Mike Hrubovcak

Interview with gore master Mike Hrubovcak

Mike Hrubovcak is an American illustrator who lives and breathes Metal. Although extremely versatile in creating a broad array of fantasy and horror themed visuals, he has become best known for his extremely graphic and gore-laden Death Metal album covers. Introduced to Metal at a young age, Mike began his album cover ventures in 1993, drawing the demo covers for his high school Death Metal band "Disillusion". This was also the jump-start of his extensive vocal career, which was later spring-boarded by the formation of the band "Divine Rapture" with his brother J.J. Hrubovcak (now in Hate Eternal). 

While creating artwork for his own band Mike would also do Pen & Ink, Airbrush and Oil Paintings for other bands and Zines. One in particular was "Abominant - In Darkness Embrace" (1997) on Wild Rags Records which then led to many other covers. Once entering college Mike began experimenting with bringing his painting talents into the computer digitally using Photoshop. Shortly after graduating in 2001 he created his VISUALDARKNESS.COM website and the album cover art continued to accumulate. Mike's vocal and musical career also flourished over the years, being featured on a multitude of records and touring for the bands "Divine Rapture", "Azure Emote", "I.C.E", "Vile", "Abraxas" and the early 90's Tampa Death Metal legends "Monstrosity" (premiering his vocals for the band on the 2007 album "Spiritual Apocalypse").

Mike has created art for Relapse Records, Century Media Records, Revolver Magazine, Headbangers Ball, The Party.San and Maryland Death Fests, Hate Eternal, Sinister, Grave, Mortician, Decrepit Birth, Cattle Decapitation, Inhume, Pathology, Guttural Secrete, Avulsed, Rumpelstiltskin Grinder, Cephalotripsy and many others. He also had a monthly feature called "Nightmare Visions" on MTV's Headbangers Ball Blog (taking over for the discontinuation of Paul Booth's weekly art posts). Mike’s artwork even branched into illustrating B-Movie DVD covers as well as being used for a "Universal Pictures" Feature Film as background set dressing. Mike's artwork has been on display in many art galleries and featured in collective art books worldwide.

Today, Mike Hrubovcak continues to create his horror & fantasy driven artwork through his website VISUALDARKNESS.COM while also pursuing his own bands, currently consisting of “Azure Emote”, “Vile” and “Monstrosity”.

HMA: Welcome Mike Hrubovcak to our site.

Mike Hrubovcak: Thanks for having me and including me among all these great artists on here, I’m honored.

HMA: What is your background in terms of art training and education or are you self-thought?

Mike Hrubovcak: Well I was lucky enough to have had parents who supported my drawing habits and sent me to art classes for 7 years apart from normal schooling. I would go once a week after middle school and high school. I then went to a 4 year Art College in Philadelphia called “Hussian School Of Art”, initially for illustration, but later majoring in Graphic Design. Most of what I do though I picked up on my own by trial and error and experimenting with different techniques. 

HMA: Does art kill the demons or do they need to surface and end up as part of your work?

Mike Hrubovcak: They most definitely need to surface! Art and music go hand in hand with venting and purging all those dark and negative feelings we have inside. It’s funny how much death metal and horror art gets such a bad reputation, yet when you actually meet horror or death metal people we are the most down to earth and even-keeled people. It’s the people that constantly feel the need to wear a smile or constantly ignore the ugly things in life that end up exploding. I feel bad for them because they have no outlet. It’s not healthy. You have to face the darkness in order to overcome it.

HMA: As well as depicting hell on earth, I believe you also work as a graphic designer for the adult entertainment industry. Would you say is a great combination of both worlds?

Mike Hrubovcak: Lol yes I would. Over the years my misanthropy has grown. If it’s not from researching gore, murder or autopsy photos, it’s from staring at the depravity of mankind on porn DVD covers and such in every imaginable subgenre. I’ve seen things I wish could be unseen, and I won’t even go into detail about them, but it definitely fucks with your head. It gives you a broader perspective though on the whole essence of humanity instead of just burying your face in a bible or choosing to ignore such realistic subjects. Then when you see such outlandish things happening in your own life all around you, it elevates that awareness.

I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s bad or good, it’s just truth, and lets face it people – the truth hurts.

HMA: Being in various music projects (Monstrosity, Vile, Abraxas and Azure Emote), how does this benefit on handling design requirements for an album cover job?

Mike Hrubovcak: Hmm, it benefits cause I guess I have an inside knowledge of what record labels require, or how the process goes from beginning to end and what each person expects (the artist, the band, the label, the distro company, etc). The negative however is the more personal band stuff I do, the less time I have for other people’s art. I guess for a while now I’ve been turning down a lot more work then I’ve taken on. If thing’s with my personal bands slow down at times though, then I’ll have more time for artwork. It comes in waves I guess depending on if album recordings or tours pop up for me.

HMA: How do build your illustrations? What kinds of programs are in use or are they created by hand?

Mike Hrubovcak: Right now most of my work is created digitally within Photoshop. Sometimes I import my own photography setups or drawings, paintings and pen & ink. It all depends on the project really and what it calls for. Originally I started with airbrushing and oil painting, now it’s basically photo-manipulation mixed with airbrushing with the wacom tablet within Photoshop.

