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Making the Art of Explosions in the Sky's 'The Wilderness' [Premiere]

To create the art for the band's forthcoming album, 'The Wilderness,' Chicago-based artist Jacob van Loon made 2D drawings look 3D with a network of geometric lines.
February 17, 2016, 2:30pm
Images courtesy the artist

In geometry as in art, the line is a major presence. Yet each field defines and implements it in different ways. In Chicago-based artist Jacob van Loon’s work, the geometric line and artistic line fuse in hypnotic harmony, with geometries that recall architectural drawings, cartography, x-y-z graphs and even cubist works, which serve as a latticed foundation upon which the artist then paints abstract watercolors. Van Loon’s latest work, 8th & Main, is one such painting.


Commissioned by the band Explosions in the Sky and Temporary Residence Ltd for the Texas group’s forthcoming album The Wilderness, the piece's process appears today in a new video, exclusively on The Creators Project, where directors Jeremy Bird and Jeremy deVine of Temporary Residence Ltd show van Loon at work. The artist’s meticulous and time-consuming detail-oriented work is set amidst an exclusive score by Explosions in the Sky, based on The Wilderness track “The Ecstatics.”

“The piece I made for The Wilderness is a continuation of a style and technique I've been developing for the past five years,” van Loon tells The Creators Project. “The initial discussions I had about imagery with Chris [Hrasky] and Mark [Smith] showed me the whole band's process of writing and composing shared common ground with my own process and influences. I was able to listen to the album while I worked on the piece, and I spent a lot of time considering how the music was allowing me to piece together a visual story without an established narrative.”

Van Loon is inspired as much by 19th century American architecture as he is Midwestern river towns. He usually paints about his past experiences with architecture and space—how the embellishments of those personal memories can interfere with objectivity.

“The appearance of the finished painting doesn't point to a specific place,” he says. “It's a synthesis of experience and memory that translates to a landscape with it's own ecotones.”


Though van Loon shuttles back and forth between various mediums depending on his whims and what best suits the concept of the work, he likes watercolor because of its inherent unpredictability. When he paints with watercolor, as he does in 8th & Main, he considers the sacrifice of control while working.

“Most of my work is meticulous and calculated, [and] I'm inclined to try and make the media behave in a certain way,” van Loon explains. “The grid structure in graphite is that force of control. I sketch out the composition repeatedly on the finished surface and sandwich sketches between layers of primer to understand the space and physical size of the surface.”

“By the time I have a final sketch, the layers of primer are caked up and full of valleys and ridges created by broad brush strokes,” he adds. “When I'm ready for color, it's not just about pragmatically filling in the spaces, it's about putting paint down, letting it travel in the valleys and ridges, and seeing where and how it all comes to rest.”

Explosions in the Sky guitarist Mark T. Smith tells The Creators Project that when they were looking for artwork for their new record, they became immediately enthralled with van Loon's work. His existing artwork had all those elements they wanted for the album’s concept—”terror, a beauty, a structure, an abstraction, a wildness.”

“Rather than picking an existing piece, though, we wanted to see if he could make something specifically for the record,” Smith says. “We sent him the songs as soon as we came out of the studio. We exchanged a few emails, a few thoughts about colors and themes, a few descriptions, but his resulting artwork was largely a surprise to us. It came as a finished piece and we were blown away.”


Given the level of detail in his grids, van Loon produces something like a three-dimensionality in 8th & Main and his other works. These days, a computer program could construct the intricate grids in a very short amount of time. But there’s something special about van Loon’s time-honored process—something more human and less algorithmic in this age of automation.

Explosions In The Sky – The Wilderness (Art Process Video) from Explosions in the Sky on Vimeo.

Explosions in the Sky’s The Wilderness is out April 1 on Temporary Residence Ltd. Click here to check out more of Jacob van Loon’s work.


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