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  • 08.29.12

Neil Young and Shepard Fairey Channel Classic Folk Spirit for Your Ears and Eyes

The artist and the venerable musician join forces on the latter’s new set of tunes, resulting in album art fit to be displayed in a museum (which it is.)

Shephard Fairey‘s design agency Studio Number One may have created album covers for the likes of Smashing Pumpkins and The Black Eyed Peas over the years, but the artist’s personal work for Neil Young‘s new album is something else entirely.

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The legendary folk rocker’s new album, Americana, reinterprets classic songs from the American canon, including Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” When it came to the album art, Young asked Fairey to do some reinterpreting himself–using each of the eleven tracks as the basis for paintings. Fairey used mixed media on canvas, employing techniques such as stenciling, collage, and screen-printing to achieve an effect like old war-propaganda posters. The finished artwork marries modern feelings about America with the message of vintage American folk songs.

The Americana project came about as a result of Fairey’s relationship with (and longtime fandom of) Neil Young. In 2010, the artist created a portrait of Young for Fairey’s May Day show. The following year, Young asked Fairey to design the art–packaging for the 25th anniversary of the musician’s Bridge School charity. Creating the art for Americana involved a closer collaboration however.

“I showed Neil sketches, and then we discussed the ideas and refined them,” Fairey writes on his website. “He was very open to my ideas and encouraged me to go with what inspired me the most. Latitude for interpretation is something that Neil utilizes and seems to value as an important way for the listener/viewer to personalize their interaction with art and music. I also was excited about this project because the concept of re-interpreting pre-existing songs filtered through Neil’s unique sensibility parallels what I have often tried to do as a visual artist by building upon iconic images that are an accessible part of the cultural dialogue.”

Fairey’s paintings were on view over the summer at Perry Rubenstein Gallery in Los Angeles, where box sets of the prints are now being sold. You can see them here in the slide show above.

About the author

Joe Berkowitz is a writer and staff editor at Fast Company. His next book, Away with Words, is available June 13th from Harper Perennial.

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