“It really seems to be resonating with people,” says art director Mark Farrow, who explains how the iconic art came together.
Everyone and their grandad has seen Stormzy’s ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’ album art taking over the UK these past couple of weeks. Shot by photographer John Ross, ‘GSAP’’s cover recreates the last supper scenario, replacing Christ and his cronies with the 23-year-old grime sensation and some of his best mates, all donning balaclavas.
Like the covers of ‘Original Pirate Material’, ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ or ‘1989’, it’s clear that ‘GSAP’’s art is going to be adorning kids’ bedroom walls for years to come. Not only does it grab attention from the off – it also feels like a testament to how Stormzy has managed to twist norms and upset the rhythm on his own terms, from one chart-bothering freestyle to this game-changing first work.
But making something this immediately iconic doesn’t just happen out of the blue. Weeks of planning and the odd happy accident helped make this cover happen. Mark Farrow was in charge of ‘GSAP’’s art direction, and he worked closely alongside Ross to make sure that each of Stormzy’s ideas were fully realised. Speaking to NME, he tells us about the art’s concept, its religious framework and how it all came together.
How did you develop the concept with Stormzy? Was it a collaborative process?
It was very much a collaborative process. The title is obviously evocative and Stormzy had a lot of thoughts and ideas which we kind of distilled down and added our own thoughts to. The idea being to arrive at a visual expression that reflected both elements of the title.
The nods to religion and Leo Da Vinci are really striking – what were your main references?
Stormzy’s faith is obviously important to him and that, coupled with the album title, meant that most of his touch points came from religion. The last supper idea came out of seeing him interacting with his mates during an earlier photo session. John Ross, the photographer, had lit the images beautifully – it just brought that image to mind, so we decided to shoot it a couple of days later.
Who joined Stormzy on the day? Who are behind the masks?
We had to be really careful, the last supper has been parodied a million times and we all felt that if we couldn’t bring something new to it then it would just end up looking clichéd. I think with the black set and the balaclavas, which were Stormzy’s idea, we’ve achieved that. It then just remained for it to be beautifully lit and photographed by John Ross. The people in the ballys are his mates, basically.
What was the biggest challenge, in terms of fully realising the ambition of the project?
Without doubt the biggest challenge was the timeline. We went from a first meeting to the finished album design in just under three weeks, and involved a lot of people working very hard under immense pressure. There was a lot of shouting and balling along the way but we got there, which was kind of a miracle in itself.
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You’ve also worked on artwork for Manic Street Preachers, Spiritualized and Pet Shop Boys. Was this one of your biggest challenges?
Different artists have different needs and demands, and those in turn change with each different album they release. Most of the artists we work with are long standing relationships and that generally helps in terms of understanding each other. In this instance we’d never worked with Stormzy before, and it’s also his first album, so inevitably there were challenges, especially when moving at the rate we had to.
This already has the feel of an iconic cover. Was that your aim from the outset?
It was very much Stormzy’s aim. It was the first thing he said in our first meeting. It really seems to be resonating with people, it looks incredibly strong on huge poster sites, so yes, I guess we fulfilled his brief.