Cover Stories: Sam Wolfe Connelly
The new release of Howard Shore’s score for David Cronenberg’s The Brood and Scanners, courtesy of Mondo, has some wonderful Sam Wolfe Connelly artwork on both sides of a gatefold cover. These are perfect accompaniments to Cronenberg’s films, capturing a moment that creates more of a mood than the more shocking scenes of the films. This dual soundtrack is the first time that either score has been pressed to vinyl, and they sound just as thrilling and moody on their own, perhaps conjuring up some of their own dark images. I caught up with Connelly and asked him about the covers and what he might have in store for the future.
How did you first get connected with Mondo for the commission?
It’s strange, a lot of my buds have been doing Mondo posters for a good while now, but the first time I got involved was through the great guys at Mondo reaching out to me for my take on a poster for The Birds. I thought it might have been because one of the artists may have mentioned me, but it wasn’t the case, so I guess we have to attribute it to divine intervention? Or them seeing my stuff on the internet. Probably the internet.
The poster for The Birds is a really nice representation of your work, with the contrast of the light and darkness.
Contrast has always been one of the most important elements to me in my work so I try to really push it when I can.
Do you have any favorite designs of theirs from the past?
I can’t pick just one, but I really love Olly Moss’s stuff as well as Daniel Danger’s. Their work is so solid and never disappoints.
What was the starting point for your Scanners and Brood designs?
I really wanted to capture the same feel of the original iconic posters, but at the same time bring my own depiction to it. I knew I wanted the more central characters as a focal point, but to also incorporate the mood and shock they brought to the screen. I tried to focus on something that would be a mix of recognizable and a bit faceted.
How much was Jay Shaw involved with the finalization of the design?
I basically had the initial concepts of the images already planned out a head of time, and then Jay worked his magic on the layout once the drawings were complete to really bring everything together.
Are you a Cronenberg fan? Did you spend a lot of time with the films before working on these designs?
Before I did the piece I’d seen both the movies once before in high school. Actually, I remember back in MySpace days, I had a head-exploding .gif from Scanners as my profile picture because I thought it was rad as hell. When working on this and re-watching both films a number of times, it made me wonder why I hadn’t watched them more.
That’s great—it makes me want to see your design as a lenticular print.
I’ve actually been trying to look into those recently so we’ll see if anything comes of it…
What about the score?
I love the scores. Both have the teetering balance of building creepy music, to bizarre dream-like tones, to grandiose, in your face booms.
In the liner notes it mentions that Howard Shore didn’t create leitmotifs for specific characters, but more of a mood. Is this how you tackled the artwork?
Definitely. It was important to have characters be represented on the covers, but I tried my best to mask them with enough mood that it didn’t feel like the focus was necessarily all on them.
For Scanners, you’ve tackled an iconic moment but given it a fresh take—how did you settle on this moment for your design?
The original poster is such an iconic signature for the film and I really wanted to explore the otherworldly feel rather than some sort of portrait. I wanted a human element to the piece, but I also wanted the visual incorporation of the supernatural electric feel of the movie.
The Brood work is a little different, focusing more on this bizarre Madonna figure—what influenced that decision?
There’s a lot that’s present in The Brood. There’s so much to depict and it felt like so much of that movie can be placed on the surface with a splash of horror or gore. I really wanted to incorporate that shock, but at the same time give the perspective of the mother who’s on the other side of what the viewers see. I think in a lot of ways that movie has a lot of primal power to it, a lot of mammalian interaction that hides under that surface. I just wanted to bring the brutality and human sides into play.
I like that—leaving some to the imagination as well, whereas you could have very easily shown that final shocking moment where she reveals herself under that dress.
I believe that was an idea in one of my original sketches, but it didn’t seem to work as well with things, to me at least.
What I’ve found interesting about your previous work, and these illustrations as well, is that you oftentimes cover the faces in shadow—what draws you to this kind of image?
I think as humans we read a lot about a character through their face and expressions. I tend to enjoy hiding that part in order to take away the human element from the subject and turn them more into an object of the piece. A lot of my work is based around the mood that I can generate from all the elements within a piece, and sometimes it feels like the presence of a full face distracts from that.
And with both designs you have this inner light shining through their eyes and this halo effect.
Glowing eyes are my jam!
Did you have any alternate design ideas?
There were a couple ideas initially that I was partial to, but I think we went with the strongest ones. I didn’t want to release an alternate with ideas that weren’t as strong, so I’m happy with how it is.
You work primarily with graphite on paper—what do you like about that particular medium?
It’s really just what I’ve always felt comfortable with ever since I started making art. My eye tends to see more clearly in black and white as well, which isn’t always a limitation. I like being able to see the finished drawing in black and white before adding colors digitally because it feels like I’m staring at the nude image before I dress it up with the color scheme. It lets me understand the piece in a more simplistic way I guess.
What was your time at Savannah College of Art and Design like? Is that where you settled on working with graphite?
Almost everything I did in high school was graphite. When I hit college I became a little intimidated thinking that it was a less respected medium because of how basic it is compared to things like etching or painting. I was under the wrong impression that because drawing is such a basic building block of art teachings, that some how dumbed-down the art it created. But that’s why you go through college, look back on yourself and realize how stupid you actually were. It’s never about the medium but how you put it to work. So when I graduated I realized I got the most enjoyment from creating pieces with graphite, which is why I pursued it.
Would you like doing more commissions like this? Do you have any gallery shows coming up?
I really love doing this type of stuff, and there’s a lot more in store that I can’t share yet. I have a few group shows that are a little later in the year, but no solos lined up just yet. I do enjoy doing work like this in between shows though. I’ve got a couple similar things planned out that I can’t quite talk about yet.
How did your recent show at Roq La Rue gallery go?
It went really well! I had a great time in Seattle and really enjoyed meeting the people who made it out to the show. Showing at Roq has always been a pleasant experience.
Who are the artists who you connected with when you first started?
In general, when I moved to NYC after graduating, I made friends with a lot of artists my age who were in the same boat in terms of where they were in there career. I met a lot of them through twitter and felt like we bonded immediately because of that starving artist bond and their desires to maintain a steady art career. I still keep in touch with a lot of them and it’s been great to see their careers grow as the years have passed.
Do you have any favorite album covers?
Its too tough to say man, I really cant narrow it down.
Do you listen to vinyl?
I unfortunately don’t have a record player. I did just buy my dad a new turntable though, so next time I’m visiting home I’ll have to throw this on and give it a real listen.
What are you working on now?
A couple things with Mondo that will hopefully come out soon, and a movie poster that I’ll be able to post in a couple weeks. I’m currently working on a number of other things. A few shirt designs, some larger paintings, and a collection of short stories that I want to publish along with drawings to accompany them. So, a little bit of everything!
I watched one of your AMAs where you talk with art students. It seems like a rather gracious thing to do—why is it important to you?
Because going through the early stages of being an art student you soon realize that there isn’t a manual written that can guide you to the write path to success. When I went through school, the best way I obtained knowledge on how to get jobs and improve my own work is by asking questions to working illustrators. It’s not a field were you get promotions and bonuses based on how well you follow protocol. You’re literally thrown into the middle of the ocean once you leave school and your only deciding factor to sink or swim is yourself. It’s important for everyone in the art community that knowledge can be shared.
To purchase Connelly’s Brood/Scanners LP and to get more information about the upcoming “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” show, visit Mondo.
For more of Connelly’s art, visit his site.