20 Visual Artists You Need To Know In 2020
Without their visual aspects, rock and metal just wouldn’t be as fun. Sure, there will always be something about music that energizes listeners in a way that a painting of movie simply cannot — but a cool album with a lackluster cover is inherently flawed. Rock’n’roll art will always help define the genre, creating broader aesthetics — color palettes, drawing styles, high- or lowbrow attitudes — under which cultures and genres can be identified and celebrated.
There are thousands of artists around the world toiling away to create awesome rock art, but here are 20 of them that jump out at us as part of rock’n’roll’s visual future…
You might have seen Tom Neely’s art on posters for acts like Wolves In The Throne Room, or in the bizarre homoerotic comic zine Glenn & Henry Forever. But it’s The Humans, his comic book series set in a Planet Of The Apes universe during the early ‘70s, that best captures his unique mixture of outlaw toughness and sci-fi insanity. With the next segment of The Humans in the works — an ape-populated prison story currently titled The Jungle — it’s safe to say Neely is becoming one of outsider art’s most noteworthy talents.
Daniel “Sawblade” Shaw
When it comes to minute linework, few modern artists are doing it like Daniel Shaw, AKA Sawblade. His painstakingly-detailed drawings can be found on merch for bands like Gatecreeper and Cemetarian, pulling the eye in deep with their carefully-crafted oozes and cracks. But it’s his recent line of heavy metal album cover re-envisionings that will most certainly have artists chomping at the bit to commission new drawings from this awesome rising force in the metal art underworld.
Usually, one thinks of pop art and heavy metal illustration as separate, the former clean and colorful, the latter stark and ornate. But Mónica Sandoval’s drawings provide a striking combination of the two, featuring Satanic Panic-style heavy metal pin-ups in blaring color and clean lines. That doesn’t mean that Monica’s work isn’t brutal as hell — her rotting corpses and goat-headed demons are as evil as those on any black metal sleeve — only that they have a retro ‘80s polish that makes them specifically appealing. Don’t fear the rainbow!
Few modern artists get down the spirit of Halloween like Austin Pardun. The Jackson, Michigan-based illustrator brings together folk tradition, slasher-movie sleaze, and Japanese weirdness to perfectly evoke the madcap morbidity of All Hallows’ Eve. Not only that, but Austin also uses strange moments of psychedelia to get across broad concepts; his deconstruction of Michael Myers’s mind shows a deep understanding of both the Halloween franchise and the character’s psychology. It’s October all year round for this dude.
The work of Sveta Shubina could be easily summed up as, ‘What if Betty Boop had a Fetlife profile?’ The Russian illustrator mixes classic Playboy-ish pin-up cartoons with modern fetish culture, creating a sex appeal all their own. This allows her to apply a retro sensuality to contemporary sex-positive imagery; her art has already attracted model and entrepreneur Dita Von Teese, and her series of illustrations based on the works of Rammstein and Till Lindemann are perverse in a classy way. Just a heads up, though: NSFW, even if it’s sophisticated.
Rich “NerdGore” Sampson
The obvious influences one can see in NerdGore’s art are those of contemporary legends like Mark Riddick and Defame. But what takes this artist’s detailed sketches one step further is the heavy doses of early Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual illustration apparent in his work. While NerdGore’s drawings for Municipal Waste and Gatecreeper are undoubtedly awesome, it’s his RPG level layouts and Magic The Gathering-style scenes of fantasy violence that put him in a league of his own.
If you’re looking for cool, weird clothing that’ll leave your elders confused and scandalized, Damien Miau, AKA HVY BLK, is the dude for you. The screenprinter’s work brings together classic anime characters with hentai bondage looks and sleazy neon colors to create prints and clothing at the crossroads between high fashion and porn. At the same time, the sense of chromatic overkill and self-aware messages that come with his work keep it feeling fringe without being gross or tawdry. Expect to see punk stars or emo rappers rocking this guy’s gear in the future.
Both raw and epic, James Bousema’s art strikes hard at the dark side of fantasy nerd-dom. If his depictions of gargoyles and ancient monsters were more polished and friendly, Bousema could be another Harry Potter concept artist; instead, his epic sense of darkness and ragged edges lean him hard into the kind grand illustration made for horror movies and death metal albums. One look at his work based on Robert Eggers’s The Lighthouse shows just how awesome and infernal Bousema’s imagination is.
The beauty of Boss Dog’s art is its simplicity. His biker cartoons always feature a central cast of familiar characters — the Devil, the Reaper, the hooded executioner — with a smart saying and a few bits of coke-ish fairy sparkles around. But that basic, tattoo-ready style has turned his prints and merch into must-wear additions to any clubhouse or body art parlor, and have made him a reliable member of today’s weirdo art world.
Sexy, quirky, anthropomorphic and queer — Peo Michie’s art feels incredibly modern, even as it courts the classic anime style of the late ‘80s. And while her gay monster romance drawings might sound Hot Topic-ish on paper, they’re always portrayed with an extra bit of sass and darkness that make them transcend beyond cuteness into outcast misanthropy and human honesty. Though they might be a little steamy for some, her works feel similar to those of ‘90s punk and metal artists like Coop and Kozik, who are happy to make you both smile in appreciation and fan yourself while having dirty thoughts.
