Leif Podhajsky's instantly recognisable album artwork has become a beacon of success for the likes of Lykke Li, Tame Impala and new breakthroughs Young Magic. His artwork has been propped up on desks by 'Late Night' hosts Fallon and Letterman. His success, his Midas touch is rare in the industry; Leif himself has a hard time explaining it.
"I don't really know" says Podhajsky of the secret to his success "I think my work speaks to people on a deeper level without them knowing it. The concepts I explore like love, fear, and magic, the relevance of nature, balance and connectedness are universal to all humans and I believe we have lost touch with a lot of these in our modern lives. We're all secretly searching for answers to true happiness and contentment."
His kaleidoscopic, psychedelic artwork seems at once to reference a time long since passed and yet is utterly modern. It's a style that clearly borrows influence from the more analogue decades without being derivative, much like many of the musicians his artwork supports.
But it's a style which only emerged after serious introspection: "There was a real juncture in my life when my style started to en-root. I was working a crappy job as a web designer. I had had enough. I quit and started my own design studio. It gave my brain and heart room to breathe from the pressures of ordinary social obligation. I just kept developing my own personal style and eventually just let it wash over me" he says. His dedication to the form is far more than an ode to the 70s. In fact, thematically his use of pattern, recursion, symmetry and repetition seems to have led him to a similar aesthetic conclusion completely independently.
"These elements offer balance, love and an array of ancient knowledge which is lurking just outside of what we call reality" he describes, "I've had moments where I have felt a part of every living thing that exists and that's ever existed, experienced such clarity and beauty that it shatters what you thought was possible. This is what I use to shape my work, trying to hang on and remember these sorts of moments."
The style that was born of this decision graced 'Innerspeak', the debut album of the similarly psychedelic underground slow-burners Tame Impala, with whom Leif was already a fan: "I had seen them play quite a number of times, so that was an amazing job to get. I try and work with artists who I respect - whose music I would want to listen to. A lot of albums that have my work on them are on solid rotation. The Shabazz Palaces album is on 88 listens and counting".
Being drawn naturally to the music means that the design process comes much more organically: "Ideally I like to spend a lot of time with the music working out a story and concept which I can capture the whole albums feel and flow." says Leif on the creative process "I think that's the hardest part, creating one image which encompasses an entire album of story and emotion. The visual sense plays a significant role in how we judge and assess things in this clutter filled world. So no matter if it's physical or digital, an image will tell the viewer something about what the band stands for, what the music will feel like. It's an idea, an ethos, a visual identity for musical journeys."
On the digitization of his work, which is undeniably home to the majority of his exposure, he has mixed feelings: "The internet has played a big part in getting me where I am today" he recognises, and his popularity, or reblog-ability on the likes of Tumblr go some way to proving his ability to communicate that universal subconscious, "but..." he continues "I'm a purist and design artwork for vinyl size or large scale. A lot of people re-blog my work and choose to resize the images which makes them blurry, that annoys me." Despite being a self-confessed purist, there's still hope - still a need for good album artwork - whether that consists of pixels or ink, large or small, he concludes: "creating art (whether it be music or visual) which has essence and makes us think is key, not just to selling records but shaping a world in which we want to live."
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