Rolla, issue 38)
For a decade now, he has been creating the artwork for Baroness's music releases. The work on the newest one, Yellow and Green lasted for 200 hours and gave life to an impressive fairy tale of creatures that are tenderly feminine yet seriously intent like ancient nature deities. The swans are everywhere in the wonderland of Yellow and Green loading it with fertile symbolic meaning. On the album art, they are mostly black, making the white one among them seem out of this world; engaged in a fable that hints to Swan Lake or Leda and the Swan transposed into an absurd setting in the habit of Lewis Carroll and Terry Pratchett. Horseshoe nails, wreath of teeth, prawn headpieces, chrysalis necklaces - surprising details in both the imaginative storytelling and the precise graphic execution complete the entire tapestry-like epic beauty. A year later, after appalling experiences for Baizley and Baroness, the swan has transformed like in a grotesque version of The Ugly Duckling to have not one but three graceful skull-headed necks.
"We take the artwork as seriously as we take the music, we take the lyrics as seriously as we take the artwork and, by extension, the music. We treat the entire band as an art project. Something that encompasses the prosaic, the poetic, the visual, the audible, everything is meant to be cohesive and coherent. ..... We have to put something into the designs of our records that's relevant to us; it has to have some deep-seated meaning..."(FRET12, Dec 1, 2009)
His diverse interests in music and art enrich the context of his own work. For Decibel magazine, he tells about some of the records that have had a huge impact on his career, both in music and in art, and the things about them that stroke him irreversibly. And indeed, looking at his works it's all there - the feeling of "losing oneself" in BLACK SABBATH's BLACK SABBATH, the "hammer to the face" impact of BLACK FLAG's MY WAR, the fantastic delicateness of YES's RELAYER by Roger Dean, the anxiety and fatality of DAMAD's BURNING COLD by Pushead and the depth, mystique and nonliteralness of JESUS LIZARD's LIAR. Enviably productive, Baizley creates the artwork for many other musicians’ issues. Diverse music genres like the melodic death metal of Darkest Hour and the rap-funk-comedy of Flight of the Conchords, the grindcore of Pig Destroyer and the folk/country of Gillian Welch are bonded by his affection for their music and the understanding that the visual has to complete it to mold into an absolute subject of art. All his works are posed in picturesque sceneries with vivid expression. Luxuriant floral life, inspired by the years he lived in the blossoming environment of Savannah, Georgia and executed with almost anatomical accuracy, fills his works with colorful brightness. His highly detailed drawings and precise strikes draw a reminiscence of Durer, while he would rather express his admiration for Rembrandt. His artistic style bears Art Nouveau whiplash lines and opalescent stained-glass-picture colors that easily connect with Mucha and Tiffany. The artwork is very intricate and comprehensive, often featuring alluring young women, surrounded by flora and fauna galore, involved in vaguely Neoclassical-looking fantasy plots with hidden explanation forming almost iconic imagery.
"My goal is to find a narrative and theoretic balance without seeming either too overtly pretentious or too simple and comical."
The world he builds is dwelled by haunting stories of awesome beauty: the Magpie Lady, the Owl King and the Frost Queen with antler crown, and the Wheat Face's slipping charm... to mention a few of the many. The themes bring to mind classical characters like Europa, Daphne and Laocoon, and the anthropomorphic creatures of the mythological Romanticism of Vasnetsov and Bilibin. His canvases provide abundant food for contemplation of skillfully crafted animals and objects that have the appearance of essential, but obscure esoteric symbols. His techniques are traditional, ranging from pens, inks, watercolors, and ink washes to oil and acrylics and he says the traditional media is where he is the most at ease. (Crustcake, May 23, 2008) He favors the feeling of the natural touch of the paper grain and with the same importance - the personal connection with each person who has his prints - that's why for years he sold them almost exclusively at shows. Keeping in that tradition, he maintains a small operation for the sale of his private stock. He works together with Burlesque of North America creative studio to offer to his fans limited edition hand-painted collectibles, with the personal touch of bright and unexpected custom variations in watercolor, signed, numbered, and embossed by him, that hopelessly sell out. His artwork is widely sought-after as tattoo design and he shares on his website that he loves to see photos of his work translated into this art form. He himself wears the work of Liam Sparkes of the Brooklyn located East River Tattoo, Thomas Hooper of Rock of Ages in Austin, Texas, Brian Mullen of Art Freek Tattoo in Providence, Rhode Island, among others. In 2009, the Metropolis Gallery hosted his notable debut show with a collection of past works, original working sketches, prints and more. His works were exhibited in Europe for the first time at Gust van Dijk Gallery of Contemporary Art in Tilburg, Netherlands in 2013 in the frame of Roadburn Festival shown in the entirety of the process – from sketch to painting, followed by other appearances including the Berliner Liste and Contemporary Istanbul Art Fair.
"The point of playing this music, the point of making this artwork is to create some sort of challenge, or offer some sort of alternative or opinion. Or, just to get a little weird. ..... it doesn’t matter as long as you’ve got an individual voice both on paper and on record. I think it’s important that we all continue to do what we do." (Decibel, July 29, 2013)