HMA: Apart from the mutilations, zombies, violence, etc… I noticed that there is a significant amount of newborns. Filling a creative brief or is it a subject that still disturbing and provokes people reaction?

Mike Hrubovcak: By newborns do you me babies / fetus’s? haha, or new / fresh subject matter? Well lets start with the first – Yes, everyone holds babies / newborns as precious, a symbol of life, so of course including them in artwork so disturbing grabs a certain attention. Nothing Is sacred in real life, not even newborns, so why NOT go there when real life throws it in your face every day. As far as fresh or new / non-gore artworks that I’ve been doing – I enjoy reflective symbolic imagery as well as gore and blatant shock. I like both, but It just so happens that what is asked of me to produce 80% of the time though is mainly gore orientated things. So I give the public what it wants. It’s a reflection of humanity and want the masses are drawn to I guess.

HMA: The first baby violence that I have visually experience on an album cover is of course classic Cannibal Corpse “Butchered at birth”. Has the album set the benchmark to this day?

Mike Hrubovcak: Haha, probably! I love that cover! Definitely epic, I mean don’t get me wrong from what I was saying before, I still love the brutal gore covers, and the Cannibal artworks are up there with the best. I guess what started my wave of gore covers all has to do with the band XXX Maniak. After the album “Harvesting the cunt nectar” came out, every like-minded band wanted me to do their album covers. That started the gore wave for me really. Personally most of my favorite cover arts have been done by Dan Seagrave, Wes Benscoter, Kristian Wahlin, Ed Repka, etc. Not really gore orientated but dark and mysterious.

HMA: Carcass first two albums gave the scene something unique and kick started the gore obsessed craze on sleeves. Looking at your own personal work I can see that this has been developed and reached different levels in terms of skills and ideas. In your experience where is this type of art headed?

Mike Hrubovcak: Every generation before is topped by the next. Every artist now has his influences from the past. “Monkey see and monkey do, look at me and look at you.” I predict the scene going into a more minimalist way and then returning to uber-detailed, etc. Influence breathes in and out, and fluctuates like life in general. Look at now, the wav of 80’s thrash or 70’s rock that is making a come back. Bands like Ghost, bringing back the old feeling that is getting huge again. Old Thrash was making a huge wave recently again too. Old-school Death Metal was getting ignored lately for new-school Death and Deathcore bands. Eventually everything comes back again in waves. The same will happen with the artwork. What is considered extreme will become old, and then once the masses grow old of that, it will go obscure, then the cycle repeats. It’s only shocking when it’s new. Another sad fact of humanity; your only as good as what you did the day before.

HMA: How would you describe the style?

Mike Hrubovcak: “It’s the ultimate Fuck You to the world”. Something I’m proud to be associated with.

HMA: Do you think one day the general gallery crowd will see the beauty in the gore?

Mike Hrubovcak: Not the extreme gore. The masses will always be uneducated and dumbed down by societies ethical rule in general. The black sheep are here for a reason. If the whole herd becomes black, then eventually the white sheep will be the outcast. That’s not going to happen anytime soon seeing the religious dogma that exists in humanity. We can’t evolve as a species until religion is abolished.

HMA: Apart from gory films, what other subjects interest you?

Mike Hrubovcak: Well yes, I do love horror flicks haha, but apart from that I guess psychological thrillers, and retarded comedies. I’m also big into researching “conspiracy theories” or conspiracy fact, quantum physics and UFO / Space research.

HMA: Have you done work on subjects not related to gore or Metal in general?

Mike Hrubovcak: Yes. I’ve done illustrations for many genres of film, music and retail items. I’ve done illustrations for Car Magazines, DVD covers for a movie featuring David Johansen of the New York Dolls, Water Bottling Companies, Light Bulbs & Batteries, Restaurants, DJ Clubs, Porn Websites, you name it.   

HMA: If you have to pick one of your piece. Which one best defines you as an artist and why?

Mike Hrubovcak: Probably my Azure Emote album covers, since I created them for my own music project where I created both the music and the artwork. Those were extremely personal and done to express my personal emotions and view points. “Chronicles of an Aging Mammal” and “The Gravity Of Impermance”.

HMA: Ambitions you like to share?

Mike Hrubovcak: Playing this year Hellfest in France with Monstrosity is a big achievement. Also putting out the new Azure Emote album “The Gravity of Impermanence” is very satisfying. As far as future ambitions, perhaps playing Wacken Fest in Germany or playing a big festival with Azure Emote. Also I’d like to illustrate album covers or do artwork for some of my favorite bands that I haven’t had the chance to work with yet.

HMA: Thanks for your time and your interest in Heavy Music Artwork.

Mike Hrubovcak: Thank you for including me! Your definitely making an awesome website and I hope you guys keep it up! It’s a great idea, and I’m glad at last someone is including the amazing artwork covers along with the amazing albums, cause both go hand in hand. It’s for the whole experience, which is maybe why I love Vinyl so much. It’s not about plugging in an ipod, but about sitting down and feeling the entire experience of an album. If you want to see more of my artwork please visit www.visualdarkness.com. If you’d like to hear my personal music/art, please visit www.azureemote.com.

Copyright 2013 © Alex Milazzo, Heavy Music Artwork. All rights reserved.

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