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Mind Melt: A Chat With Graphic Artist Leif Podhajsky

You may recognize his artwork on any number of Pitchfork-approved album covers, including both LPs by Tame Impala, as well as releases from Grimes, Shabazz Palaces, Lykki Li and Foals.

by Zach Sokol
May 7 2013, 6:50pm
All images via Leif's site at his permission

Leif Podhajsky is fast becoming one of the most prolific graphic designers in the industry. You may recognize his artwork on any number of Pitchfork-approved album covers, including both LPs by Tame Impala, as well as releases from Grimes, Shabazz Palaces, Lykki Li and Foals. He's known for his modern take on classic psychedelic art, employing repetitive geometric imagery and swirled-out nature tropes. Podhajsky's website rightfully boasts that his work "explores themes of connectedness, the relevance of nature and the psychedelic or altered experienece." 

Podhajsky recently did the artwork for the upcoming album by Mount Kimbie, and even directed the glitchy music video for Kimbie's addicting single "Made To Stray." Essentially, any up-and-coming hip act may have Podhajsky's fingerprints on its aesthetic identity. Motherboard caught up with the London-via-Melbourne based artist to learn a bit about reconciling being addicted to both work and nature, as well as some of those bands he'd like to collaborate with in the future. 

What was the first work that you got paid for? How do you actually feel about that piece now? 

The first piece I got paid for in graphic design was probably re-doing a medical form [laughs]. It was completely boring and it was just layout and I think I got paid one-hundred dollars. I was pretty happy. I think I kept the check. 

What was the first band you did graphic design for then? 

I think it was actually Tame Impala. I didn't actually plan on doing album artwork. I just started putting stuff up online that I was doing at the time and Modular contacted me out of the blue to do a pitch for their album cover. That was a lucky break. 

Did you study art at university or did you draw a lot as a kid? What led you to this career? 

I was always drawing, but I studied graphic design in college and I studied at a studio in Melbourne for a few years doing traditional graphic design, then I started doing the art-based design stuff. 

Cover of Wax Poetics in support of Shabazz's Black Up LP

Do you need a certain atmosphere to work in--a home office, say--or can you do your work anywhere from a laptop?

I have a home office at the moment but I'm just about to move into a studio. It doesn't really matter that much. I'm simple and I've done a lot of traveling so I've always had a laptop. I used to take pictures of desks I was working on because it would be in Berlin or in Mexico or in New York or London or back in Australia so it was a good way to track my work. It's good to be a little bit settled. I think it's easier to get your head around things. 

I've read in your past interviews in which you describe your art as a connection among nature, altered states, digital techniques, and organic outcomes. Do you often spend time in nature to help focus your art and creativity?

I wish I spent more time. I'm actually stuck behind the computer way too much now. I'm always trying to make time to go out. We usually do in London. We've been doing a lot of hikes recently on Sundays. It's my little escape because London is pretty crazy. 

Do you have an all-time favorite outdoor space? I know you've been all over the world, but do you have one spot that's your ideal outdoor muse?

I would have to say where I grew up in Byron Bay. It's the fucking rainforest in the back of Byron. A few of my friends have got really nice houses out there so I like going and staying out there--waterfalls, rainforests, the works. It's probably the most beautiful place I've been and I grew up there so it's special.

I've also read multiple times that you've said love influences your work. Do you mean literal love, like someone in particular? Or just the general concept of romanticism and affection? 

I think generally! Love in general, man. Love towards other people is important. We all appreciate it and we all need it so it's a core factor of how we communicate and express ourselves creatively. I try to put a lot of good feelings into my work and I think that comes across in the composition and the color.

So how does your work turn out if you're in a negative mental state, if you're feeling depressed or angsty? Does it show or do you avoid working in that kind of mindset?  

