Whether you know it or not, you’re probably familiar with Paul Romano’s artwork. A Philadelphia-area artist, his artwork has adorned album covers and merch from the likes of Mastodon, The Red Chord, Trivium, Earth Crisis, Chiodos, and many more. We were lucky enough to get a personal tour of his studio a few years ago while in Philly, and were immediately drawn to what was hanging above his fireplace – a 5′ x 5′ painting that was the original artwork for Mastodon’s Leviathan. That, along with many other new and original drawings and paintings, are on display in Philadelphia’s Arch Enemy Arts for Boundless, Romano’s first show since 2012.
How did Boundless come about?
2014 was a pretty intense year for me as far as life’s trials . Everyone can relate to having a bad year. Fortunately, I can create things in response to tribulations. Thus Boundless had its impetus; to help quiet storms inside; to ask myself questions. Art has always been a haven; a way for me to order emotions. I filter these (emotions) through my interests, music, narrative (especially myth and fairy tale), collective unconscious ideas of symbolism, into paintings and drawings that don’t necessarily provide any answers but are most definitely cathartic. Hopefully when they are out in the world they take on new meanings and spark good things for people, though audience isn’t a consideration so much in my process.
The title of the show, Boundless, is meant to be very open ended as the definition of the word would suggest. The word is a reminder to myself that through thick or thin you (me, you, everyone) has themselves and all the fantastic that they are and can be. While there is this specific collection linked to that word, the idea is that my creativity and work forth coming is limitless. You know, to be emo about it (note: 1980s Dischord up to Converge emo NOT whatever is passing for such now).
Is there a distinct difference between your personal work and the art you do for bands?
In band work I jump around with mediums and aesthetics quite a bit to speak of that specific band and their music. However, my thinking and interests are still in there. Looking from an aerial view of my commercial and personal works I believe common threads become apparent despite the differences of medium/aesthetics. My personal work pulls these threads together in a more cohesive way, is the difference I see. It took me a long time to understand this as, for myself, the larger percentage of the commercial work was me and something I wanted to say. I suppose it is just a matter of compartmentalizing one from the other.
Do you have any issues with the art community turning up their noses at your work because you’re known as a metal album artist?
I don’t think so. I am very fortunate to have album art as a vehicle to promote myself as an artist. I think it opens more doors truthfully. Also I don’t think metal has the stigma that it once did. Ozzy was the devil incarnate when I was a kid. Now, you can hear metal creeping in onto mainstream TV as incidental music or black metal selling cough drops.
How do you feel the art scene in Philadelphia has changed since you’ve become an artist?
Philadelphia is coming along. The internet has changed people’s awareness to art (and metal). There is a notable difference within the last 10 years with more appreciation and activity; turnout for events and more events themselves. I grew up here and was always active in the arts community from a young age. Now it seems like there are always new faces and different artists will bring out entirely new crowds. Galleries such as Arch Enemy Arts (where I am showing Boundless) are able to exist and thrive now where as an earlier version of Philadelphia wouldn’t have been as accepting; it has its ideas of “art” and was sticking to them.
What led you to start designing album art for bands?
I was always going to shows and getting to know bands (first show, late 1984, Hüsker Dü). So, I knew a lot of folks in bands and music was and is a main influence upon my work. It was a natural progression. Though I can pinpoint a conversation with Liam from Dillinger Escape Plan. . I was expressing that I was bored with my commercial design work and I wanted to get back to painting and drawing. Liam suggested I get in touch with Matt (owner) Relapse and see if I could help out. Things moved along fairly quickly from there.
When creating an album cover, do you want to be familiar with the album or band beforehand?
Yes, absolutely. I think it is a more successful final product if there is open dialogue between myself and the band. It helps me provide a tailor fit for their album.
How much does personal taste play a factor in choosing what bands to work with?
It doesn’t really. I separate myself from the subjective and remain objective while working with bands. They are the client and the end result has to speak about and for them. I don’t mean this to be the diplomatic, PC response it is just how I work professionally. To explain it another way I have done plenty for corporate design, logos for law firms, mega-construction companies to name some examples. I don’t know so much about either of those fields but saw it as a problem that needed to be solved and wrapped my head around it. So the practice goes across the board band, law firm etc..
How often to do you turn down bands that choose to work with you?
These days more often (and I apologize). I have been creating album art for a bit more than 15 years and I just need a break. I still have projects in the music industry and may come back to it with greater force but for now, I am having fun with some other things.
You were the go-to guy for Mastodon for their first four albums. They’ve been switching things up more recently, using other artists. Are you still in touch with them, and do you think you’ll wind up working with them again?
I am still in touch some what regularly. Brann and I have spoken about working together in the future and it will more than likely come to pass.
Most of the bands you’ve done work with have been metal and hardcore. Is that for any particular reason?
I am a huge fan. I have been since I first heard Black Sabbath when I was about 6 or 7 (1977). Then as I mentioned, growing up through present, I have been going to shows. Those musics are where I felt much at home; family.
Do you have a dream artist that you’d want to design an album cover for?
Geez, I really don’t know. How about I just list some all time favorite bands that I haven’t worked with – Swans, Einstürzende Neubauten, Dazzling Killmen (would require reforming of course), Kreng, Boduf Songs, Esben and the Witch… There’s a lot.
Boundless runs through May 31 at Arch Enemy Arts, 109 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA