Jonathan Zawada on Flume, the Power of Album Art, and Why Electronic Musicians Like Working with Him
"It's so funny that when music is put alongside the work, suddenly people see the art in a different way as well.”
Jonathan Zawada is an Australian artist living in LA, but you’ll see him everywhere. The former Sydneysider—actually, he’s originally from Perth—has spent a prolific past few years designing album art, building furniture, painting, drawing, and sculpting. You’re as likely to come across his work in a gallery as you are on the cover of an EP.
It seems like juggling projects comes naturally to Zawada, but maybe not. “It never quite feels balanced; it always feels like I’m just responding to whatever’s going on,” he tells The Creators Project. “It never feels under control.”
Still, you can’t argue with the results: collaborations with musicians like Flume and Mark Pritchard, commissions from Nike, and gallery shows around the world.
“I like having things on that are varied,” he says. “I guess a lot of the work, especially if it’s painting or drawing or 3D work, can be quite involved—and you have to spend days and days chipping away at. So I like to be able to have a break and do something else that’s totally different.”
Much of Zawada’s work is digital, so switching things up and making furniture or objects by hand is a nice change of pace from sitting behind a computer. “Working with materials feels very pure in a way, and I could just do it forever without running out of thoughts,” he explains. “I’ve found that if I do enough different stuff it sort of balances out,” he says. “I don’t get too sick of working for clients if I have some art projects and I don’t get too sick of all the annoying things that are present in the art world if I have some client jobs. And I don’t get too stuck in my own head either.”
Zawada has been working with record labels for years, starting out creating art for Wolfmother and Tame Impala. He always found it "sort of strange" that bands wanted the album to look very much the way the music sounded, but appreciates how these two creative expressions feed into each other. “I guess music has no real visual component, so musicians within a genre start making album covers that look a certain way, that’s when people start thinking that’s how the music looks as well,” he says.
His work has now become especially associated with the electronic music genre, having created art for The Presets, Baauer, Muscles, Classixx, Rustie, Mark Pritchard and, recently, Flume for the cover of Skin.
Zawada muses that electronic artists gravitate towards him because they both share technology as a tool to be grappled with. “They’re also struggling to resolve how you can create something that feels true and organic and human,” Zawada suggests.
Zawada talks about the reciprocal relationship between music and art; how not only do visuals give a more tangible meaning to music, but music can likewise breathe new life into art and help people make sense of it. He explains that he exhibited a version of the Skin artwork about a year before the album was released—and that he had shown other versions with similar digital flowers in gallery shows—but they hadn't received much interest at the time. "Nobody bought them, nobody commented on them. It's so funny that when music is put alongside the work, suddenly people see the art in a different way as well.”
But that’s the power of the album cover, so linked to the music it represents and part of pop culture. “I had a really good chat with a curator who has a gallery in LA about the reach of a good album cover. The cultural reach of that unit is so much more powerful than any single piece of artwork in a gallery,” he says. “There are very few artworks that people have a really strong personal connection to in the way that they do to album covers.”
Peter Saville, the veteran art director for Factory Records, is a big influence. “His whole ethos of turning physical records into objects of beauty in people’s homes is inspiring. I was really aware of it for so long, but it took me ten years to figure out what that actually meant.”
"...grace is the only way you can get a follow back and forth…" (2015)
It’s difficult to pin Zawada down. He’s going to keep making things, and he wants to surprise people. The album covers will continue, as will the hundreds of other projects—but the genres might change. “I’ve always wanted to do an album cover for this metal band Meshuggah,” he says. We’d recommend that the Swedish rock group get in touch.
You can watch Jonathan Zawada in our Visionaries video here:
This article is presented in partnership with IBM.