INTERVIEWS: Interview with me

This is a translation of the interview that I gave to a new Polish 'zine "Zacmienie Slonca". The issue # 3 in which it will be printed should be out and available in kiosks and Empik stores in Poland around January 12th.

Krakus: Quite recently I've come across the X-Mas Metal Meeting festival logo. A jolly sot in a patched vest holding a glass of beer and headbanging. He looked somehow familiar. Then I saw him on your website as one of your latest works. It felt like home. How would you describe your unique style?

Jowita: First of all: thank you for your interest and I'm glad that you think I have a unique style. If I were to describe it, I'd say it's a realistic style with elements of symbolism, fantasy and horror and with a big attention to details. I use mostly oil paints and thin, pointy brushes on gessoed paper or canvas. Regarding the themes of my works, the "metal" themes are dominant, not only because most of them are illustrations to this music and lyrics, but it's something that is very much at heart, as I've been listening to Metal for over 17 years now, so it comes out naturally. Therefore my drawings and paintings have a rather dark atmosphere, but as you have noticed: I draw caricatures too and that's something I truly enjoy.

K: How did this logo come into being? And how did for example the artworks for Exodus "Tempo Of The Damned" or Over Kill come to be realized?

J: Jens of Steelpreacher, for whom I painted the cover for "Start Raising Hell" album in this caricature style, is one of the editors of Burning Ambition webzine - and Eddie, who is the head Burning Ambition editor, is also the organizer of the X-Mas Metal Meeting festival. Everybody was very fond of the distorted faces of the Steelpreacher guys and they decided they want to have a similar jolly old-school Metallian as their logo. By the way, if you type the word "headbanger" in Google image search, this very headbanger will show up as the first of the results. :) Great, but some people liked it so much that, ignoring the fact that it's the official logo of the festival in Göttingen, they used it on their flyers advertising for their own X-Mas Metal festival! Regarding Exodus... When my first website went online I sent out info e-mails and the next day I was contacted by their manager. Then we met before the Exodus show in Brno and he described to me the idea for the cover they had in minds. After coming back home I did a research and a few sketches, sent them via e-mail and then started painting from the approved one - a standard procedure. However the time I had for completing this painting was not so standard: they wanted the art in 7 days, so subtracting 2 days for drying of the paints I was left with 5 days - and during those 5 days I worked like 14 hours a day. Quite stressful it was. As for Over Kill: I haven't done any cover art for them. But I guess you mean that "The Years Of Decay" cover that I painted on my shirt before their gig in Warsaw in 2000 and then scanned it and put it on my website. Under the picture it reads: "copy of The Years Of Decay cover (original painting by Fastner & Larson), oil on T-shirt" (if I had been the author, I'd have had to paint it being 12 years old). Moreover there are photos of Charlie (or rather: Chaly) - the Over Kill mascot that I made of modelling clay and some other media (and closed in the special "Kill-box") - and that was just a gift for Blitz.

K: There are no perfection paragons, but who comes closest to it for you? Which artist? Do you imitate anybody?

J: I don't take pattern by anybody, but there are numerous whom I admire and whose artworks have been inspirational and probably influencial for me. Most of all: symbolists and pre-raphaelites (Rosetti, Rethel, Delville, Dorè, Levý-Dhurmer, Waterhouse, Khnopff, von Stuck, Wrightson, Moreau, Blake, Böcklin, Burne-Jones...) - the art of the turn of the 19th century is closest to me, however I have many favourite artists among the ones from the preceeding centuries as well (Bosch, Dürer, da Vinci, Piranesi, Caravaggio...). As far as contemporary art is concerned: I'm not fond of any of the art movements of the 20th century, well, except for surrealism. However there are a few outstanding artists, ignored at the history of art lectures, whom I discovered by myself later: Giger, Beksiński, Whelan, Frazetta, Bilal, Bisley, Civello, Kelly, Vallejo, Royo, Zademack, Cavotta... And I have to mention a few artists known mostly from metal cover arts whom I hold in high esteem: Marschall, Krüger, Benscoter, Meininghaus, Sasso, Seagrave... But if I were to say one name only: Brom. I love his decorative style, compositions, coloring, references to the late 19th century art and most of all - his extraordinary imagination.

K: When did you start drawing? Did you go to any art schools? When did you start drawing for Metal? And when did you start listening to this infernally beautiful music?

J: Well, I started drawing as soon as I could hold a crayon in my hand, so very early, haha. A lot of paper has been bedaubed by myself in those years! The biggest break I've had was in my secondary school, because art lessons were not included in the program (!) and I just had no time to draw after classes, so I had to really get down to it in the second semester of the last grade, but I succeeded and passed the exams for the Graphic Department of Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. As for painting for Metal... "No Friends Here" for a death metal band from the States was my first cover commission and it was in 2000, soon after I graduated from the Academy. An acquaintance from a not existing anymore (I guess) record label and distro Still Dead Productions, from whom I used to buy a lot of CDs, asked me if I'd be interested in painting a cover art for one of his bands. Of course I was interested, because ever since I started listening to this music (and it was in 1988... and my first tape: "Show No Mercy"), painting for Metal bands was one of my dreams. Then came the covers for Hellfire, Deceased and so on.

