Cover Stories: Dan Deacon’s Gliss Riffer
Cover Stories: Dan Deacon’s Gliss Riffer
by Rob Ribera
Dan Deacon’s new album, Gliss Riffer is adorned with artwork by Joanna Fields. Featuring a personified green hand, a lengthy pink tongue rolling out of its mouth, green drool spilling onto the floor–it’s a rather memorable cover. Paired with the music inside, we can understand why Deacon picked Field’s artwork to represent the album. There’s a humor and horror to the troubling image just as there is more to hear underneath the vibrant songs on Deacon’s latest. I spoke with Fields about her process, the album art, and where these characters come from. What follows is a slightly edited version of that conversation.
You went to school at R.I.S.D.?
When were you there?
I graduated in 2008, so I was there from 2004-2008. I majored in Textile Design.
And were there any teachers there who were particularly inspiring to you?
Yeah, I had a couple great teachers, more than a couple. It’s a wonderful school. I guess in my department specifically there’s a woman artist named Liz Collins who was a big influence on me. She was my advisor for my senior thesis project and was always super supportive and, you know, was an influence on my work definitely. And I really enjoy her work as well and respect her a great deal. So she’s definitely one of the more standout teachers I had the privilege of working with when I was there.
When you were down in Providence is that when you settled on your thematic material?
It actually wasn’t. I feel like I had sort of been making kind of the same work since I was a child, pretty much, with the exception of when I was at RISD. I felt like I had to be more serious when I was there. Or I had a different idea of what a serious artist or designer was supposed to look like. I definitely experimented a lot when I was at school and messed around with different aesthetics, but ultimately came back to work that is more similar to what I’m doing now, with the faces and eyeballs and mouths, etc. having those motifs. But I’d say that the type of work that I am doing at the moment definitely started when I was living in Baltimore, honestly. That’s the point when I started really making work on a consistent basis again after a few years of sort of taking a break or not really knowing what my work would be like. I found what I loved to do again when I was living there. And that continues now, and what you see on the Dan Deacon album.
How do these pictures begin? Are they sketched out? What media are you using?
For the illustrations on the album cover, they’re just drawings with pen and markers. Most of my work starts out with a plain line drawing and then I go from there. I do a lot of embroidered work and textile-related work still. It’s something that I love and didn’t really start doing more painting and illustration until recently. But the images you see on the album are just drawings.
How did you first get connected to Dan Deacon?
I’ve known Dan for I think maybe almost nine years now? Ten years? I met him my freshman year at college. He played a show in Providence. That was the first time I met him. And ever since then I would see him when he was touring, and he’s been a friend for quite some time.
It’s interesting then to have started out as a fan, I assume, to then eventually get to create his album art.
Yeah. I’ve always really liked his music and I love going to his live shows. It’s been really amazing to be able to see the progression over the years that I’ve known him, of his work, in addition to being friends with him. So when he approached me about using my work for his album I was pretty floored on top of being excited and flattered. It’s pretty cool to have him ask me to work with him in that capacity for sure.
Were the images that are on the album made specifically for the album or did they previously exist?
The image that is on the cover previously existed. And then he asked me to create a few other illustrations that sort of went with that one for the rest of the work. So the images you see on the back cover and on the inside cover are ones that I made specifically to go along with the green hand. Those are ones I made for him.
Did you get a chance to listen to the music beforehand? Are the images, other than the cover, do they relate to the tone of the album or anything specific?
I didn’t get a chance to listen to Gliss Riffer for when I was making the work, but I’m really familiar with Dan’s other records. I think my work definitely compliments his, the sound of his music. At least I’d like to think so. I was really excited to be able to have my work be associated with his music because I like it so much, and I feel like in some way thematically the images I create are similar to the music that he makes in some way. So it was a really exciting opportunity for sure.
I was thinking about how this album and pairing your work with it is almost pairing the darker side of bright, colorful objects. What draws you to that kind of material, those types of pictures?
