History isn’t usually kind. Most people have been forgotten regardless of their impact and contributions. Entire movements of art, music, literature, philosophy and even science were lost in the corrosion of time. This is especially true before the advent of the internet. Grassroots movements like the psychedelic art revolution of the 1960s were particularly affected by our collective amnesia. There was never a unified group or standard way of disseminating their work, plus they faced widespread persecution legally for their use of mind-altering drugs and social stigma of being “dirty, lazy hippies”. It’s a shame though. This era produced fantastic, otherworldly creations that often connected to other artistic areas such as poetry and music, especially the vibrant jazz culture of the time. One of the forgotten—until now—muses of this time was Mati Klarwein album art.
Mati Klarwein album art outline
Klarwein has roots everywhere. Born in a German Jewish family just before Nazi occupation, this caused his parents to leave for Palestine two years later and then relocate to Paris after Israel commandeered the country in 1948. After coming of age, he travelled relentlessly before ending up in Spain at the time of his death in 2002. While he went through many different styles and expressions in his decades of work, he’s most remembered for the surrealist images associated with the psychedelic movement, which sought to visually express the psychoactive effects of drugs like LSD and psilocybin mushrooms. Klarwein befriended many musicians, such as Carlos Santana, Eric Dolphy and Miles Davis, and helped complement their sound with twisted and beautiful art. Here are some of our favourite Klarwein pieces. Let us know what you think and if we missed any! But, above all else, get high and enjoy them (preferably with the music!).
Eric Dolphy Iron Man
Eric Dolphy was a Los Angeles-born multi-instrumentalist and all around jazz weirdo who unfortunately died in 1964 at only 36 due to an instance of medical malpractice while touring abroad in Berlin. Before he passed away, he recorded Iron Man, a prismatic and meandering work that’s complemented by Klarwein’s use of dark pinks and purples and the geometric collage we see below.
Miles Davis Bitches Brew
The start of Miles Davis’ jazz fusion era that characterized his later career, Bitches Brew is funky, edgy and incorporated elements of emerging electronic instruments. This wasn’t always met with enthusiasm, but the album has secured a place as a pivotal and experimental part of Davis’ catalogue. Klarwein takes the challenge of representing this head-on, prominently featuring two women embracing on a beach while simultaneously being overcome by water and fire. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.
Before every Instagram graphic designer was posting their spastic collages, Klarwein leaned into dizzying collections like this one for Carlos Santana and his 1970 album Abraxas. Like all of Santana’s work, it’s cold and paced, matching the dark, sinister tones of Klarwein’s work here. This was the album that featured “Black Magic Woman” and Klarwein plays with that theme here, making a black, nude Virgin Mary-type figure the center of this cover.
Earth Wind and Fire Last Days and Times
Here Mati Klarwein album art takes his lead from the name of the band he’s been commissioned to design for, Earth Wind and Fire. The group’s third album is not considered their best by any stretch but does have one of the most recognizable covers of soul rock from that era. Working with the elemental nature of the group’s name Klarwein creates swirling hues of yellow, blue, green and red above the members as they stroll down a block. As with all of his covers, if you passed this in 1972, you’d at least stop to marvel for a few minutes.
Largely unknown to the casual listener, Osibisa is a British Afro-pop group formed in the late 1960s that still tour and record to this day. Their blend of jazz, soul, rock and the traditional music of African and Caribbean cultures helped propel the world music genre to a recognizable status. They also have a fondness for elephants and the creature’s symbolism. Typically used to designate status, longevity and strength, Klarwein depicts a bright red, almost menacing, elephant head against a soft blue background. The members of Osibisa are incorporated into the creature elevating them to the beauty and status of the animal.