K: By the way of the past times... What did your copybooks look like? It's generally known what Metalheads' copybooks look like... What was the most common motif in yours? Did you retain any of them?

J: I have to disappoint you, but my copybooks looked very properly and clean. But it doesn't mean I didn't daub during classes - sure I did, just on separate sheets of paper, which I still keep in my drawer out of sentiment. Motifs? Well, veeeery typical: skulls, demons, zombies, sometimes logos and of course handsome long-haired guys. :)

K: I need to ask you about the conditions of drawing at home. Full conspiracy? Flash-light and a pencil under the cover? Wasn't there ever a stake burning on the backyard? Exorcist called for?

J: Conspiracy? Naaah... why? Nothing of that kind. An ordinary desk, lamp, paper, pencils, paints... Unfortunately I cannot entertain you with any vivid stories about it. There was no inquisition at my home. Drawing and painting is my profession (and even though it wasn't a profession yet when I was a teenager, it was clear it would become one eventually), just as my mom's who, yes, doesn't like some "metal" motifs on cover arts (like skulls or demons), but in general is very supportive and often gives me good professional advice. And the only Exorcist I call for is the one that released the awsome "Nightmare Theatre" album. ;)

K: There's a large number of bands listed as your favourites on your website. If you were to pick just one... maybe two...?

J: Oh, that's a difficult question! It's really tough to choose one or two bands from the hundreds that I know... Hmmm, long, long time ago, when dinosaurs walked the Earth... OK, maybe not SUCH a long time ago - it was Metallica (until they released the black album). Then - King Diamond and Mercyful Fate took the first place. However since a few years SAVATAGE and MANILLA ROAD mean most to me. For some fans Savatage is only their first albums with Jon on vocals, for others this band stopped counting after Criss Oliva died. For me both their early and newer recordings are just creations of pure genius (OK, excluding "Fight For The Rock", but even on this album there are 3 great songs). It's a really special band for me. But damn, they could finally record a new album! How long can we wait? Damond Jiniya is an outstanding vocalist combining the styles of Jon and Zak - I was lucky to witness that at their show in 2002. At least Jon recorded a solo album in the old style and he plays a lot of old Sava' classics live having much fun. Whereas the magic in Manilla Road's music cannot be compared to anything else. Mark Shelton is a true visionnaire and the music he creates is just unique. This is something hard to express in words. The more happy I am that we became friends and that I was commissioned to paint the cover for the awsome "Gates Of Fire" album.

K: What do you do during your day? To which city are you bound?

J: I spend too much time in the internet - unfortunately it's damn addictive. It's not only a mine of information, but also a perfect tool for communication. And very useful in my work. As far as it is concerned: I work from home, realizing commissions for cover arts and logos. I don't have any steady contract job - what I do as a freelancer is my only source of income. And I listen to the music most of the time of course. I try not to get attached to places, but recently I've been spending most of my time in Berlin, however I come back to Warsaw once in a while.

K: What pub could you recommend to Metalheads passing through your neighbourhood? Has any metal-shop survived?

J: If I were to talk about Warsaw, I couldn't give you much info - I don't know if there are any metal pubs, as I have never been a pub-goer. But I guess there are not many - if any at all... however there are places where some underground gigs are organized and I think you can hear our music also on other nights there - for example "Progresja" and "Metal Cave". As for metal-shops in Warsaw - definitely "Dziupla" - the oldest metal-shop east of Germany and still going strong. And Berlin, at least the district I live in, well, that's a whole different story. Friedrichshein could be called a metal district (or punk and metal district)! There's a few-minutes walking distance from my place to the famous "Rockfactory Halford" - it used to be a bigger club (also in this part of the town), where shows were organized and every few days there was a metal party (or "metal-disco", as they call it here) - these days it's a nice pub with good music, concerts showed on screens and very metal interior decorations (but the huge Halford statue stands at the entrance). In the same distance there's "Paules Metal Eck" - also a pub with music, billiards and very interesting decorations (and the walls in one room are covered with autographs of musicians who stopped by there). A bit farther, but still within half of an hour to walk, there's "K17", "Amnesie" and "Kaato" - club-pubs in which there's something going on almost every night: gigs, metal (or alternative) discos... 'Til recently there was a Nuclear Blast shop near Paules Metal Eck, but it's closed now, however a new owner will open there his shop with metal CDs and other stuff soon. And every Sunday there's a big flea-market at the park square (Boxhagener Platz), where you can get vinyls and CDs for really bargain prices. So if anybody's going to visit Berlin I can be your "Metal-tourist-guide". ;)

K: What's your attitude towards horror movies? Any titles? Books?

