Ever since Tyler, the Creator dropped his debut studio album Goblin in 2011, the Los Angeles-based rapper has been a fan of dropping alternate album covers. Many of these covers feature the work of Tyler’s favorite artists. For example, when T dropped Wolf, the deluxe edition featured special art made by the pop surrealist painter Mark Ryden. Whereas the dreamy cover art for Flower Boy was originally an oil painting by the artist Eric White. And for his Grammy award winning album Igor, Tyler also tapped into Lewis Rossignol for a grittier album cover that was later released as a special vinyl.
Gregory Ferrand is a Washington D.C.-based painter who is the latest artist to receive a much-coveted cosign from Tyler, the Creator. Observant fans may have recognized that when Tyler shared the album art on Instagram for Call Me If You Get Lost, he also shared an alternative album cover painted by Ferrand. A self-taught painter, Ferrand originally graduated with a degree in film from the Virginia Commonwealth University in 1997 and began painting in the early 2000s. Ferrand’s work viscerally captures the human experience through narrative paintings that can conjure up stories filled with emotions with just one glance. Whether that’s the uncertainty an immigrant family feels while clinging on to an U.S. passport inside an empty airport, or the sense of adventure he captures for Tyler’s newest album.
We spoke to Ferrand about his experience working with Tyler, The Creator, his artistic influences, how he started painting, and what his plans are for the future.
It was interesting to learn that Tyler, The Creator reached out to you himself. How did you feel about getting a DM from him on Instagram? Were you a fan of his work already?
Yeah, I’m definitely a fan of his stuff. When I got that DM from him, it was like a pinch yourself situation. At first, I thought it was a joke. I checked to make sure that it was really his account and it was. It was exciting for sure. When an artist of his stature recognizes your work, it’s an exciting thing.
What was that initial DM like?
He was like ‘Hey, I love your work.’ and I said that was a nice surprise. He asked if I worked on commissions and I told him I did but didn’t get them that often. But if he wanted to commission something, I was definitely up for it. After talking a bit about what he was looking for, we FaceTimed so I could get more info about what he really wanted. There were no real specifics he gave me other than this rough sketch. Now, after seeing that “Lumberjack” video and all these other visuals he’s been rolling out, I’m really impressed that he was able to communicate his vision to me without actually showing me any of that.
I’ve heard so many stories of artists being commissioned by record labels to make art for rappers, but I feel like it definitely means something different when the artist reaches out to you. How would you describe your style to someone who is now becoming familiar with your work? Why do you think Tyler resonated with it?
It’s always difficult to talk about work. I guess we always want to put people and their work in boxes. But the easiest way for me is to say they’re narrative paintings that tell stories about the human condition. From there, I would recommend people to look at my work and read my artist statement. I think the emotion that he saw in my work was something that resonated with him. He definitely talked about the saturated palette that I use and those tones. I can’t remember if he had specific paintings that he liked. But I think overall, he liked the fact that I was able to transmit this emotion. I mean, I didn’t ask him why he chose me or anything. But he told me at the beginning how much he liked my work and how much it resonated with him. He couldn’t remember exactly where he found it, but he found it himself.
Would love to know how you just got into painting in general?
I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I was really into comic books. Comic books really were where I learned to draw. As a young kid, I thought that I would go into stop motion animation. And when I went to college, I was exposed to all this other kind of art making. At first, I thought I was interested in sculpture, but then I started doing videos. The sculpture department didn’t really work because they weren’t looking for linear narrative pieces and that’s what I wanted to create. I wanted to create stories. So then I left to get a degree in film and made my own path at that point. After graduating college, I moved to Argentina to find myself and explore. Although I studied film in college, I wasn’t quite ready to go out to Los Angeles. When I went to Argentina, I was living and figuring things out. I was teaching English to professionals and then spending a lot of free time making an illustrated journal to record my experiences. By the end of those years, I realized painting was my thing.
