Monday, February 25, 2013

The Music-Related Artwork of William Schaff

Several years back Will Schaff contacted me because he was compiling all of his music-related artwork into a coffee-table friendly collection, and wanted written contributions from all the musicians he had worked with. I happily wrote my piece, and several years later I heard from Will again, this time asking for my address, which I duly gave him. Nine months later a package arrived for me – today in fact. In it was probably the single most beautiful artefact I have ever been given. 'From Black Sheep Boys To Bill Collectors' is an exquisite full-colour hardback collection of his music-related works along with 'Autumn Bird Songs' an exclusive eight track green and white marbled 10” vinyl record by J. Molina (Songs: Ohia), written and recorded specially to accompany the book. The whole package is published and printed by Graveface Press, and my eyes water at the thought of how much it must cost to produce something of such beauty. The hardback is exquisite, and I lack the technical vocabulary to describe it accurately, but the fine matte paper sleeve protects a fabric textile covered binding with a mysterious debossed silver insignia on the front cover, and the vinyl slides out of a large paper envelope fixed on the inside back cover. It even smells elegant. If you love beautiful things I urge you to checkout the Graveface webshop; if you can't afford to shell out for the hard copy, a PDF & mp3 bundle version will give you at least half the joy for a fraction of the price. Will always slips little extras into any thing he posts you; this time I received a single piece of a jigsaw puzzle, a page torn from a random paperback and his new “G.G. Allin Kid's Activity & Colouring Book”, (#2 of 14 copies) which is so deeply wrong it made me really hurt from laughing. I want to scan some of it in and show the world but I’m not sure it's wise. Actually no- I’m sure it's not wise. Perhaps you will be able to find some of it on Will's Flickr page...You probably don't know that you probably know Will's artwork. Reprinted below is my piece from the book, which explains why.

A few years ago I promoted a show for a band called The Iditarod, at the Cube Cinema, in Bristol, England. In the foyer, the drummer was displaying and selling copies of his own paintings, sketches and collages. Looking through them I noticed a piece familiar to me from a Godspeed You Black Emperor album. “Oh so you’re that guy!”. He was that guy. People leafing through the prints were saying “God, this stuff is really dark”. This was true but I found myself thinking “this stuff is hilarious”. In a single frame he had offered the most perfectly searing satire on the post-9/11 American psyche. A man dressed in Twin Towers merchandise furiously masturbates his missile-penis in front of a television. Corpses spew from the screen and he holds his fist aloft with righteousness.

But Will also drew strange but charming and affectionate pictures of dogs he had seen in the local park. On tour around the New England area, Will had a photo of his own beloved dog on the dashboard, to which he had glued a patch of her hair. Other works occupied the space between these two extremes. Recurring themes, characters and symbols allow us to peak in on an internally coherent alternative world. By rendering our mortal concerns in a vulnerable, almost comic book style, the issues are inescapable, jolting us out of our desensitized world-view. Cartoon people aren’t meant to get raped and murdered.

Not long after, an album of mine called Flashlight Seasons was due for release. Will listened to the album and came up with three pieces. We settled on a startling red and black image of a strange quadraped figure plodding through a forest, a parasitic twin piggy-backing him like a malignant growth. Marching alongside is a family of origami chickens. This bewildering tableaux of suggestions fitted the album perfectly.

The next album was called Black Holes in the Sand. The title track featured the lines
I held the hand that threw the stone that killed the bird that woke the city/and I could not feel the flower in my hand”. Will randomly emailed me, and as ever, attached a piece he happened to be working on. It was a red and white paper cut of a bird of prey perched on a flowering branch. Will had yet to hear the record. This was Jungian Synchronicity at its most irrationally compelling. Will’s world was making the decisions now. Like the perfect servant, it knew what I wanted before I knew I wanted it.

Songs: Ohia, Godspeed You Black Emperor, The Iditarod, the Eyesores and many others have been captivated by the world of William Schaff. Damn. I wanted it all to myself.

(Written in 2008)

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