J: Generally positive. :) Maybe just except for splatter-gore... I'm mostly fond of classic horror, psychological thriller and suspense movies... If I were to name some, well, such classics like: "The Exorcist", "The Omen", "Suspiria", "Rosemary's Baby", "Nosferatu" (1922), "The Thing" (1982), "The Fly", "Halloween"; a lot of Stephen King novels' adaptations: "The Dead Zone", "Misery", "The Shining" (1980), "Carrie" (1976), "Christine", "Cujo", and from the newer flicks: "In The Mouth Of Madness", "Bram Stocker's Dracula", "The Prophecy", "Seven", "Silence Of The Lambs", "Ring" (both versions), "Dark Water" (Japanese version), "What Lies Beneath", "The Others", "Sleepy Hollow", "The Blair Witch Project"... However in most cases I prefer books to movies and my favourite horror writers are: H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, M.R. James, Stephen King and Clive Barker. I won't list the titles 'cause the list would become too long!

K: A movie based on a computer game. Let's say you get the cash and whatever else you need for it. But there's one condition: the film has to be based on one particular game: Pac Man... What is your idea? We're hoping for a special scenography. ;)

J: Unfortunately here my answer will be short: I'm not into computer games at all - and I have no idea what "Pac Man" is. Even though I worked in a graphic studio creating textures for a computer game, I have never played a single game myself! Of course it doesn't mean that, if somebody approached me with such an offer, I'd say no. I don't want to limit myself to painting metal cover arts only. Most of all I'm an illustrator and I have worked in and for various projects, for example designing scenographies and objects for a 3D movie for children. I just didn't put those or other illustrations on my website, because this stuff just wouldn't fit stylistically and thematically to what I present there under the "Artworks & Metal" title.

K: Do your "pictures" for the album covers tell a longer, deeper story or are they illustrations out of context or maybe single visions which start and end here and now?

J: Every cover is a different case. Sometimes it's just a typical "metal" picture, other times it has a deeper (and sometimes veiled) meaning. It depends on things like if the band has their own idea which they want me to depict (like Arctic Flame from whom I received even a rough sketch) or if they send me the lyrics, from which I take the essence and translate into my vision. Quite often I receive both the lyrics and the suggestions, but it happens that I know only the album title and the music from their previous CDs... Anyway, I like to "smuggle" some symbolic elements into my paintings or things that you will probably not notice the first time you look at the cover, as it was in the case of "The Unknown" painting for Attacker. One weird thing you should see quite fast, but the other turned out to be harder to notice than I had supposed (especially that it requires a different viewing angle... from the left side and tilting your head right, hehe). The cover for Dantesco "De La Mano De La Muerte" (which means "holding the hand of death") is a symbolic one and painting a butterfly and a poppy I referred to their a bit forgotten meaning. The cover for Forsaken "Dominaeon" is inspired by deep, existentialist lyrics revolving around a theological concept (permeating diverse world views from Christianity to psychocosmology) written by Albert, their bass player. Those Hebrew letters are the Tetragram (the name of God: Jahwe), which I put on the "eye of God" (the album title itself is a combination of two words: Domine and aeon). The cover that I painted for Manilla Road is a specific one too. The only suggestion that they gave me was to put their triangle symbol - volknuter (a Norse symbol for three planes of existence and three worlds that are on each of these planes) somewhere on the painting. As "Gates Of Fire" is sort of a trilogy and each of the three stories consist of three songs, I thought that I shouldn't make one of them more important than the others. Therefore the idea of using the triangle symbol (which in this case became the "gates of fire") as the frames for the 3 illustrations. The back cover is parallel to it: just instead of the illos there are the titles of the three parts and on the sides of the triangles - the song titles. Anyway, I think that the cover should always express what is on the album: the music and the lyrics, so that looking at it, you should know more-less what to expect.

K: How many zeros does the number describing your albums collection have? Vinyls or CDs?

J: If I were to replace the numbers with zeros, there would be 3 after the "2"... I haven't updated my list for a long time, but there are some 2400 titles now. Unfortunately only CDs and tapes. I know it's very "untrue", but it so happened that when I was starting getting into Metal, my parents didn't have a gramophone - we had only an old tuner/tape-player. In those days in Poland vinyls were available mostly for those who had a lot of money or some connections abroad. So I just started from buying tapes and tape-trading. Then I switched to CDs and it stayed like this - but I'm not going to throw away my old cassettes, especially that a lot of those albums or demos have never been released on this format. But I'm very glad that many albums are still being released on vinyl - especially from the artist's point of view it's something worth supporting: a cover printed on the 12 x 12 centimeters format looses a lot of details comparing to the one printed on 31 x 31 cm.

K: Could you tell us some interesting story about your co-operation with one of the bands that you recollect sometimes? Thanks a lot for your time and answers. Best wishes!

J: Well, I thank YOU for the interesting questions! As for a story... Hmm, I'm afraid I don't have any especially interesting stories to tell. I can say that in 90% the co-operation with musicians was perfect and with a few of them I keep in touch constantly even though the covers for their bands were painted a long time ago. Such "side-effect" of the work in the form of lasting friendships is something very valuable. :)

December 2005