Arna Miller and Ravi Zupa
There’s something about a drunk cat staring at a burger which he doesn’t remember ordering that feels bizarrely relatable. Arna Miller and Ravi Zupa have made big waves on this sense of sympathy, printing vignettes of drunken cats on tiny matchbooks. Arna and Ravi’s art feels like the embodiment of an east coast harbor-town punk band, mixing cute animal imagery with wasted raging to hilarious-yet-touching results. Simply put, we have all been one of these cats at some point
How many teeth can one creature have? Tattoo artist and illustrator Nate Burns seems to always be trying to beat his previous score. Whether its teeth, eyes, spikes, or other small details you only notice the second or third time you see them, the Ohio artist’s work bursts with extra effort and warty, withered lines that give his creatures and constructs the extra splash of horror they deserve. Because in the realm of heavy metal illustration, less is less and more is barely enough.
Though it’s bizarre and terrifying with its depiction of smashed faces and bent limbs, there’s something about Brandon Geurts’s art that feels in touch with the soul of emo. Maybe it’s the use of electrifying colors amid his line-stricken blacks and grays that evoke emo’s mixture of punk and goth. Then again, it might also be his depictions of raven-haired women looking tragically crushed that also speak to the genre. That said, Brandon also has many works full of Francis Bacon-esque body horror, so fans of death metal will have plenty to devour here.
For some, Tanya Finder is first and foremost the vocalist of Shadowland, NYC’s newest speed metal heroes. But for others, Tanya is best known for her shadowy paintings and tattoo art, which use murky sweeping strokes and accents of bright color to breathe a vibrant life into strange, arcane scenes. Her illustrations can be found on all of her band’s releases, as well as on the awesome new EP by Boston primitive black metal crew Malleus. When she last spoke to Kerrang!, Tanya told us she had a cape in the works, so it’s good to know she practices what she preaches.
Rob Borbas, AKA Grindesign
Looking at Róbert Borbás’s work, a question comes to mind: how the hell does one get that much detail into a tattoo? For Rob’s illustrated pieces, including his art for bands like Benighted and Skeletonwitch, one can easily attribute that to constant focus and a hardcore attention to detail. But it’s far harder to translate that to flesh — and yet Rob does so with amazing clarity, the shading and nuanced color work of his paintings and drawings practically blazing off of the skin of those he inks. However he does it, both of Rob’s mediums show a mixture of careful artistry and deep, resounding atmosphere that’s hard to find anywhere else. Sorry, guys — bookings are closed…for now.
The best part about Naoya Muga’s psychobilly paintings is maybe that they aren’t too obsessed with perfection. In any of his paintings, one can see the brush strokes, can almost feel the paint under their fingers. That imbues Naoya’s work with a sort of garage tangibility — like, literally, this could be an image of Frankenstein painted on the side of a garage. Keep your eyes peeled for his work on any of 2020’s psychobilly releases, as Japan has always had an awesome influence on that spookiest of genres.
Josh “Pencilmancer” Yelle
The artists behind paintings and illustrations are much-loved in the rock and metal world, but rarely do letterers get the respect they deserve. Josh Yelle, AKA Pencilmancer, shows you just how much hard work and practice goes into creating the grand, ecclesiastical logos and typefaces needed to make metal so dramatic and evil. It’s not that Josh’s work takes a lot of minute detail and sweat — it’s more that given how a calligraphy brush works, he has to have a surer and more careful hand that your average pencil sketch artist does. That said, the dude also comes off as lovable human, evidenced by his Instagram videos in which he uses his gothic style to write out ‘Diarrhea’ and ‘Bat Boy Found In Cave.’
READ THIS: Inside the world of extreme metal logos
Phil "Burrito Breath" Guy
Imagine “Big Daddy” Ed Roth had an art orgy with Garfield’s Jim Davis, and you’d end up with work like that of Phil Guy, AKA Burrito Breath. Full of toothy monsters with stoned grins and acid-head wizards on skateboards, Phil’s work is firmly cartoonish, but has a solid injection of twisted biker attitude to it that elevates it above everyday doodling. Most fascinating, though, might be his manipulation of old photos in which he adds sneering, drooling Mad Magazine faces to slick-haired TV hosts and ad housewives from the ‘50s and ‘60s. Not for those with weak senses of humor.
The art of Sebastian Mazuera is so lush and detailed that you almost want to reach out and touch it — if it didn’t have so many damn teeth. Each of the Seattle tattoo artist’s incredible drawings have hidden layers of depth and shadow, but they also bristle with spikes, horns, claws, antlers, daggers, and plenty of mighty incisors. While his demons, dragons, and aliens are awesome, it’s often his strange throwback and referential pieces — his Gremlins, D&D Beholder, and Violator from Spawn, for example — that display how Sebastian’s unique sensibilities can add new dimensions to classic figures. Make your appointment today, while you still have time.
Equal parts Disney-adorable and burlesque-era curvy, Belle Dee’s cartoons hit that sweet spot between cute and edgy. Her monsters and pin-ups are all big-eyed and stubby-legged, but there’s a certain mischievous fun to them that’s right at home in punk rock. On top of that, her depictions of women are never tawdry, and their old-school thick-hipped figures promote a fun brand of body positivity that rock’n’roll art could stand to adopt on a larger scale. Get bubbly.
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