INTERVIEW | Guang Yang
A few weeks we were hit up by an awesome online metal page from right here in Hong Kong called 重型音樂學院, they recently completed an interview with an insanely gifted graphic artist named Guang Yang from China. They were wondering if we were interested in publishing the English version of the interview. Our reaction? YES PLEASE.
Look at this art:
Guang Yang is a Xi An based artist who began his career back in 2004 as a concept artist after studying oil painting for many years. After living in Tokyo for a number of years he began to create art using a variety of tools such as oil and acrylic painting before eventually dropping them into a digital setting to further manipulate his creations.
The following interview was originally published in Chinese on 重型音樂學院 and was translated by Polly Ng. We edited parts to match our audience.
UA: Thank you for doing this interview with us! By answering a few of these questions, I hope people can get to know more about you and your artwork!
GY: Thank you for this opportunity! I’m very honored to share my experience designing album covers for metal bands.
UA: You are currently one of the more famous designers of album art on the planet. Can you briefly tell us how you got into this kind of artwork? Were you inspired by watching or listening to a certain metal band’s album? Or were there other reasons that got you intrigued to pursue this world?
GY: It was back in 2000 when I first came across traditional metal music. Back then I was listening to all kinds of metal music. For example, for more extreme bands I was into acts like Cradle of Filth and Emperor. Then in 2008, I lived in Tokyo for a number of years and that’s where I met a bunch of friends through the internet. Through their influence, I suddenly had a HUGE interest in black metal. It was really the epic imagery that incorporated a sense of ceremony and solemn atmosphere that got me.
But besides these early experiences, my interest had a lot to do with my circumstances at the time. I was often alone and attended shows by myself. I am very sensitive to the scenes of any environment which harks back to when I first started drawing when I was younger. Ever since I can remember, I have always particularly been attracted to elements of horror.
As to why my art always seems to be dark, depressed, and often violent? It’s very difficult to explain. There are many reasons. The environment I grew up in, my psychological condition, etc. Drawing and music, no matter what type of artwork, have all along been correlated and synergetic. Thus when I have to choose my preferred music, a similar style will be more attractive to me. In terms of correlation, I think an album cover is an element that can penetrate both. More specifically, I am recently impressed by the painting named “Isle of the Dead” and “The Symphony with the Same Title”, they have inspired me a lot.
UA: As an artist, it must have taken a lot of effort and time to finally establish yourself on the world stage. How did you promote your art so that people in China and around the world can find out about you? Are there some memorable experiences?
GY: I think…it is a matter of accumulating a large enough catalog. I don’t think it was that painful of an experience to when I finally started getting recognized. The accumulation of my catalog of work was totally an unconscious endeavor. For example, during the early stages, all I was doing was studying artists that I admired and looked for their paintings. I would often wonder if I could become like them in the future. After a few years, it just so happened that I may have even surpassed their achievements.
When you are in love with something, there are no obstacles. However, if one focuses too much on reaching a certain goal, they might give up easily. When I started designing album art in 2009, I never thought I would be spending the next 10 years designing album art for bands. If my focus was on achieving some sort of goal, I would have given up and would never have gotten into this industry.
Inherit Disease was the very first band that approached me. I have to express my deep appreciation to them. They discovered my art online. They saw a particular piece of painting I had created for an online concept design competition. I lost the competition but the vocalist, Obie, saw that piece and asked to purchase it. Even though I lost the competition, I was still eventually rewarded for it in a different way.
Once that album was released, more people started to learn about me. Brutal Dave from Putridity, Frank Calleja from Beheaded, and some record companies started contacting me. I don’t really know much about self-promoting, I just wait for bands to contact me. From time to time, I post some of my artwork and update my work progress on Facebook. Back then I was only designing 2 to 3 album covers a year. Due to the release of Putridity’s album, one or two posts in China mentioned me. Since there was no artists specializing in designs for metal covers in China, this surprised many China metalheads. At the time, I had already helped many foreign bands design their covers. I paid more attention to foreign markets as they were more mature. When more Chinese learned about me, metal bands from here such as Maggot Colony, Ritual Day, Horror of Pestilence, Black Kirin, Leviathan, Zuriaake, Facelift Deformation, and Pest Productions reached out to me. Now I work for both domestic and foreign markets equally.
