A few years ago, Collage artist Kalen Hollomon was just a fan of The Weeknd, hoping to one day work with the singer. "As far as new music, [The Weeknd] was the only thing I'd consistently listened to since he dropped in 2010," he says over e-mail. At the time, his manager and BPMW Agency co-founder Minya Quirk connected with the XO crew and told Lamar, The Weeknd's best friend and right hand man, about how much Hollomon like the singer. Little did Hollomon know, The Weeknd and his XO crew were already familiar with his work.
This past March, The Weeknd and his team told Hollomon he needed to be in Toronto the next day, where they'd work on artwork for Beauty Behind the Madness. "Best work day ever," says Hollomon. "They played [Beauty Behind the Madness] in its entirety in the studio, candles lit. We vibed out." He says Drop and Ben, who art direct for XO crew, shared with Hollomon their vision for the album and campaign. His job was to "bring it to life."
Hollomon went on to design the art for Beauty Behind the Madness, including the artwork for the chart-topping single "Can't Feel My Face." Here, he talks about what it was like working with The Weeknd and the inspiration for the cover.
What was the inspiration for the artwork for Behind the Madness?
Drop and the guys had a concept; I’d say it was at 80 percent developed when they brought me into the project, a sort of vintage Italian horror look. It all made sense. I shot all of the photography for the work in a mixture of 35mm and digital, which was great. We did a shoot in New York with a model and then I shot Abel in Los Angeles over a few days. The album cover went through a lot of iterations before we came up with the final, which is a pared down version of the original concept. I really like what we did, that we took our time, and that Abel is choosy and instinctive—it has to feel right to him, and I can relate to that.
You also worked on the artwork for "Can't Feel My Face."
The "Can't Feel My Face" art is special to me because of the way it was created. It came about in a very natural way with a confidence I strive for—painting, then cutting and ripping without really thinking, more feeling. No second versions or alterations, it felt free and honest.
What kind of direction did The Weeknd give you when designing the artwork?
After hearing the music and seeing the team’s visual inspiration, there was no direction for photography, it was up to me. Abel is chill and a real artist himself; he was great about letting me do my thing (although I did want to shoot him in a sleaze motel, which his management wasn’t feeling). We knew the vibe we were going for and we were working collectively toward that. The final images were a collaborative effort between me, Drop, and Ben.
One night, when the guys were in New York, we stayed up in a very productive work sesh, pasting, ripping and making selects, knocking it out. We passed collages and ideas back and forth constantly. At times there was very strong direction from them, like "Abel likes this image" or "let’s do it in this style."
You're known for your collage work, and most of your pieces unite vintage fashion advertisements, porn from the '80s and '90s, and found photography. How did that dictate the cover for Beauty Behind the Madness?
I think that stuff had its strongest effect when I photographed Abel. I wanted the images to have a sort of timeless feel; those are the kinds of images that resonate most with me whether old or new.
The album cover only features The Weeknd's face on a black background. Did you, as you often do with your artworks, use cut-outs of other photos/ads to put the cover together?
The cover utilizes a single photo that I shot in Los Angeles. The original background was bushes, we blacked that out and deconstructed it to get it to the point it’s at now. All of the work was done by hand, so every tear, every piece of tape, and wrinkle they’re all real deal.
There seems to be a deeper message in your work. How did the title Beauty Behind the Madness, concept of the album, and overall sound relate to the actual art work?
It all related very much. My inspiration when shooting and while working on the collage aspects came from that early listening to the new album—the relationship between Abel’s often gritty and dark lyrics mixed with a bigger, sexy pop production. There’s a new, almost epic sound happening for him on this album, but he retains the seductive inner mystery that makes him him, and I hope we got that across in the imagery.