Interview with Artist of the month Eliran Kantor
Eliran Kantor, born in 1984 in Israel growing up in Bat-Yam and Gan-Yavne, currently living in Berlin, Germany for the last 3.5 years. Known mostly for creating album cover artwork for Testament, Sodom, Hatebreed, Anacrusis, Atheist, Sigh, GWAR, Mekong Delta, Evile & Master among many others
HMA: Greetings Eliran and welcome.
Eliran Kantor: Thank you for getting in touch and having me featured.
HMA: First of what is your background and how did you develop your skills and interest in the arts?
Eliran Kantor: I started drawing around age 4-5. I have a strong memory from that age of my dad Ze’ev Kantor drawing and painting a lot, we had a bunch of his work hanging around the house and he painted Donald Duck on the wall of my bedroom, and on his own wall he did the teacher and mother characters from Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’. I clearly remember myself finger-painting on one of the empty hallway walls shortly after. The years following were mostly pen and pencil, with some occasional experiments with chalk & acrylics. I did mostly cartoons – mimicking Uri Fink – and imaginary ninja turtles ‘screenshots’ from an imaginary ninja turtles video game that doesn’t exists, with my friend Itay Franklin. We did these at school for years in our notebooks instead of paying attention, ended up with hundreds of drawings probably still stored in Itay’s cellar or something. At 15 I did a few murals on my bedroom walls with acrylics, then was asked to paint a couple of friends’ walls as well. I posted them on-line and people in local metal discussion boards saw it. Then I drew a few logos and did my first batch of CD covers for friends’ metal bands in Israel – namely Solitary, Abed and Armilos.
HMA: How would you best describe your technique and approach to a project?
Eliran Kantor: The main thing I care about is to create something interesting.
I have very little patience and don’t want to spend all this time painting something boring. I try and take every opportunity I come across to stay away from having a comfort-zone and always try to do something different. I try to forget everything I knew and start from scratch. If you put some of my covers side by side – ‘Anacrusis – Hindsight’ – which is a photograph, ‘Ferium – Reflections’ which has a lot of sketchy pencil work, ‘Testament – Dark Roots of Earth’ , ‘Melange – Exit Strategy’, The European ‘Aghora – Formless’ cover I made with clay and the upcoming new Tristania album ‘Darkest White’ – it doesn’t really look like the same guy did all of them.
3 years ago everyone asked me for ‘that Dali-like surrealism that you do’ and ‘colorful skylines’ and now a lot of bands ask for something close to Testament’s ‘Dark Roots of Earth’ and I just say no. Like the awful catchphrases 90’s TV sitcoms had – these shticks get old fast and age very badly. And I myself get bored and lose interest. Same approach is applied to the mediums I’d use – whatever the projects calls for, be it pencil, pens, photography or clay to digital painting to sculpting etc.
HMA: Nowadays digital art and Photoshop artists are becoming more and more available. Ideas are recycled more often and genuine artists are hard to find. What are your views in this context?
Eliran Kantor: Advanced tools indeed make it easier to be lazy, but I don’t blame the tools – the artists themselves make the choice to be lazy, or are simply unimaginative. Some of my favorite album covers like Megadeth’s ‘Youthanasia’ were done in Photoshop but the result is better than 99% of what’s out there that’s done with oils on canvas. Recycling ideas happens in traditional mediums as well, google ‘comic book tracing’ or ‘comic book plagiarism’ and you’ll see plenty of examples done in pencils and ink. Back when the airbrush was introduced, art snobs damned it cheating. Nowadays the new generation of art snobs will say “fuck Photoshop, we got an old-school artists who uses real airbrushes”.
I won’t say there’s no advantage to the organic over the digital because there clearly is – you cannot duplicate the texture of oil on canvas because nature’s fractals don’t exists in digital paintings: once you zoom in more than 100% you get pixels, while with real paint you can always go deeper and deeper and knock yourself out until all the way to the sub-atomic level, not to mention there’s a 3rd dimension to it as well – there’s depth to the layers of paint. But so many artists would trade all of that for the ‘undo’ option, and that’s why so many artists who used to work exclusively with oils ‘converted’ to digital, although some make the opposite transition for the aforementioned depth and texture.
HMA: There is a sense of the epic and classical elements in your style. Is this intentional or are they directly inspired from the music?
Eliran Kantor: Completely inspired from the music. Some would be epic or classic looking, while some will be low-key or futuristic. I look at it as a collaboration between me and the band, and the result is something that would fit the specific tone of their music, filtered through my personal taste. That’s why I don’t have that urge to have “my style” and stick with it.
HMA: “TESTAMENT – Dark Roots of Earth” does give the music a great representation in the visual. Was the band involved in the creative process?
Eliran Kantor: I think Eric Peterson was in England demoing riffs at Andy Sneap’s house, and came across a figure of the forest god Cernunnos at a local market. He then texted me the forest god’s name and the album title as a general starting point. I came up with the idea of having the forest god all huge coming out of the ground, with worshipers below summoning him by the fire. I initially had in mind just 5 worshipers in hooded cloaks like in Souls of Black, but Eric asked to have an entire ‘repenting scene’ down there with a lot of people praying and getting on their knees. He also came up with a lot of other details like having the souls of the dead swirling in the clouds, the lightning and the rams horns etc. Later on after we were done with the cover Eric sent me a picture of the figure, it didn’t look anything like our version to be honest but it’s funny how it ended up being on the cover.
HMA: I believe you have done exhibitions and been involved in art galleries. What are the benefits and how do people react to Heavy Metal Art?
Eliran Kantor: I actually only did one exhibition, and that was in Apeldoorn, The Netherlands – Nov. 2008 in a metal festival called Brainstorm. The organizers approached me to do it and it was basically an exhibition in front of metal heads only, which was fun as the atmosphere felt more comfortable for me as opposed to a normal art show. To get that point across: In the middle of answering people’s questions about my work I heard that the band playing the stage right now just starting playing a King Diamond cover – I told them “hold that thought, back in 4 mins!” and ran to the gig hall. There was also quite a large number of Christian Metal bands playing, so the crowd was a bit different from your average metal crowd, and I remember there was a lecture about Metal and the Bible, and people were asking me questions about Israel. And I had no idea and I was there with this huge banner:
HMA: Do you often get bands that have specific ideas on what they want but often you feel that the ideas are not suitable to their music? What kind of approach do you use?
Eliran Kantor: Usually average ideas are bond to be repeated, and I have a pretty good memory of the history of metal album covers, so if a bands comes to me with a bad idea I can quite easily show them how it was done before on other album covers, usually multiple covers, and nobody wants to appear redundant and run-of-the-mill, so we scrap that idea and start working together on a new one which I’ll make sure will be as original as possible. But, if the idea itself is original and good, but not ‘suitable’ for their specific sound, I’d keep it and make it a challenge to dress it up in a way that will fit the color of their music.
HMA: Looking at your site you have a long list of “coming soon”. What is the waiting list like? And how do you keep the creativity healthy and always ready for more work?
Eliran Kantor: I used to accept every project, like any business that’s just starting up – but since 2011 my schedule became so crammed I had to be more picky, so these days I have the privilege of going by my own personal taste in music, and try to work with the best music out there – that’s the main weapon I have against feeling burnt out, getting to work with exciting music and fresh ideas. So usually with the bands that approach me I have a 2-3 months waiting list completely pre-booked at any given time, and even some later dates further down the calendar if the band can plan in advance, but I keep a small safety buffer because sometimes a band I really like approaches me and say they can’t wait 2-3 months because of the recording schedule.
HMA: Do you find time to work to not related Metal art and personal projects? Are you working on anything else at the moment?
Eliran Kantor: I’m now working on my 3rd guitar design for Dean guitars, but that’s also metal-related basically because it’s Eric Peterson’s signature series. These personal pieces I have on my website are usually very compact with not too many details and characters, as they are based on ideas that pop into my head and I could find the time to flesh them out between my usual schedule of doing album covers. I keep the more detailed ideas for a later opportunity, where I can suggest using them as album covers if suddenly I get a fitting project. My plan for this year is to slowly do more of my own concepts, regardless of complexity, and have the commissioned work take about 50% less of my schedule. But interesting commissioned offers keep coming in so we’re now in April and I’m still yet to make that transition. But I can’t complain really.
HMA: “SIGH – In Somniphobia” is one of our most favorites. Elegant and beautifully painted… what symbolisms and meanings are concealed?
Eliran Kantor: The plot is quite simple to figure out but I’d rather not explain the actual meaning behind it. As music-wise it’s quite a surreal record, and I think each listener will end up with an entirely different experience so it would be a shame to ruin all the mystique. I’ve read some great theories on-line about the cover from SIGH fans, weaving various political conspiracies and secret meanings. And these things will be in the back of their minds when listening to the record, which is fantastic.
HMA: What is your studio like?
Eliran Kantor: It’s just a desk in my living room, really. Nothing fancy. Around my work equipment I keep cases of CD’s, a guitar I rarely play, a stereo and a big board on which I write my upcoming schedule and daily tasks.
HMA: If I had to hire Eliran Kantor, what are your work ethics and principles that I should be aware of?
Eliran Kantor: Get in touch as early as possible – even if it wasn’t for my long waiting list, if you don’t have a concept in mind or have a bad concept that we’ll have to abandon, take into consideration that we’d need a lot of time to develop something original and interesting that will benefit both of us. I require 50% booking advance so I can secure time slots. Have music samples ready and send me the lyrics. Expect me to get involved and pretty vocal about what we’re doing, as it’s a collaboration. And please have one representative of the band talk to me; I can’t be put in the middle of band/label/management drama and politics.
HMA: Thanks for this interview and for your interest in Heavy Music Artwork.
Eliran Kantor: Thank you for having me!
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