Gregory Euclide: interview
As the first in a series of interviews of the folk behind some of the most beautiful artwork and packaging ever to grace your humble vinyl, CDs and tapes we had a word with Gregory Euclide - artist behind the brilliantly-executed THESIS project.
As a shop that stocks physical records, artwork and packaging are things that we put a lot of stock by here at Norman Towers. There are so many albums with great sleeves, far too many to chronicle here. However, over the years we’ve noticed a few labels, artists and designers who consistently go that extra mile. We’re talking hand-painted covers, we’re talking bespoke editions, we’re talking unique individual editions.
So, over the next few months we’ll be conducting a series of interviews with those for whom packaging a record is a real labour of love. First up: Gregory Euclide.
While you may not know Gregory Euclide by name there's a good chance you may well already be a fan of his work, especially if you've spent time on this website. A visual artist based in Minnesota, Euclide is fascinated by the relationship between land and human activities and his intricate, highly suggestive illustrations have graced some of the best covers of recent times.
Perhaps most famous are the images he created for Bon Iver’s eponymous 2011 LP and all its related singles. Closer inspection of these spectral landscapes is always disconcerting, depicting a natural world always somehow under threat - fragmented, intruded upon, unreal. To hold the sleeves in your hands is to play with their meaning: no matter how beautiful, these are always going to be manufactured objects that can only ever represent a distorted, human version of nature.
As Justin Vernon himself put it (PDF), "I can stare for hours" - and the same rarified levels of involvement can be found in Euclide's pieces for the likes of Erased Tapes, Seabuckthorn and From The Mouth Of The Sun.
And then there's the THESIS PROJECT, one of Euclide’s primary creative endeavours over the past few years.
The THESIS ethos runs thus: two artists who have never previously worked together are paired up and tasked with creating a record together. Euclide then hand-makes the packaging for each one - artwork, inner-sleeve and all. This principle often throws up some exciting artistic link-ups (Ed Carlsen/Heather Woods Broderick, Julianna Barwick/Rafael Anton Irisarri and Dustin O'Halloran/Benoît Pioulard to name but three THESIS unions) and the resulting music is frequently beautiful, tending towards contemporary classical composition, ambient and beatific drone.
As for the artwork - well, the THESIS items are among some of the most beautiful records we’ve ever stocked, their packaging lovingly-assembled and their imagery shot through with the same deep meaning as his covers for Bon Iver and the rest.
It's the care in Euclide’s craft that got us wondering about his thoughts on the relationship between music and his visual practice. Luckily, he was generous enough to let us pick his brains on the matter.
Gregory, you have talked in interviews about the physical nature of your work - how, for instance, you use plants collected on walks to give your paintings a bodily element and to relate them to the world outside of the gallery space. Do you think that the physicality of vinyl as opposed to other forms of music consumption is part of what attracted you to starting up THESIS and creating sleeve artwork?
The care that is necessary with vinyl is what attracted me to it. One can not simply flip it on and let it go all day. There is no random or shuffle. The intent of the artist is more intact with this format. The art is bigger, the physical object is more interesting and engaging to me. I know music does not have a physical form, but for me the object helps me appreciate, remember and stay in touch with the intangible. When CDs first came packaged exteriorly in lengthy cardboard rectangles, I carefully opened them with an X-acto knife and hung them on my walls like wallpaper. The colors and graphics of the music had a profound impression on me. I just don’t get that at all from digital music. Physical objects, with a tactile presence in the world, keep me aware of the physical world. I love how, with vinyl, one’s actions, care and respect have consequences.
I think many people associate the kind of music that you put out through THESIS - ambient, drone, piano music, contemporary classical composition and so on - with a sort of tranquil beauty that one also finds in nature. It certainly conjured those images for me when I listened to some of your releases. Do you feel a similar way, or do you get something different from the music?
There is a very organic feel to the work we release. Even if it is electronic music, it’s someone creating something that sounds very organic. I think many of the ambient musicians I listen to have a strong connection to nature. You can see it in their album art or social media posts and you can hear it in the way they treat the sound in their recordings… It is very much about an appreciation for the natural world.