I don’t know. I mean, I’ve always loved using bright colors and glitter. I love the excess, like having this over-stimulation and all these details. And they seem bright and their happy, but there’s a darkness to it at the same time. So, I don’t know. I guess I like to have that balance but without having the dark aspects be too threatening. There’s still a humor to it despite the darkness of the imagery.
Is that part of why you use these disembodied parts, or personified hands? It would be different if it were a painting of a human being vomiting.
Right. There’s sort of a playful and psychedelic aspect to the images that I make, despite the fact that they are these creatures with snot coming out of their eyes and they’re bleeding and drooling, and being poked at and pulled at. But they’re euphoric at the same time.
What draws you to using hands and feet and eyes? Those pop up over and over again in your work. Is there something about the extremities that fascinates you?
I guess there’s an innate fascination, but I feel like when I’m drawing it’s the one time that I’m not thinking to death. It’s just what ends up coming out of my creative process. I don’t know where the fascination started, but it’s definitely been something that’s fascinated me my whole life. I look at drawings I did from when I was five and it’s not too different than what I’m making now. Those have always been motifs that have been important to me.
What was the process of creating the inflatable version of the artwork?
I wasn’t super involved in that process. I heard that it was an idea that was being thrown around, but once they had the images I was not a part of the production aspect of it. But seeing the final product and to see my work in that way is really exciting. I love the inflatables and I think that format compliments the image quite well.
They reminded me—I’m assuming that you grew up in the 80s and 90s—these things called “Pillow Pets”?
Oh yeah! I remember Pillow Pets, definitely. [laughs]. I love the size of the inflatables also because, when I first got mine, you really want to interact with it. I thought it would be a lot smaller than it turned out to be. It comes to life in this way that is really cool. I’m really excited that that exists. It’s a really cool object.
Would you be interested in working on music videos or making your work more three-dimensional?
Yeah. I mean, that’s definitely something that I fantasize about. In my own life I feel like there’s so much time, and I want to do everything. You have to prioritize what those things are, but it definitely continuing on that path and doing more three dimensional work would be interesting. Listening to music and collecting records, and going to shows has always been a huge part of my life. So being able to combine my love of music and art together is something that is really cool for me. So I think to pursue something like music videos would be really fun.
Were you involved at all with the “Feel the Lightning” video? I feel like a lot of aspects of your work pop up there.
I was not involved in the video, but it’s great. I wish I was, but yeah, I was not. Although I think it is a wonderful video.
How involved was Dan after picking the cover image, with choosing the other images? Are there images that didn’t make it to the final work?
Yeah, definitely. I wanted to present him with as many options as possible, and then let him pick images that he felt the most connected to. I sent him a lot of other pre-existing images and paintings I had made. But it’s the ones that I specifically made for this project that he ultimately chose. Which is great because they sort of complete the vision that I had. Yeah, he was really involved in the whole process.
Do you give these characters names or stories? And with these ones in particular, what mood were you trying to evoke with them?
You know that’s interesting because a lot of people have asked me a similar question upon seeing the album artwork. It was important to me to make the characters seem like they are somehow related. They’re all friends. They come from the same place. But I don’t really think about naming them or giving them a story, or gender necessarily. It’s just the natural process of what comes out. But I definitely see them as being related or friends in some capacity.
What are you working on now? Do you have a gallery show coming up?
I don’t at the moment. I am working on a lot of drawings and paintings. I also started making one-of-a-kind t-shirts that I hope to have on my webstore. I like being able to have a balance with my work. There’s the paintings and the embroideries, but I also have stickers and prints, and the t-shirts that are more specialized, things that I would be able to afford. So that’s what I’m working on at the moment.
The split between the gallery world and then making tangible objects for people who can’t afford them seems to be important to a lot of people.
Yeah, that’s always a priority to me. I love being able to acquire work by friends and other artists whom I admire and respect. I think it’s important to have that range. I also just love stuff that I can acquire. That’s part of why I like to try and make for other people these special objects that are not alienating because of how much they cost.
Dan Deacon’s tour begins tomorrow, and he is at Brighton Music Hall on May 23rd.
Joanna Fields’ artwork can be seen and purchased at her website.