You may not know his name, but chances are you’ve seen his work. Robert Beatty is the artist behind those drippy, trippy, technicolour sleeves donning your favorite albums by Oneohtrix Point Never, Peaking Lights, Rainbow Arabia, Real Estate, and countless others. Multi-talented as he is, Beatty also makes music under the moniker Three Legged Race (among a number of collaborative projects), and works with various forms of sound and video art. Anyone with a taste for leftfield pop and fringe-friendly experimental music would be quick to identify his patently psychedelic aesthetic—a look that’s one part Salvador Dalí, one part Tom Wesselmann, one part Garbage Pail Kids, and one part vintage paperback covers, yet is entirely Beatty’s own.
Suffice it to say that Ghostly has admired what Beatty does for some time now, and we’ve been itching for a chance to work with the inimitable artist. That opportunity came recently, when we commissioned him to design the sleeve for Lord RAJA’s A Constant Moth LP (out December 2), which he crafted in fantastically retro-futuristic fashion. But we still wanted more from Beatty, so we took some time to ask the Lexington, Kentucky native a handful of questions. He shared a bit about his background in art and music, how everyday “trash” informs his work, and what he looks for in his personal favorite album covers.
How did you initially get started doing album artwork and design?
I’ve always had an interest in design from doing stuff for bands I was in in high school. Half the time I was making covers for records that didn’t even exist. I really got into it when my band Hair Police started putting out records in the early 2000s. We had no idea what we were doing, and had to figure everything out on our own. Even though the art was always a very collaborative process, I ended up by default being the one that put the album artwork together. Eventually, I was making album covers for my friends and then it just grew from there.
Most of what you do seems inspired by sci-fi/fantasy, 70s psychedelia, and altered states of consciousness. Is there anything that informs your work that people might not expect?
I see art as a way to process anything and everything that I experience, so there’s a lot of stuff that goes into it that no one would ever see. I really love mundane stuff like spam emails, product packaging, junk mail—things that seep in in a subconscious way. Just this trash you can’t avoid that constantly surrounds you in your daily life in the modern world. Every day, a bunch of garbage I don’t want gets shoved through a hole in my door, so I try to make the best of it. Nature is also a constant inspiration. I’m always taking pictures of weird mushrooms or broken branches or strange insects when I take my dogs on walks that make their way back into my art in some way.
What are a few of your personal favorite album covers?
I always have a hard time answering this question, but I tend to gravitate towards things that are hand drawn and somewhat crude, or have a rough edge to them. The one I always go back to is Isadore Seltzer’s cover to Bruce Haack’s Electric Lucifer LP. I could stare at that for hours, and probably have. Other ones I love are the self-titled Almendra record, Gilberto Gil’s 1968 record, The Velvet Underground’s Loaded, The Pretty Things’ S.F. Sorrow, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s self-titled LP. So many others, but that’s what comes off the top of my head.
Do you see many connections between your artwork and your music?
I’d like to think they exist in the same world, but I do so much that it’d be insane to worry about it too much, especially when so much of what I do is commissioned to be representative of someone else’s music. It seems weird for me to say that a music video I made for my own music makes sense next to a record cover I made for an indie rock band I’ve never met, but I’m sure they’re not that far apart in the grand scheme of things. I’m definitely putting more thought into the art for my own music so it stands apart from all the work I do for other people. Or I just do the things I want to do that other people don’t want on their records.
Would you say you are more interested in evolving or refining your personal aesthetic, and how do you hope to accomplish that?
I’m always working to get better at what I do and to try new things as much as possible, but I’m very conscious of reigning things in so it doesn’t get to be too polished. It’s tough when people are referencing album covers I made like five or six years ago, and it’s the exact opposite of what I want to be doing. But it’s always nice to be able to figure out new ways to do things I’ve done before or push them into some new area. I’m definitely already a few steps ahead of myself as far as what I want to be doing, but hopefully, I’ll be able to accomplish the things I want to do. I’m working on a few very exciting projects at the moment that will see the light of day next year and are breaking some new territory for me, but that’s all I’ll really say right now.