Many elements of the THESIS project involve collaboration - you create the artwork in response to the music, and that music has been made by artists being paired up by yourself, who are asked to feed off each other and create something. You’ve talked elsewhere about how THESIS began, in part, as a way for you to demonstrate your respect for music. I was wondering if you see the project’s collaborative nature, which requires a certain level of investment, care and labour from all involved, as part of this?
In my own art, I don’t collaborate very often. Each time I have, it proved to be inspirational. I have always been struck by how musicians are frequently involved in several projects, using different names, having different sounds. With THESIS I wanted to make something that is a place for collaboration in the hope of having musicians meet, learn, gain perspective & evolve. I think some projects have done that for the parties involved.
Do you feel that several years of creating artwork for records has altered your practice as a whole?
Yes, it has left me with little or no time to make the art that allowed me to start the project. I was awarded a McKnight Artist Fellowship and with the award I started THESIS PROJECT. Making each record is very labor-intensive, it is very repetitive work. Folding, cutting, gluing and so on. The labor of THESIS is very important to me. It is my way of being present and giving the music the attention it deserves.
In an interview with the website ‘Piano & Coffee’ you talk about hand-crafting the jacket graphics for each individual THESIS release. Unsurprisingly, as you’re effectively doing 300 unique artworks for each 300-record run, you say that these repeated works change and evolve with each new sleeve that you make. Do you find that there are similarities in the way that your work develops across the course of these 300-piece runs, or do you find each new release leading you down a different path?
I think any time you are asked to do something 300 times there is a level of experience that is going to be obtained. Over the course of making the initial jackets and sleeves in an individual release, I am able to see what is going to work the best for the graphic based on the set of stencils and colors I have chosen to work with. But over the course of time, from release to release, I learn a lot about the design. Simple things like what type of dot pattern to use on the folds. How much of a tab I will need to be able to make the glue stick. How wide the sleeve should be. Having 100% control over the design, I get to make tweaks based on what I have found in each process. With the yMusic release ‘ARRANGEMENT 01’ we created a laser-cut cover, laser-cut sleeve and did and etching on the blank side of the record. Each of those records takes over 3 hours to make and they should all look the same, because it was the 14 or so releases that led up to that release that gave me the knowledge of what to do.
The sleeves for your THESIS releases feature outlines of the hands of the contributing artists and also a map of their state/region of origin. Why have you chosen to use this motif?
The whole project is about making a connection to the physical, to the land. The antithesis of the convenient streaming services. I don’t actually like the fact that I want my consumption of art to be “easy.” The land is a pretty important element of a lot of the music I listen to. Our first project was Taylor Deupree and Sean Carey - part of the reason I paired them together is that I knew they both had a deep respect/connection to the land. I ask artists, “where do you call home?”. To me, the hand of the artist is a symbol for work. I have always enjoyed watching hands play piano or guitar or whatever… So it seems natural to pair these elements together. The art and the space they come from.
You released your most recent THESIS 10”, a collaboration between Ben Lukas Boysen and Martyn Heyne, in late 2019. What does 2020 hold in store for THESIS? And do you have any other sleeve designs/commissions in the pipeline?
We just released an app that contains well over 100 compositions that are meant to loop forever called ‘THESIS RECURRING’. We also have an ongoing subscription series called ‘DRIVE’. It’s a monthly release of lengthy compositions that get downloaded to a physical, handmade drive. Our next month’s release will be a double, with 20+ min tracks from Benoît Pioulard and Mary Lattimore. The next vinyl release is going to be ‘THESIS 17 CEEYS & CONSTANT PRESENCE’ (Daniel O’Sullivan and Peter Broderick) There will be artist signed copies available at Q3 AMBIENTFEST in Potsdam, Germany. I’m personally working on a book cover for a NY Times best selling author and designing the new Aukai vinyl and CD release.