This interview has been published on Radio Metal the 29/09/2014.
The visual dimension has always been a key component of metal aesthetics: just thinking about the amount of seminal bands who’ve been fishing in the whole art history for their artworks—Morbid Angel, Burzum, Reverend Bizarre to name but a few—shows how often the music and the art worlds blend together.
I talked about that with Costin Chioreanu a few years ago. If you aren’t familiar with his name already, you probably know his art: a multifaceted artist, he designs posters, artworks and T-shirts for many bands among which Arch Enemy, Opeth, Neurosis and Ulver, but also directs animated videos, and works on stage design, for Mayhem. On top of that, he plays himself in Bloodway, and works on several more personal projects and exhibitions.
Strong of an extremely rich and varied experience of both the music and the art world, he told us about metalheads’ relationship to art and about his own. Because in the end, the medium of expression doesn’t matter: the goal is always to serve a higher purpose.
First of all, can you tell me quickly how everything started, and how did you end up where you are right now artistically? Apparently, you started by working for bands, and moved on to more personal project later on. Is it really the case? Was working with bands your first intention when you became an artist?
I actually started back in the mid nineties, when I started to widen my collection of bootleg cassettes. You see, in my country back then the original items were very hard to find, so we had to be happy with what we had. And we had tons of shitty bootlegs, most of them with xerox covers at an extremely low quality. So, I started using my skill for illustrating these. In some cases, I could understand what I needed to imitate from the xerox covers I had, and it was more simple. There were cases as well where there wasn’t any graphic at all on the bootleg I was buying… so then I started using my creativity, inventing covers that never existed for albums that were already released [laughs]. That was funny, at the time, and it’s way funnier now, when I look at them and then see the original cover [laughs]. In some cases, I found out what the cover looked like a few years after. We didn’t have Internet back then, and there was just one printed magazine, which could not cover physically such an amount of releases in all subgenres of metal. After that, I went to the University of Arts, where I graduated and spent another two years to apply to a master degree in graphic design. I started working with bands in 2002/2003, and had my first art exhibitions in 2003 and 2004. But after that, I got more concentrated on working with bands and I left the exhibition rooms until 2011. Since then, I am doing both in parallel. In my childhood I was drawing a lot, and back then I didn’t think about working with bands at all… At the University of Arts, I had a revelation one day while I was looking at all these cassettes: “Oh, that’s it! I think it would be great to do such a thing!”
So when you were drawing covers for your metal tapes, I guess the visual dimension of music was vital for you, even at that time? Who have been your biggest inspirations, art and music wise?
In the nineties, I was really inspired and truly fascinated by the imagery of extreme metal, and artists like Necrolord or Dan Seagrave were my first hardcore influences. Later, I discovered Niklas Sundin, who was my biggest influence in digital art. Back in 2003 when I started, he was my main influence actually, as for a few years I did a lot of digital art, maybe because I was fascinated by this new medium. Once I started to do handmade drawings, I started to develop my own style, which became what I am doing today. As for music, after my first love Metallica, all the Scandinavian metal scene was my biggest influence, no matter if it was black metal or death metal, melodic or brutal, it has always been something that really appealed me. And it still does.
Your style is quite versatile. What are the techniques you’re using?
All the styles I need if I feel so. From painting, drawing in pencil or black ink, to photography, digital art, even collage… Anything. I am always focused on capturing the essence of the record with what I am doing, not to impose my style above all. I think the style and the signature comes by default anyway, no matter the graphic medium I choose, so I don’t see any reason to focus on showing the world that I am Costin. I am Costin anyway, I just need to do what my inner compass says.
Can you tell me how do you work with the bands? Do you contact them or do they contact you? How do you choose the ones you work with? What is their level of input? Do they give you precise directions or are you just getting inspired by the music or the lyrics?
At the beginning I was contacting them, but after a while, they started to contact me. It’s true that in 2002/2003, there were not as many metal illustrators as they are now… but of course, the bands were not as many as today too [laughs]. Maybe it was simpler back then, maybe not…
What is the collaboration you’re the most proud of?
I don’t know, there are too many and I really like many of them at very different levels… I really can’t pick one.
You’ve got your own design studio, Twilight13Media. On the website, there’s a disclaimer that made me think about the one we can find on the website of fellow artist Valnoir from Metastazis. This is a very uncompromising and artistically ambitious point of view that is shared by many underground musicians. Do you think that working in the metal world allows to have a more authentic, “underground” and ambitious approach of art?
