In the scene of heavy metal, art has always been an important element of the music.
In the old days, skulls and fire dominated album covers and in the early 90's death metal cd covers began being seen with free hand art that was infinitely
more interesting and complex. Artists like Dan Seagrave and Andreas Marschall gave us some truly amazing cover work.
Later, free hand art became much more rare in the realm of metal. Cover art gave way to the computer age and the use of pre-existing photography.
It seemed that some of the very soul of metal was missing. A few true artists surfaced in the later 90's like Wes Benscoter and one new talent from Finland, Juha Vuorma.
Juha Vuorma's art had an immediate visual impact on me. His art is incredibly hard to describe. It appears full of movement, great depth, and individual style.
While Juha has several different techniques, it was his more abstract work that caught my interest most of all.
His paintings are the kind you long to touch and examine the surface closely, eyeing each stroke of the brush and knife.
Juha's work is quite dark, yet not in a traditional sense. His cover work speaks of surrealism and nightmares that one would conceivably never see on the mortal/physical earth,
yet the paintings have strong connection to something organic, something real.
I interviewed Juha about art and music and certainly learned a few things from this modest and gifted artist.
What is your background in art? Do you come from an artistically talented family? Did you attend college for art?
Well I don't think anyone in my family has been really talented in art, or even interested in art.
I've studied mostly by myself.
That's why I've learnt quite slowly and still have a long way to go.
How do you describe your art for people who have yet to see it?
Eh, this is a hard one. But most my album cover work belongs to the so called "fantasy art" genre, maybe rather illustrations than "art". Colorful,sometimes surreal.
From what I can tell, you have 3 main styles, the black and white comics, the traditional paintings (Darkwoods My Betrothed, New Eden etc),
and then the more avant-garde types (such as the Dew-Scented, Nightingale or Immortal Dominion cover works). Do you prefer one of these styles
over the others?
That is true, I do have 2 painting styles and then the
comics stuff. But I don't really prefer any style. I use the one that happens to fit with the subject. And it's like when I've done lots of abstract/avant-garde
kinda original stuff, I like to do some really traditional (or clichee) stuff for a while.
And vice versa.
Getting into technique, what kind of paint and surfaces do you prefer to use for your work?
Mostly acrylic on canvas. But with this avant-gardish style (as you defined it) I use oil, and not necessarily on canvas...I experiment different surfaces.
Can you describe the technique for your avant-garde style? How do you achieve this depth, texture
and richness in color? It often reminds me of RobertVenosa's work in how the light actually seems
to reflect back from the canvas.
What makes it so recognizable and deep, is the fact that I do not use brush(well I do some, but not much), but a palette knife. I mix and scratch the paint with the knife using a technique I've developed myself. By the way, who is Robert Venosa? Was he the guy who has done stuff for Carlos Santana and some others?? I've heard the name, but am not quite sure.
These paintings seem very organic with all the forms that appear as roots, plants or some strange microscopic life. Is nature an important factor in your inspiration to create?
Maybe unconsciously, but I have never really thought of it. I do come from countryside of northern Finland, so maybe it has affected my work. And I would say some my paintings are like landscapes...landscapes of mind or something.
But not all paintings are based on my own concepts and visions though, some are just plain illustrations done exactly the way bands want them.
While being very dark, your paintings are more dream-like than horrific (perhaps excluding In the Garden of Eden).
Where do these images come from?Are they well planned or more spontaneous?
Where do they come from...that's impossible to answer. Not 100% planned,that's for sure.
Many times something just clicks and painting like finds it's own way.
But it does not come easy, much of what I get done is just rubbish that I throw away (of the avantgardish stuff that is).
And not all my paintings are dark, cd cover paintings usually are as that fits with metal music.
What are some artists you admire, both past and present?
Edward Hopper, Munch, Frazetta,
John Kane, many Finnish painters.
There's probably hundreds of excellent painters that I've never heard of...I'm a bit lazy getting to know art history, or today's art scene.
Comic artists that I like are mostly Italian like Ivo Milazzo, Gino D'antonio, Renato Polese and also some others like Sergio Toppi, Hideshi Hino and Didier Comes.
I was heavily into some Italian western comics like Ken Parker and Storia Del West when I was a kid (and they still are my faves).
Tell about your comic work, In The Garden of Eden, Blanco, and Blue Hood, can you tell a bit about each?
Just what is the character of Blue Hood anyway? Would you ever like to work for a major comic company like Image or Marvel?
In The Garden of Eden is a painted comic, without any dialogue. I had never done anything in color and wanted to try.
It has never been printed, as no one in the underground comics scene can afford colors . It's just this one short story. Won't be more work under that title, I guess.
[Note: In the Garden of Eden WAS published after all, in full color tabloid size graphic album called Prophecy Anthology 1, distributed by Diamond. © Sequent Media Inc. 2004, San Diego USA.]
Blanco is a western comic, kinda surreal with some strange humor.
This shows lots of influences from those Italian westerns mentioned before. In theartwork I mean.
Blue Hood is a humor comic, newspaper strip. That fellow is a panda bear or an elf or whatever.
Anyway he lives in the forest and has his own way to see things.
He's always in conflict with bureaucracy because of his unique way to think.
The comic is maybe a little like Jeff Smith's Bone.
Blue Hood comic strips have been published by some local newspapers in Finland.
Working for some major comic company would be an OK way to make a living, but that's not a realistic thought
as American comic book companies are definitely not hiring artist's from Finland.
There's more than enough professionals available in USA for them.
What do computers represent to you in the realm of art creation? Do you ever feel they endanger your profession as a free hand 'real' artist?
Should 'real' artists have to drop their paintbrushes and move to a mouse and keyboard merely to adapt to the digital world?
I think computer art has already conquered very large part of illustration field.
Underground metal was the only music genre to value handicrafts in the past. You know, no synthesizers and machines in the music, and on cover a painting,
not just any photo or something like that.
But it has changed. Most of the cd covers are computer art nowadays...and that's sad.
Computerized images look very good and sell the cds, but still they do lack something human. Not so much personality.
I prefer to stick with painting at the moment. Can't afford equipment for digital art right now anyway.
Are you a fan of metal music? Some artists such as Dan Seagrave were not fans of metal, yet became well known in the metal scene.
Does music itself inspire your work?
What are some of your favorite bands or musicians?
Yes I am, and always have been.
But I've also always listened to other styles of music as well. Music does sometimes inspire my work.
As I'm familiar with different types of metal I also have "instinct" that helps to create a picture that fits just that band's music.
Would be difficult if I wasn't into metal.
Most of my faves are from the 80's, that's when I really got into music.
I like Overkill, Celtic Frost, Riot, Rods, Savage Grace, Jack Starr's first solo album, Razor, Ritchie Blackmore's most projects,
Molly Hatchet,Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Oak Arkansas, Doc Holliday , Kashtin, John Campbell, Blackfoot,New Model Army and much, much more - all kinds of stuff.
If a person wants to hire you, what are your prices? Are you anywhere near making a living doing your art?
I'll negotiate it with interested band/label.
No, I'm not making a living, not a chance! That would be impossible. Just a rather expensive hobby (financially a hobby,
of course art itself is more than a"hobby" for me).
Questions and introduction by Scott Crinklaw.