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Following the success of his series Mag + Art, multimedia producer and writer Eisen Bernardo turned his sights on music plus art. Placing iconic album covers onto important works of art, Bernardo creates a unique dichotomy and an uncannily seamless marriage of existing images. We talk to him about his process, his inspiration, and his plans for the future.
CT: Could you tell us a little about your background?
EB: I’m a development communication practitioner. I work as a writer and multimedia designer at the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity. I’m responsible in the conceptualization, writing, designing and production of communication, education and public awareness materials of my organization. So, basically what I’m doing is applied arts. But when it comes to the arts (in the academic sense of the word), I don’t have a formal training. I’m just doing it as a hobby. I don’t have formal training as an artist; I don’t have a degree in fine arts. But I think I’m part of the digital era where people can freely express themselves using different art forms. The social media make it easier for someone like me to be noticed. We all know that the art world is an elite arena. But the social media/internet democratized it and made it more accessible for everyone.
CT: Do you remember the first time you brought together two separate images that made a new image? Did it give you a certain kind of feeling that you knew it was something you had an affinity with?
EB: I’m fond of homage, similarities and references in movies, music, and other art forms. I compare Ed Sheeran’s ‘Thinking Out Loud’ with Marvin Gaye’s ‘Lets Get It On.’ Or like I’m doing a list of cinematic reference points for Before Midnight. Like the +Art collage series, I just felt that magazine and album covers (like other contemporary art forms) were inspired directly (and/or indirectly) by classical paintings. The similarities and references can be observed. I just really wanted to compare and contrast modern and classical aesthetics.
CT: How has your work changed/progressed since your career started?
EB: Before, I just juxtaposed the contemporary covers and the classical artworks in purely visual terms. I only considered key factors such as the matching color palettes and identical/complementing body parts/movements.
But when I got some feedback that my work is filled with humor and irony, I also considered the meaning/message of my collages. So, when I came up with the next batch of +Art images, I tried to look for covers and paintings that can produce visual puns or can establish more meaningful connections (not only on the visual but on the conceptual level). I just wanted every piece to evoke a humorous or fascinating effect on the viewer.
CT: Who or what are some of your influences?
EB: I can say that I’m partly influenced by the pop culture movement and by artists working with celebrities like Andy Warhol and Annie Leibovitz. But my exposure to the internet and other popular media largely influenced my perspective in doing my artworks.
CT: Has Instagram changed the way you produce work? Has it changed what you share, or how you share your work?
EB: Actually, putting up this Album+Art Instagram feed is an experiment. I’ve been in Tumblr for more than five years, and the platform really helped me to expand the reach of my works. This time, I want to try a different social media platform, and I chose Instagram. My Album+Art IG account is only a month old and has already opened new opportunities to showcase my works. Also, because of the more ‘personal’ interaction in Instagram, the pop stars on the album covers in my collages got the chance to like (Miguel, Mayer Hawthorne) and share (Kacey Musgraves) my work.
CT: Do you have a favorite album cover designer?
EB: Andy Warhol designed some of the most memorable album sleeves (The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, John Lennon’s Menlove Ave, The Velvet Underground, The Smiths). Also, the English pop/collage artist Peter Blake who designed the vinyl cover of the Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
CT: And a favorite artist?
EB: I’m a music fan. So, I appreciate almost all genres of music. But I can say that I’m a fan of Frank Sinatra, Jeff Buckley, Hall and Oates, Sting, and Aretha Franklin. I also love some of the contemporary artists such as Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Bruno Mars, Mayer Hawthorne, Miguel, and Adele.
CT: Does your music taste affect your choices?
EB: Yes sometimes, because I want to give tribute to my idols.
CT: What motivates you to continue producing images?
EB: I’m doing this for personal satisfaction. I don’t sell them (because of copyright issues, of course). I’m just doing this for fun, and at the same time, to bring fun to the people who subscribe to my social media accounts. And I’m also a big fan of these inspiring artists, and this is my way of giving homage/tribute to them.
CT: What message do you want to convey with your work?
EB: My work is really open to interpretation. There are really many things you can think about it. Many say that it is parody of current culture, that what the society reveres is the celebrity. Some even expressed that my works say something about feminism/objectification of women in the arts/media. Actually for some, they don’t see this as art. Some really hate my Mag+Art, Album+Art projects, saying that I just copied existing works and just manipulated them using computer software. So, my works have engaged people in online discourse.
CT: What is the process behind creating your artwork? Do you look for the painting first, and then the album cover, or does it happen more organically, where one informs the other?
EB: And I’m a music fan, so more or less I’m exposed to a lot of album covers, from different genres of music. So most of the time, I identify the album cover first. Also, I love classical paintings, so I’m familiar with lots of artworks. So, I do a mental matching of the album cover and the paintings. However, when I do actual implementation in Photoshop, it is like I’m assembling a jigsaw puzzle. It’s trial and error. Sometimes, my instinct/mental matching is correct. But when they don’t fit, I do a lot of research online to look for a matching artwork. Most of the time, the pieces posted in my Instagram are just product of beautiful accidents. All of them are unplanned and I’m always surprised with the output. It is really a fun activity. It tests my knowledge of the classical arts (visual, literature) and popular culture (music, showbiz/celebrities).
CT: You previously used magazine covers and art to create new images. What comes after record covers?
EB: For this +Art series, I already have four specific projects. These are Mag+Art (magazine covers), Album+Art (album covers), Criterion+Art (Criterion DVD covers), and the most recent one, Logo+Art (logos).
CT: Do you have a favorite project you worked on or a series that you’re most proud of?
EB: Maybe my Mag+Art project because it is the first among my juxtaposition of classical and contemporary art projects. It became viral because of the idea of the collages is very simple. It is very easy; anyone can do it, but no one thought of it. And now, I’m tweaking the idea by using other contemporary art form (logos, album cover, dvd cover) to come up with new works.
CT: And any images that stand out to you as your best ever?
EB: For my Album+Art project, I really love the ones I did with the Taylor Swift covers. Aside from being the firsts, it was really hard to look for paintings that will fit to all five of Taylor’s studio albums. The paintings used in these collages ranges from medieval to modern.
CT: And finally, what are your plans for the future?
EB: I still continue with my work/day job (which is my bread and butter) and continue in creating artworks during my free time.