So going to Argentina, drawing and painting in that illustrated journal, it was like finding myself again. I continued to grow as a painter and I stuck with the medium. I settled on acrylics, which is difficult to use because it dries very fast, but I think I figured out a system that works pretty well for me.
You have this background as a filmmaker and your work is heavily inspired by 1950s Americana. I kind feel like those two things perfectly sync with the creative visuals Tyler’s rolled out for Call Me If You Get Lost. What sort of creative conversations did you two have that lead you to this cover?
Definitely, I think what he was going towards was more like the early 1960s maybe, but it’s not far from where I place my paintings aesthetically. I really mean it when I say that he came to me with this very rough sketch. But it nailed exactly what he was looking for. I mean, he was looking for that perspective and you see it in the “Lumberjack” video where he’s standing on top of the trucks. I hadn’t seen any of that beforehand and had no idea. Obviously he has all kinds of visual imagery, even within his lyrics which are chock full of references. But his videos are the same. So for me, it’s been exciting to watch the rollout. I wasn’t a part of that, so I didn’t know. But he could so clearly express his vision that I could still get it and it still looks like it’s a part of it. I think that speaks a lot to his creative genius.
Going back to just your own work, why does the aesthetic of 1950s America resonate with you personally?
My parents came of age at the end of the 1950s. And I grew up hearing a lot of stories about that era, post-World War II America, and this idealization of a certain kind of America. And I’ve always been interested in the facade that we as humans put up to protect our true selves or to hide our true selves. I always thought that the look of the 1950s, this idea of picket fences and suburbia being a stand-in for these facades that hide truths, still resonates politically to this day.
You said Tyler sent you reference photos. What were those photos exactly? Did he explain why he wanted to include certain things?
Well the image that you see, I didn’t have a photograph of him like that. He did give me a photograph of his face from that angle, because for me it was obviously very important that he’s recognizable. That perspective is not a typical view either. For the rest of it, I enlisted the help of a childhood friend and I got a bunch of stuff to make him a model. I got a sweater for him, a hat, and then I set up some lighting and took my own photograph of him. I’m in D.C. and Tyler’s in LA. So I had a very short turnaround. There was no way that I could do anything else but it worked out. It’s just his whole aesthetic. So all those details, like how he’s holding trunks, all I knew was that he was interested in travel. But I didn’t receive any specifics about the album or the imagery surrounding it.
Is there any specific setting for this painting?
For me, it’s somewhere in Europe. He mentioned really liking boats and bodies of water. So I was thinking of places like Italy or Switzerland because of the mountains in the back. But it wasn’t a specific place.
There’s a lot of work that went into this. I read that you spent nine days, working 12-15 hours a day, to finish this painting. There were two rounds of rough sketches, six color studies, a final drawing and then the actual painting. Did Tyler choose the colors for this piece and what creative input did he give between those first rough sketches and the final painting?
So I did two rounds of rough sketches. The first were six rough sketches that were based on his own sketches that he gave me, drawn from different angles with different sorts of dynamics. So from those six, he picked two that he liked and suggested a couple of adjustments. So I gave him another six by building on those notes that he gave me. In the end, it was my sketch. In regards to the color palette, he definitely was interested in pastel colors. I gave him six options and he chose the one that he wanted.
Tyler dropped this on Instagram, along with another cover for his upcoming album. He ended up tagging you in the post, which is awesome. How has this exposure impacted you as an artist within the past week? Have you sold more paintings or received any commissions?
I actually sold some paintings and prints. I’m doing an interview with you and I also did one with Creative Review. My Instagram following has also grown pretty rapidly. So far, it has been a really good experience.
Do you have any other plans to work with him in the future? In general, what are your plans for the future and what should we look forward to?
There are no specific plans to work again but I would be happy to. Right now, I have a solo exhibition with one of my galleries in the DC area, the Ada Rose Gallery, this Fall that I’m preparing for. I will be having another solo show that is planned for 2023 at my other gallery in Santa Fe. There are other plans that are tentative but nothing that I can really talk about right now.