Artist Paul Normansell speaks to Jon Perks about a unique style of art which is winning him famous friends.
Since a young Delia Smith baked a cake for the cover of The Rolling Stones’ classic Let It Bleed, Storm Thorgersen suspended an inflatable pig above Battersea Power Station for Pink Floyd’s Animals and Pennie Smith captured Paul Simonon smashing his bass guitar on the stage for London Calling, album covers have become pieces of art in their own right – iconic images that can stand alone as well as adorning a band’s latest work.
Birmingham artist Paul Normansell knows this only too well, his design for The Killers’ Day & Age voted best album cover of 2008 by Rolling Stone magazine and already recognised as a classic.
Now, after two years of fans’ emails and requests, Normansell has released the cover artwork – and the four accompanying band member portraits – as limited edition prints on both paper and aluminium.
The distinctive ‘spot’ style of painting was first developed at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, where the artist graduated in 2001, with Kate Moss his original muse; Paul has since painted the supermodel several times, as he has his latest inspiration, model Agness Deyn.
In fact it was a portrait of Moss that helped get Normansell the Killers job: “It was in my last year at university when I started doing abstract drawing, little doodles and then paintings which were stripes and dots,” he explains.
“Then I was doing the dots in optical patterns and thought about putting images within the dots; they were abstract paintings where you could see an image in the abstract piece, and then from there I thought ‘I’m just going to do portraits made up of dots’ and the first person I did was Kate Moss, which then became a little bit of an obsession – now I’ve done about 10 Kate paintings.
Paul adds: “I had one portrait of Kate Moss in GQ magazine and The Killers saw it and obviously liked it, and their manager phoned me – it was 12 o’clock one night and I was in bed asleep and the next day had this missed call from The Killers’ manager saying we really like the artwork and they were interested in me doing the album; at first I thought it was a bit of wind-up and then checked my emails and noticed he’d emailed me as well.
“I’ve always liked them, but getting a phone call from them asking to do their art is a totally different thing,” he says.
“I’ve always liked their artwork and thought they were quite cool. I’m very into fashion and I think they have a very cool image – plus their logo is made up of dots and I paint in dots so it was the perfect band really.”
After speaking to the band’s manager and frontman Brandon Flowers over the phone, Paul began getting ideas for how the artwork would look.
“It was bit mad; they hadn’t actually got the title of the album, they were still thinking about it,” he recalls.
“They did know, however, that they just wanted something that looked a bit futuristic and related to where they’re from; something that’s been there for a long time is the desert, so that fitted in, but painting it in a way that made it look a bit more futuristic as they wanted to create this new sound.”
With front and back cover plus a portrait of each band member to complete, Normansell had his work cut out to finish them in time for the filming of the video for the single Human.
“Normally a piece takes me two to three weeks, depending on the size – that’s working eight to ten hours a day,” says Paul.
“When I’ve got something on I kind of work weekends too; with the Killers pieces I had to do it very quick once we had decided on the cover and what their portraits would be – I had to do each painting in about ten days, with 15-hour days, to get it done in time.”
The resulting desert scene and eye-catching portraits of Flowers, Dave Keuning, Mark Stoermer and Ronnie Vannucci Jr were not only a hit with the band, but fans and critics alike.
“It gives you a really good feeling to know it’s going down well,” says Paul, who has been repeatedly asked by fans when or how they can get their own copies of the artwork.
“At the time it wasn’t available and The Killers had bought the rights to it, so I contacted them and asked if they’d be up to doing it and they agreed – there was quite a lot of demand out there,” says the artist.
Now Paul has released a limited edition collection of prints – 150 of the cover (50 on aluminium, 100 on paper) and 75 of each band member (25 aluminium, 50 paper) – with prices ranging from £495 for the cover serigraphs to £2,995 for the fine art aluminium portraits.
They are not only fine pieces of rock memorabilia which will surely make good investments, but bona fide works of art by an artist who is building more than just a good name for himself:
“I’ve just finished a portrait of Agness Deyn which I have created to look a little bit like David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane – she seems to be becoming my new obsession after Kate Moss,” says Paul.
“Then I’m working towards a show in New York and then hopefully I might be working with another band, but I can’t say much at this stage... I’m also moving to Gloucester next year; I’m going to build a house, which is all very exciting.”
Clearly a man of many talents.