That disclaimer is a work in progress and it will always be, because it’s built on the pillars of experience. So, until I die, I will experience more and it will suffer changes. I don’t think working in metal scene assure you a more “authentic” or “original” approach. Until few years ago it was quite the opposite, every genre had more or less some, let’s call them “standards” in terms of visual art which everybody, including the artists, were supposed to praise and respect, like a tradition. By time, the scene got more and more open to new things as it got suffocated by the same values repeated over and over again. So yes, lately it is fine, people are really interested in having a really particular style for their album covers.
Your art is often displayed in a musical context, whether it be your exhibitions at the Roadburn festival or your booth at the Hellfest for instance. We can buy your work on Graphic Noise, which belongs to Season Of Mist—a record label. Do you feel more comfortable in the music world than in the art world? Are metal fans especially receptive to visual arts?
Yes, actually the big break in between 2004 and 2011 when I didn’t expose anything to the public was CAUSED by the experiences I had in the “world of art”. I feel comfortable anywhere I can reach harmony between people and respect. I found these values here and I am happy about it, people seems to be happy as well, so it’s nice. Sometimes I am working with galleries from other countries which are not related to music, and that happens just because the people from there are nice and respectful, not a bunch of arrogant people with huge egos pretending they know everything and trying to imply you are and will always be on a lower level. Metal fans have for sure their mind and soul animated by this creative universe heavy metal music is creating all around… Just think about all the mystery, the fascination for new worlds beyond… So they might be way more “open” to art in general. I am talking here about the real metalheads, collectors, people who put all these passion into this. When they see a piece of art praising the worlds beyond they are thinking about every day, then for sure a very strong relationship between the viewer and the artwork is born. Something beautiful!
You draw, you play music in several bands, you make videos, you design the stage for bands… You really are a multifaceted artist! Do all these media you use nourish and inspire each other, or do they come from the same place but then grow separately? Do you try to express the same kind of thing with all of them?
Maybe they come from the same place but in my case, it’s like I have a constant need for diversity in media in order to keep myself fresh. Sometimes, I got the inspiration from a medium to another, which makes things even more interesting. I’ve always liked to go further, to explore. If I am doing the same thing all the time, I simply go nuts from the consistency of expression.
In that respect, I’d like to talk about the “Where Purgatory Ends” exhibition you did a couple of years ago. Even if this time, you weren’t illustrating a musician’s work, music was featured in the exhibition, as well as digital art, and even wine and cookies, calling for all the senses at the same time. It makes me think about the Romantic ideal of Gesamtkunstwerk [total artwork]. What was your intent with this exhibition?
When I started to do public exhibitions again in 2011, with “Where Purgatory Ends”, I wanted to create projects of exhibitions involving art, music and happening made all by me, and all of them talking about same subject in order to make the speech as powerful and complete as possible. I completely dislike making things just for the sake of being interesting. If there is no higher purpose, I won’t do it. In this particular case, the exhibition was about my life and my overall vision of life, death, and also the afterlife a bit. Cookies were specially made by my grandmother at that time, in a special shape, designed after the shape of the birds I’m using in my artworks, like a signature, let’s say. But it had no connection with any ego, as the bird itself was a metaphor for the traveling soul. The wine and the cookies were like an ironic, or more precisely a different approach of the biblical thing with wine and bread. They were the blood and the soul, to become aware of both the blood/flesh/earth and the soul/unseen/space at the same time, in order to understand your path better. The exhibition had artworks illustrating the horrible flesh and the unseen at the same time, so everything made sense in my head. The music was composed mainly by me, but I had some great musicians to record their own parts as they wanted to in order to make something really powerful. Rune Eriksen [Twilight Of The Gods, Aura Noir] played some guitars, pianos and samples, while Andrei Ionut recorded the bass and Tudor Diaconescu recorded the violin. In the end, yes, that was the result, maybe a part of the quest to get to that Gesamtkunstwerk… But a synthesis of MY stuff, MY perception, without trying to use it to convince other people of my ideas and beliefs, but just to be able to present them as coherently as possible.
Even if you work with different media, what would be your “weapon of choice”? Which one allows you to express yourself the most accurately?
Black ink drawings are not the most complete weapon, but the most natural in my case. The most accurate and complete are the animation videos, as there I combine music with visuals and concept at the highest point I reached so far.
And last question: what are you working on at the moment?
A lot of projects, some of them will be announced soon.