I think I try to avoid that. I leave those awful states by working because they always get me in a better headspace. [Work] is my little sanctuary and it keeps me in a good mood. I won't start any new jobs or artworks if I'm in a bad mood. I don't want to translate that negative energy across into the work. Some of my pieces are quite dark and there are darker themes but that's showing the opposite side of love which I always want to explore. 

What other media inspires you? Is there any literature or photography that you're into? Sometimes your work reminds me of the film The Holy Mountain.

Yeah. A lot has influenced me. A lot. Where do we even start? I run a blog called Visual Melt so a lot of my influences are on there. Literature-wise, I really like Murakami. 

He's one of my favorites, too. Have you ever read Wind-Up Bird Chronicle?

That's on my desk right now, I gave it to my girlfriend to read. It's hypnotizing and shocking. I also like Herman Hesse and he's made me feel the same way. Artist-wise I really like Storm Thorgerson, but he just passed away. I always looked up towards him. I also really like Killian Eng, too. All of these people I feature on Visual Melt. 

What computer programs do you use when creating your designs? I can't tell if it's basic Photoshop, or...? 

For my album artwork I usually use Photoshop but I try to use it in strange ways to try and break things almost. I try to come up with outcomes that you usually wouldn't get out of Photoshop. For the Mount Kimbie video I used Adobe Premiere and my friend Colby helped me do the data mashing stuff. I'm not sure what program he used but you can get data-mashing kits and basically overlap two videos and remove certain frames and it causes that glitch. I worked with him on that and we added that in Premiere. 

Was it a tedious process?

It was quite tedious. Getting all the effects layered takes a long time, especially to change anything. I'm used to Photoshop where it's just a flow of go, go, go. But this was quite different from my other stuff. 

This was your first video, right? 

I've done a little bit of video experiments on my site, but this was my first real video.

Could you see yourself doing more in the future? Maybe live action or stop-motion? 

I think so, yeah. It's pretty fun. It'd like to try everything. I've done a lot of live visuals for friends' bands. 

It sounds like you've worked with a ton of your favorite bands and artists. Are there any artists you haven't collaborated with that you have your eyes on? 

There's a young band called The Holydrug Couple. They're really small and I reckon I'd like to do something for them. 

I could see you working with Flying Lotus or anyone on Brainfeeder or We Did It!

Yeah, Flying Lotus or anyone from Brainfeeder would be amazing. I get asked this a lot but I'm always stumped because I listen to so much old stuff. I just did some pitching for Black Sabbath and that would have been a good one to get, but I didn't get it. That was always one that I would have liked to do. I would have loved to have done a Pink Floyd or Hendrix cover. Maybe a Can cover. I think I've gotten pretty lucky with who I've worked with so far. We've all come towards each other and it's been luck. 

It sounds like these are all big freelance projects but would you ever want to turn it into a creative agency or some type of gallery space? 

Yeah, I had an exhibition in London and it was kind of my first step into that. 

What gallery? 

Pertwee Anderson and Gold. It was a group exhibition with another guy. It was interesting to showcase the art side of everything. I'd definitely like to start doing that a lot more. 

Would you focus on graphics or move on to other types of visual art? 

I'd love to move into other types like sculpture. I'd love to start showing my stuff on big-scale platforms and in more galleries. The mesh between digital and physical could be really interesting to display in a gallery.

Cover art, Young Magic's Melt

Based on your aesthetic, I have to ask: Do you ever work in altered states? Do you smoke weed or take other drugs before starting a project?

Never. Never worked that way, really. If I've ever had any experience or trip like that it's always just taking something back from that and putting it into something while I'm working. I'm never really high while working. 

There's that guy named Brian Lewis Saunders who's got that series where he does self-portraits under different substances.

I've seen people's drawings from when they're on acid or coke or whatever and it's interesting to see the difference in what comes out. I once drew some pitches--ages ago--while on an acid trip. 

How'd they turn out?

They were little scribbles and some words but it was fairly interesting. It was mostly words but you know - it was out there. I still rarely work like that though. I hate looking at a computer when on drugs. 

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