Meet Eliran Kantor: The Man Behind Modern Rock And Metal’s Gnarliest Artwork
His style has a classical feel and his subject matter will unsettle you. Naturally, we wanted to know more…
At what age did you become interested in art?
“I got into drawing as a kid. My father, Zeev Kantor, painted and drew, so his work was my introduction to art as a toddler. He painted my bedroom walls with Disney characters, and his own walls with characters from Pink Floyd’s The Wall. The years following were mainly pen and pencil, with some occasional experiments with chalk and acrylics. I did cartoons, and drew screenshots from an imaginary Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video game that didn’t exist. At 15, I did a few murals on my bedroom walls with acrylics, then I was asked to paint a couple of friends’ walls as well. A few local metal bands saw these and asked me to design album covers for them.”
Loudblast, III Decades Live Ceremony
Do you have any formal art training?
“I am mainly self-taught. I did take a bi-weekly junior art course at about age 12 for a year. It covered the very basics of perspective, composition and handling various mediums. You had to enrol into two different classes, so I took animation as well, but I didn’t really like drawing the same thing 24 times per second, so I did claymation instead. Visual art was always something I did since I was a kid, while music was something I really cared to read, learn and obsess about, but never create – apart from a few bedroom demos in my teen years.”
Which metal bands did you grow up listening to?
“King Diamond and Mercyful Fate, Type O Negative, Voivod, Nevermore, Anacrusis, Maiden, Priest, Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Megadeth, Metallica, Death, Pantera, Arcturus, Psychotic Waltz, Celtic Frost: they are all still my favourites to this day.”
After getting into metal, we understand you chose albums by Iron Maiden, Megadeth and Metallica solely by their album artwork. Which albums were these and what was it about the art that drew you to them?
“Those were actually my introduction to metal, because I got into Deep Purple because of my dad, and inside the album there was this catalogue, and I saw there a few names I remembered from Beavis & Butthead. Those were the three bands you’ve mentioned, and I just went out and bought Killers, Master Of Puppets and Youthanasia, all based on the covers. Each one was so iconic; the characters, composition, the colour pallet… I can’t say exactly what was it that grabbed me, and that’s part of the magic. If you could say exactly what a song or a painting needs to have in it in order to excite you, it would be easy to replicate. But there’s something amazing about that unexplained connection.”
Do you remember the first album cover which caught your eye?
“First one was Gerald Scarfe’s inner gatefold to Pink Floyd’s album The Wall, and the animations he did on the movie. And the second one would be Mark Ryden’s cover for Michael Jackson’s Dangerous. Both were so unique and memorable despite being so detailed or chaotic.”
Which modern artists inspire you?
“If we include the ’70s and ’80s, my favourite would be [Zdzisław] Beksiński, and from the 2000’s onwards, I really love Jesse Kanda’s work: really original and visionary. I actually follow the work of many young 3D animators who are part of a very exciting wave or grotesque surrealism that looks very futuristic. Animators were always a big source of inspiration for me, with John K of Ren and Stimpy and Terry Gilliam’s animation for Monty Python being my two favourites.”
Which classic artists informed your style?
“I was never the most versed person in art history and could talk to you about music 10 times more, but I’ve absorbed a lot through the years and it stuck with me because of my strong visual memory. You can show me a crop of just a person’s knee from a Rubens painting, or an eye from a Caravaggio piece, and I would probably know which piece it is from, but I can’t really tell you much about the stories behind these pieces or the artists’ biographies. Apart from the aforementioned two, the short list would probably also include Goya, Menzel, Böcklin, John Martin, Repin and Bouguereau.”
Bloodbath, The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn
You started off by doing art for local bands. How did you feel when you saw the finished product?
“The timeline is a bit fuzzy there, it was either Solitary or Armilos, whose line-up included future Orphaned Land members Matan and Idan. As a 17-year-old and a massive CD collector at the time, I was just so thrilled when I got these CDs. I have a really vivid picture of those moments in my mind. I got both outside of a local gig and I’ve probably stayed outside checking every panel and part of them, that I probably missed a couple of the opening acts.”
What was your first ‘big’ commission?
“The first time I worked with a band who’s name I’ve heard before was Aghora, on their Formless album, and the first time I worked with a band I was a big fan of and had many of their records, was Mekong Delta on Lurking Fear. But Testament’s The Formation Of Damnation was probably the first one you could call ‘big’. All of my friends and I were into them for years, and it was a much anticipated comeback. I was in touch with Maria ‘Metal Maria’ Ferrero who managed them, and she deserved full credit for the idea of pairing me up with Testament.”
What’s the process like? Do bands leave you do your own thing or is it a collaborative effort?
“It varies. Sometimes a band who gave you a complete free hand in the past might have a very specific vision for the new record, which is absolutely fine if it’s a strong one as the main concern is to create something great together, regardless of who came up with the idea. But with most of my work, I usually get the title and lyrics, and I come up with the concept on my own.”
Sigh, In Somniphobia
Does being a metal fan make it easier to understand a band’s requirements?
“Having things in common naturally makes things easier for any collaboration, at the very least on the communication part. Because way before you begin drawing, you talk about concepts via email or on the phone, trying to describe something visual. But the main thing is that I work closely with the music: I listen to the previous records, the new demos or rough mixes, and because I understand what the bands are set out to achieve sonically, and probably share similar influences with the band, I have a good grasp of which colours, movement, characters and story would go best with the music.”
Is it helpful to listen to the album while you work?
“I only listen to it beforehand. While painting I don’t listen to anything because I’m an extreme monotasker. A record could go on repeat for three times before I will notice it.”
How long does a piece typically take?
“It varies, extremely. Some, though not a lot, took one sleepless week to paint, while some took over a month.”
Andy Black, The Ghost Of Ohio
You’ve done the covers for Andy Black’s new album and The Wildhearts’ Renaissance Men. How did these come about?
“Their managers simply emailed me. Both were fantastic to work with. I was all of a sudden doing two portraits back to back, while I have only done one portrait in the past. A decade ago I was commissioned by the great late Dave Brockie to paint GWAR, which ended up in the Lust In Space booklet and stage banner, and sold as a poster on the tour as well.”
What’s your personal favourite album cover that you’ve done?
“At the moment my current favourite is Loudblast’s III Decades Live Ceremony, but any current favourite always has to battle Sigh’s In Sompniphobia. I think the reason I like both the best is because the two concepts are quite original, and in both the storytelling worked well and I’m at peace with how what I was going for was achieved.”
What’s your favourite album cover of all time?
“I still measure the impact of everything new I see against that of Iron Maiden’s Killers. It’s so simple but so effective, and that yellow street light gives it such a subtle familiarity that just throws you right into this scene. During my teen years I painted that one on my bedroom wall with acrylics.”
What does the next year hold for you?
“There are many new albums in the works: Testament, Atheist, Incantation, Thy Art Is Murder and others. There’s a Devin Townsend record we’ve been slowly cooking in the background for a couple of years now, hopefully we will pick up on it this year. It’s an epic symphony about penises. Apart from that, there are a few offers for exhibitions at metal festivals, and I loved doing the recent ones I had at Bloodstock and Copenhell, so I’m looking forward to it. Especially following the response both got, seeing how many festival goers and music fans find it special and exciting, since they never get to see their favourite album covers so big and up-close.”