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Mikel

16 Jul 2020

Text by Mikel

ØLÅF Citizens: Tal Midyan

16 Jul 2020

You probably have seen his work, but maybe you just don’t know it yet. Tal Midyan has made artworks for some of your favorite artists such as Travis Scott, Gunna, Bon Iver, 21 Savage, and Justin Timberlake, while also being the Associate Creative Director of the global brand and design team at Spotify. That recognizable design of Spotify’s Rap Caviar playlists? Yeah, that too.


Hi Tal, how does it feel to make visuals that are pretty much seen everywhere in the world?

“Feels great, haha. I work full time at Spotify and for a year or two, I’ve been doing more projects independently. At Spotify, I work on all the different brands that fall under the umbrella. From artist initiatives to brand work and everything in between."

 

How is that balance of working independently next to your full-time job?

“I enjoy the combination. Spotify is a huge brand with big budgets and a big influence, so the work I do there is very global and can be seen by millions. But because it’s such a huge company, it can also be more of a challenge. It’s a Swedish company, and there is a lot of corporate stuff you have to go through before you can get things done sometimes. In that sense, I prefer to work on my own, or with a small team. Nothing against Spotify, but at the end of the day it’s just more rewarding when you do it on your own. But I like the balance in my work life right now.”

 

How do you translate music into visuals?

“To be honest, most of the time I don’t even hear the music that I’m making the artwork for. Sometimes it’s a couple of tracks or snippets as a preview, but I never hear the full project. It’s less about music and more about bringing a concept to life. With Bon Iver for example, it wasn’t really the story in the music itself, but more about talking to the artists and hearing what this project is about for them. They have the music, then they have the artwork, and then the website—those are three separate things. The whole Bon Iver project was all about collaboration. i,i stands for a collaborative spirit. So I tried to recreate that idea of togetherness and connectivity on the website."

 

A website for Bon Iver’s fourth album, “i,i”.

 

Spotify is also very data-driven, does that influence your work as well?

“The Bon Iver product was made with data, so that was cool. But music is something human. It’s so visceral and emotional. I try to look at those qualities rather than numbers when I make something. In the end, I hope my work just enhances the experience a little.”

 

Recently, you worked together with Gunna, making his album artwork, promo, and merchandise. What was that like for you?

“I worked together with Spike Jordan, and we talked about Gunna’s alter-ego WUNNA (which is the name of the album). Gunna is a Gemini, so the idea was to create a doll version of his alter-ego and have it float into space in front of his actual astrological chart that we had an astrologist made for him.”

 

The artwork received some mixed reactions. Does that influence you?

“I didn’t know that haha. I think that’s a good sign though. A lot of brand campaigns are just skipped past because they feel impersonal or because people just don’t care. People are more invested in artists than in brands, and when you make artwork as we made for WUNNA, those reactions come with the work. It doesn’t really bother me. It’s actually a great reaction for me. It might be weird to them, but that’s kind of the point. You always want to make something that catches people off guard a little bit.”

 

Official album cover for Gunna’s 2nd studio album, “WUNNA”.

 

Is your style applicable to any artist?

“Absolutely. I’m very aware of not being boxed in. I don’t want to be just the Atlanta hip-hop guy. If I was just doing cover artworks or photography there would be more pressure to have a certain look. But for me, in terms of style, it’s more about ideas and the creative process of combining multiple things you haven’t seen before. I love trying different things.”

 

A lot of your work involves Black artists and Black culture. In light of recent developments, that must feel ambivalent sometimes.

“As a white man, there is definitely an added responsibility that I’ve always felt, but now even more so. I’ve always tried to be on the right side of things. People of our generation grew up inspired by Black culture: music, fashion, art. The least I can do from my position, with my skill and energy, is to give back to a community that inspired me so much. One way that I hope to do so is through mentorship and investing in talent. Creating opportunities for young designers that may not have benefited from the chances and privilege that I’ve had. Having gone to one of the best art schools in the US and studying design from some of the greats was definitely a privilege. But we need to break that system and think about who’s getting the opportunities both in education and in the industry. You also don’t need to go to the best art school to do what I do.”

 

A personal website for Pharrell that houses over 20 years of his work.

 

How have you personally taken responsibility?

“It’s very important for me to engage. I’m not an activist, but I try to influence the people and brands around me to hopefully change something. I have so many white people around me who don’t have black friends and they still don’t understand. And all these brands that are “for the culture” should do better as well. Nike can make a nice commercial about this, but their whole board is white. It’s not just a police thing, it’s everywhere.”

 

On Instagram, you posted about not going back to normal. How do you hope that we get out of this?

“I think that COVID-19 will forever change how we live. But this, more importantly, will change how we as a society treat each other.”

