Friday, 1 May 2009

The Art of Super Furry world: Monsterism and Beyond

Super Furry Week - Day 4

Part of the appeal of the Super Furry Animals is that listening to their music is like going through a doorway to a parallel world; like an audio equivalent of Time Bandits or Where the Wild Things Are. Their world is our world with our problems, but it’s also a place of hamsters and tennis players and demons and technology gone mad and Frisbees and dogs and modern transport systems and apocalypse and guacamole and people shooting boys with red hair because they think they are foxes. It’s fitting then that this familiar but intangible world has been given life and depth through the artwork of Pete Fowler and his Monsterism universe.

Pete Fowler is the Welsh artist responsible for all the band’s album and single covers from Radiator up to Phantom Power. His vision and art forms a link between all their releases which makes all Furry work - however diverse and experimental - seem connected to some bigger and deliberate picture. In the same way as The League of Gentlemen’s macabre misfits are linked by their residence in the streets of Royston Vasey, so the people of Super Furry world are joined by Monsterism.

His work for the Super Furries has two distinct styles; the bright pop-art style characters, monsters and vampires of the Radiator era and the 3D clay models first used for Guerrilla and revisited for Love Kraft. Songbook and Phantom Power saw a return to drawings, but these were shaded and darker takes on the clay model work, with wood carving themes thrown in to Phantom and singles for good measure. You can hear Gruff and Pete shedding some light on their working relationship in this article from last month’s Independent.

Monsterism has a vibrant life outside of the Super Furries universe. As well as art prints and collectable vinyl figurines, Fowler has produced a number of cartoon strips for Vice magazine in the UK. Most of them are available to download for free on the Monsterism website. These have now been developed into a flash animation which is reportedly set to be turned into a children’s television series. I say reportedly because I couldn’t get the links to work on the website to find out where this is up to.

In anticipation of the TV series Fowler has come full circle and has just released the second in a series of Monsterism compilations. A Psychedelic Guide to Monsterism Island is a collection of mostly instrumental and songs by lesser known artists that, in the words of Garry Mulholland ‘feels like an underground, lo-fi British version of an old Walt Disney soundtrack.’ Perhaps unsurprisingly it features Gruff Rhys on a tracked called Wild Robots Power Up, although he rivalled in the fame stakes by an appearance from Jerry Dammers of the Specials.

The album follows 2005’s well received The Sound of Monsterism Island Vol 1 which is a compilation in the vein of The Trip, featuring lots of unearthed treasures from the sixties. Copies are hard to come by, so you’ll have to look hard, but I’m sure there must be some out there still.

Pete Fowler is still very much involved with the Super Furries – the artwork for Dark Days / Light Years is a collaboration he did with Japanese artist Keiichi Tanaami who also did the cover art for Hey Venus! and its singles. The relationship between a band and their artwork is often underplayed, but for fans it can be part of the experience and create and maintain a sense of community. The bonus with Fowler and SFA is that in their community we are all welcome because everyone and no-one is too weird.

No comments: