Of Montreal’s Artwork:Or “An Evening With David Barnes”

Okay, I’m ready to get started on my newest undertaking. I was looking at the covers of three albums that I’ve gotten in the past couple months, The Decemberists’ Picaresque, Arcade Fire’s Funeral, and Of Montreal’s The Sunlandic Twins, when I realized how often we fans take an amazing album cover for granted. ESPECIALLY when we get into that ethical grey area of music downloading. I mean, how many of you even know what the cd inserts for some of your favorite albums look like? That’s what I thought.

So over the next couple days I’ll be bringing you interviews with some artists with which you’re probably very familiar. While I’ve gotten a couple interviews back already, there are a few on which I’m waiting. If you have any ideas for artists/covers that you absolutely adore, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll see what I can do.

David Barnes is tied closely to Of Montreal for two big reasons. First, he’s drawn everything. If it’s been in the linear notes, on the cover or on their website, it came out of his mind and through his hand. Also, he happens to just be the brother of lead singer/songwriter Kevin Barnes.

In addition to giving sight to sound, he also runs a website, The Bee With Wheels, from which you can order a portrait of yourself. I’m actually going to try to do this for my birthday. They kick some major butt. But I digress! I managed to trick him into an interview (it was easy, I asked and he said yes) so as to delight the eye as well as the ear.

“Maybe at some point I learned that we actually dream in black and white and it kind of pissed me off and I wanted to take back the night.” – David Barnes

NOTE: I usually edit these interviews into a smaller, more easily digested bit, but I couldn’t bear to do that with this one. His answers were far too delightful, insightful and hilarious. I think this is a pretty good look at the world of a true artist who appreciates what he does not because it gained him fame, but because it allows him to express his feelings. Even if he doesn’t understand them.

Q. Your artwork (both album and otherwise) is amazingly busy. Is this reflective of a huge imagination or a huge story that you’re trying to tell?

well it’s the result of a couple things i guess. i think i have a pretty big imagination and it’s sort of coupled with a fairly short attention span. i mean i can sit for hours and hours drawing but only if i draw lots and lots of small things. otherwise i get bored. plus i really don’t enjoy painting large areas and i think that influences how i draw. if i have a four inch square i would rather paint little centemeters of diffirent colors and patterns than all four inches a solid. i just like being face down in the paper moving really quickly threw these tiny mazes of shapes. as for a huge story, not really one story but i do feel like i’m depicting one world at different times. like right now i’m answering this question and next store maybe someone’s making an egg and maybe in china two people are having sex and maybe on the moon the american flag is sitting perfectly still. and you could spend a couple life times documenting every single thing that happened in the universe during a one minute space of time, you know. so i kind of feel like every time i make a picture i am documenting a few minutes from this other dimension or world or whatever. and it gives me confidance to think of it that way because then if i can’t think of anything to draw i know i’m just being lazy and that there is no way i could ever actually be tapped out.

Q. Lots of artists seem to become associated with the bands that use theirwork. For example, Stanely Donwood’s art has become inseperable in many fan’s eyes from Radiohead. As an artist who seems to have a similar relationship with a band, what’s your take on this?

i love that idea of music and images being tied together. it’s something that kevin and i decided we wanted to do when we were younger and still enjoy to this day(i’m 73 and he’s 184 years old). eyes and ears. it’s cool to be able to look at something and insteantly hear a song in your head or vice versa. we are working on a taste for of montreal but haven’t really perfected it, we know it’s most likely going to be coconut based. we are also working on this thing where when you buy an of montreal album you can register for this service where everytime you listen to it on your home stereo a guy comes in through your window and touches your arm with a soft glove. we’re still working out the ligistics and cost of that one.

Q. As compared to many of the other artists that I’m interviewing, your work seems to be very vibrant and lively. From whence do these bright colors and vibrant scenes come?

like i said up above, and not wanting to sound crazy or anything, i really do feel like i’m kind of tapped into this wierd place and i think that’s just a way for me to explain to myself were some ideas come from. you know sometimes i’ll have this specific idea or be thinking about Houdini and be like oh i’m going to draw Houdini. but then other times i’ll just start drawing and all these wierd little things come out and i honestly don’t know where the hell they come from. sometimes i’ll draw someone or something and be like, who’s that guy and what’s he doing? and i just don’t know. sometimes after i finish drawing something i’ll be like oh, there’s a priest chasing an allegator…..i wonder why he’s doing that. and then maybe a few days later i’ll look at it and go, oh….the allegator took communion but isn’t actually a catholic and the pope wants it back. but at the time of drawing it i don’t know why i did and figure it out later.

as for the bright colors i’m not really sure other than i just think of things in that way. i don’t dress in super bright clothes and my house isn’t decorated in crazy bright colors but when i paint it just makes sence. i make color choices very fast. i just start painting and when i come to an empty space i quickly look at the colors next to it and make a decision and it usually ends up really bright. i think i also like making pictures that are a little hard to look at for some reason. maybe at some point i learned that we actually dream in black and white and it kind of pissed me off and i wanted to take back the night.

Q. As with a lot of bands, your cover artwork seems to be a great analogy for the music. Both your and Of Montreal’s art appear cute and bright at first glance, but are really bitingly witty and sarcastic after scrutiny. Do you feel that the dual nature of your work makes it easier or harder to get your point across?

well in one aspect it’s easier because people have more to work with. and so the parts where the songs and the images overlap than it probably helps. but then there are parts where kevin went in one direction and i went in another and so at those times maybe people would get confused or read into something that niether of us intended and miss what we were trying to say. but then they found something new in that way and so that’s just as good really.

Q. Do you feel that living in the cultural mecca of Athens has been a beneficial environment to your, and other’s, creative works?

i would say yes because i was pretty young when i first got involved with the music scene here and so i was meeting all these really interesting creative odd people that i didn’t really know existed. and whenever you can meet people like that it’s beneficial because it opens up the possibilities for what a human is to you. if you live in a small conservative town your whole life you might have a very singular view of what a human is but if you get around more and meet a diverse population the possibilities of what you want to be open up. you go from, men do this and this and woman do this and this, to all of a sudden oh well i guess men do this and this and this and this or this or this and maybe this and women could do this or this or this or this or this or ext. and the result is you just have a broader sence of humanity and the world and that can only help you in life.

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