 

Rapcaviar, PANTHEON.

 

We always finish with a question about what has inspired you. Despite the turmoil going on in New York and the world at large, have you seen, read, met, or listened to anything interesting lately?

“I read this book called Sensemaking, by Christian Madsbjerg. I finished it right when COVID-19 started, so it might not be super relevant now, but I still think it’s interesting. He divides data into thick data and thin data. Thin data is: “young people brush their teeth for 10 mins.” With thick data, you attach historical, socio-economic, or cultural connotations to that. Companies now are using big data without understanding histories or cultures. That’s how you get products or services that forget a little about humanity.”

Tiffany Chung

08 Aug 2021

Text by Tiffany Chung

CITIZENS: REGINALD SYLVESTER II

08 Aug 2021

Reflecting the world we live in today, Reginald Sylvester II is an abstract artist that captures moments in time on canvas. In this edition of Citizens, the New York-based painter tells us about his foray into the art world, his creative process, and the characteristic an artist needs to push the work further.

 

How did you become an artist?

“I worked corporate for a while as a graphic designer for Gap. Corp, specifically Old Navy. Got some really great advice from my Senior Designer that I should pursue my creative endeavors outside of work. That working corporate could become a bit stale for someone as young and creatively driven as I was at the time."

 

So, did you go through a starving artist phase?

“I wouldn’t call it a ‘starving artist’ phase but I definitely struggled."

 

These Songs Of Freedom II & III, 2020. Acrylic on canvas.

 

Is the business side of being an artist something you had to learn as you go?

“Most definitely. You learn as you go. The unique relationship I have with my Dealer and good friend Max has been fruitful in the sense that I’ve been able to learn as he grows. Having full transparency with your business and business partners is key."

 

When you're creating a piece where do you start?

“It all depends on the day and circumstance. I’ve noticed since I'm right handed it’s usually the upper right hand area of the surface that is confronted first."

 

How do you know when you're done a piece?

“Hard to say. Paintings are like time stamps. I suppose when I’ve lived with a work long enough, when that time is finished the work itself is finished. Then again you could say it’s never finished until it’s realized in front of the viewers beyond my studio walls."

 

When you're in the studio what do you need to help you work?

“Music, then sometimes silence. Focus."

 

What music are you listening to?

“A lot of different things. From Hendricks to Miles to Jay Z. I’ll transition into Hans Zimmerman then to Lupe Fiasco to Mary J. Blidge. Depends on the feeling, time and day."

Last Laugh, 2021.

Last Laugh, 2021. Late 1800’s early 1900’s bronze slave transport, discarded car parts, rope, and black oxidized bricks..

 

 

What do you wear in the studio?

“Painters pants, tee, and Rick Owens Birkenstocks."

 

Do you ever feel insecure about your work?

“Without a sense of insecurity there’s really no need to feel as if you need to push your work forward. No room for what ifs."

 

Shoot for @plastermagazine.

These Songs of Freedom II, 2020.

 

 

Complete this sentence. ‘An artist should always…’

“Create with humility."

 

True or false. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

“Possibly true to a certain extent."

 

Here's a difficult question, do you have a favorite color?

“Navy blue, brown, and black."

 

Which artists do you pay attention to or think other people should be paying attention to?

“Artists that excite me are Janis Kounellis, Frank Bowling, Julian Schnabel, and David Hammonds to name a few. Artists to pay attention to today: Tschabalala Self, Spencer Lewis, Somaya Critchlow, and Coco Capitan.">

 

Heel chair, 2019.

 

As the art world becomes more digital, what are your thoughts on NFTs?

“No real thoughts on NFT’s pertaining to the world of art. I feel there’s other areas of focus that are more important to me at the moment."

 

To wrap things up on an inspirational note, name a person, place, and thing that inspires you.

“I think my dad is super inspirational in the sense that he just wants to build. That's all I want to do. So, the conversations that we have had as of late, or as I've been becoming my own man, they've really been based off of building belief systems, family, generational wealth, heritage."

 

“A place that inspires me is tough. It’s between Mexico City and Tokyo. They actually remind me a bit of each other. Tokyo is more of a grander place and definitely more industrial, but I think the things that I like about Japan are the little nooks and crannies. I like how things are kind of crammed together. I think with Mexico City, you find little essences of that. But the biggest reason why I like Mexico City is just the balance I feel between nature and city."

 

“The thing that inspires me is the act of making. The fact that you can think of something and use objects that already exist in the world in order to create something new. I just think it's like the closest thing we can get it to God, aside from women being able to give birth to children. Making something that didn’t exist at one point and then does for a minute, day, year, is just inspiring."

 

Article image by: Jesse David Harris