My most memorable experience was working for a band called Black Kirin. Through the process we became buddies and now designing album covers for them may finally allow me to get a free ticket to their shows (just kidding!)!
UA: Designing an album cover must not be easy. Prior to designing, how do you prepare? Do you need to understand the message the band is trying to convey? Do you need to listen to the album first in order to get more inspiration? Has a band just picked a previously released piece of art you created and used it as their album cover?
GY: If possible, I would like to first listen to a band’s album and then begin drafting the art. I also like to base it on a concept the band has. Concrete images and elements can be based on the lyrics. Moreover, I enjoy adding my own thoughts and understanding, or even my own interpretation of the music. Most of the time, the direction depends on the topics I am currently studying or what I am interested in at that moment.
Some bands do not have a very complete concept. They may even sometimes use my cover design to create the music! Generally, I prefer receiving specific requirements from bands, specifically their “must have” or “must not have” elements. Very often, the band, before contacting me, should have some basic knowledge about my background. On the condition of compatible styles, I don’t prefer bands provide too many aesthetic comments. My inspiration may come from my own experience or literature. While designs may depend on needs and timing, but also reflect my condition at the time. I can choose between digital or traditional tools, with no hard boundaries. I am good at adjusting my condition for different jobs and am always happy to try out different styles.
Yes, many bands have just simply purchased previously released artwork for which the prices are generally relatively lower.
UA: What are your strengths and weaknesses compared to other artists from around the world?
GY: Every artist has his or her own strengths. I am more flexible in using different tools to match various needs on texture. Clients can ask for artwork that is more artistic or something with more sensory stimuli. Moreover, as for topics relating to China, I have more in-depth knowledge of oriental aesthetics and philosophy. For weaknesses, I think I don’t have any. Maybe I charge lower compared to other artists. For contemporary artists whose products have been used by record companies, I only have respect for two of them – Denis Forkas from Russia and Nicola Samori from Italy. However, both of them don’t specialize in album cover art.
UA: In your artwork, we see lots of references to darkness, violence, mystery, etc. Many people think these topics must not be easy to touch on in China and there may be several obstacles. Are there any underlying rules which you need to follow for your designs or creations? Did you ever face any third-party pressure during your designing process?
GY: Being Chinese, we shouldn’t have any pressure.
Chinese literature is not something that I spent much time trying to understand and I really think that you have to be much more serious in your study of this before attempting to create this work, that’s why I haven’t dared touch this content yet. But as I began working with my Chinese bands I started to realize that a lot of this background already exists in my blood. So I’ve learned to be bold in creating this type of work because I’m from here and I just follow all my instincts.
There are actually more restrictions around anti-Christian topics. For religious reasons, many bands play anti-religious music but might be banned by their families or record distributors.
UA: Have you curated an art exhibition in China so that your artwork can be appreciated publicly? What was the response? What was the audience like?
GY: I’ve had exhibitions in China and in the US (Chicago). Those were joint exhibitions with other artists, not really related specifically to metal. In fact, besides metal album art, I also have many other fine art pieces. If I can organize an exhibition with metal music as the theme, most of the audience will be metalheads and my friends. I would like to invite bands to perform in my exhibitions.
UA: Among your artwork, which one is your favorite piece?
GY: For album art, if I can only choose one, I think it should be “Visceral Transcendence” from Inherit Disease because this is my very first album cover design, and thus I had a lot of passion and put a lot of effort into this piece. So much so that I still remember it to this day.
UA: The last question is more of a practical one: How long does it usually take to complete a design? What is the general price range?
GY: For a single square piece, I charge a minimum of USD1,000. Price will be adjusted according to the size and complexity of the design. I have quite a lot of work in the process currently so I can only consider taking on new work after July.