Chicago's Mick Jenkins isn't afraid of making waves. Last year, his acclaimed mixtape The Water[s] shook several music blogs with an original sinfulness that still managed to drop socially-conscious bombs. Continuing his penchant for unconventional creativity with his upcoming mixtape, Wave[s], Jenkins has added visual accompaniments to his work through a collaboration with painter/graphic designer Hayveyah McGowan that pairs each track with its own unique painting.
With this visual component, the duo hopes to highlight the emotions prompted by the music. Speaking to The Creators Project from Chicago, Jenkins explains that the Wave[s] paintings were born out of a solution to the personal criticisms he received following last year's mixtape. When working within the confines of The Water[s], the Chi-town resident claimed that he was marrying himself to the album's concept too much, thereby restricting his expressionism and hindering the project.
"I was gonna call [the EP] Feel[s]," Jenkins explains, elaborating that the mixtape contains no overarching theme aside from this sole drive to produce material inspired by what he and his producers were, well, feeling at that moment in the studio. "So that's when the idea came," he continues. "It was just like, Why don't I have somebody do the artwork based on how they feel to the music?"
Jenkins admitted that with his previous works, he didn't give much attention to the album cover art ("I made covers on MS Paint before; I just didn't really care"). But in considering his newfound appreciation for his own lyrics, he figured he might as well extend this new dedication to art to the cover art as well.
A quick Craiglist-style post to Twitter requesting a painter to create the tracks' artwork received hundreds of all-too-eager responses. After narrowing it down to three, Jenkins found himself enamored with McGowan's painterly style, particularly for her heavy use of Midnight Marauders-reminiscent brushstrokes. "I think when you can see the brushstrokes it draws emotion," he explained. "I think deep and rich colors draw emotion."
Given the nature of the project—to visualize the feelings a listener has in response to the mixtape tracks—Jenkins was pretty much hands-off in his influence. As a result, it was entirely up to McGowan to serve as a proxy viewer in replicating her subjective experience into a tangible explanation for the music.
"With most of them, the designs were inspired by how the beat moved to me," McGowan explains to The Creators Project. "The colors were like the feeling of the beat so some of them are more exact while others are more abstract and more flowy." For her, the ability to provide a link between the music and the paintings for the audience was a tricky one. Like music, especially with hip-hop, the interpretation of the simplest features of a painting is extremely fluid, regardless of the artist's intent. "I was hesitant, like How abstract can I be?" she admitted. "I eventually got over the whole 'Oh, they have to see it'."
"Alchemy" reflects this more conservative take on abstraction by offering viewers a more instantaneous understanding: utilizing the definition of alchemy, as well as the history of the practice, to construct the lead- and gold-colored lines that form the letter "A".
Her later works, though, adhere more closely to what we might imagine as the ineffability of trying to explain music through sight. Still, between gazing at the paintings online and hearing the verses and beats of the tracks themselves, the connections between the artist and the painter—in this case, a proxy listener—is very apparent.
The track, perfect for the soundtrack to anything between a house party and an uplifting church sermon in the park, reflects the hyped-up enthusiasm with its brighter colors and more utilitarian shape-formations. Meanwhile with "P's & Q's", the malevolent color palette and jaggedness do correspond to the brooding theme channeled by the tracks production and Jenkins' more aggressive rap dynamic.
But, no matter what Mick or Hayveyah may claim the meaning or emotion to be, given such openness of interpretation behind line work and colors, ultimately the true story of each painting lies in the waves of emotions evoked within each listener.
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