The Death of the Artist in Everybody’s Collection
Dan Flynn pays tribute to the greatest album cover artist ever, Storm Thorgerson, in “The Death of an Artist in Everybody’s Collection“:
His greatest critical if not commercial triumph may have come not with his pre-fame friends in Pink Floyd but with a similarly experimentally minded artist. Peter Gabriel didn’t name his early albums. Hipgnosis’s cover art did. The singer’s third solo effort, officially titled Peter Gabriel like the two albums preceding it, unofficially became “Melt” because of the arresting black-and-white image of the singer manipulated to look as though his flesh dripped off his face. Thorgerson created that one, as well as “Scratch,” in which Gabriel’s fingernails leave a trail of white streaks. Thorgerson’s car appears on—what else?—“Car” by Gabriel. Akin to The Beatles’ “white album,” Gabriel’s early releases go by the names the cover graphic bestowed upon them rather than their proper titles. …
If cassettes and CDs supplanting vinyl didn’t signal the end of cover art, then certainly digital downloads did. The LP record awarded Thorgerson a canvass a foot long by a foot wide. Steve Jobs reduced these visuals to roughly the size of a Starburst candy. Small is the new big. Something gained, something lost—what we reclaim in shelf space we miss in aesthetic beauty.
Storm Thorgerson understood visual for people who understood aural. He also knew when to die. Cover art, like the vinyl discs they protected, play about as vibrant a role in contemporary pop culture as the Victrola. Album art is sadly gone. So is the man who most excelled at creating it.