Walking through the tantalizing worlds of Stephen Gibb in preparation for new Trippie.
Words by Luis (@luis.hoa):
With blood red hair and a VVS shark teeth grill, TRIPPIE REDD and his accompanying persona stray from the bunch with bravado. Since his 2017 debut, A Love Letter To You, his image has evolved tenfold, capitalizing on his high octane energy with equally vibrant visuals for his album covers and animated music videos that showcase the rapper's lively nature. Speaking on cover art alone, his initial collaboration with Canadian artist Stephen Gibb for Life's A Trip (2018) marked a significant shift in the TRIPPIE REDD catalog, a shift that showcased his daring nature for going beyond what one would consider the norm for rap artwork. Beyond the fact that the record itself is a maelstrom of sound, Life's A Trip presented a perplexing work of limitless interpretation that as expected, stands among fans as a favorite.
Fast forward a few years later and we arrive to the upcoming Trip At Knight, to be released by TenThousand Projects. Few and far between are audiovisual partnerships like that of TRIPPIE REDD and Stephen Gibb, as Trip At Knight would attest. Gibb's surrealist paintings are a masterclass both spirited and accessible. Beneath the vibrance of his color palette, Gibb layers a variety of statements that spark the mind's imagination. Trip At Knight, and the accompanying single artwork for Holy Smokes, do just that. There's plenty going on, and rightfully so, as it elaborates seamlessly on the balance between ballad and crowd-pleasing rage that TRIPPIE establishes on the musical end. Gibb depicts duality in his signature "bubblegum surrealism" style, finding TRIPPIE at the end of a lollipop with bright sunny skies and gummy bears on one side while UFOs approach a headless knight removing his skull after a fire breathing dragon had removed his helmet prior. It's a crazy description, but even that alone doesn't describe all of what Gibb was able to pack into this year-end contending album cover. Though Trip At Knight has yet to be given a release date, fan speculation would indicate that it's not far from arrival. Regardless of when it happens, TRIPPIE and Gibb have crafted a composition worth the immersion.
We go Behind the Cover of Trip At Knight with Stephen Gibb to learn about the creative process and vibrant duality present throughout his collaborations with the otherwise electrifying TRIPPIE REDD:
Upon the announcement of ‘Trip At Knight’, audiences were taken aback yet again by the lively brilliance of the new cover painting. Visually, what did you aim to achieve with this project with respect to the ideas that Trippie presented?
Gibb: All I had to go off of was the title, so because of the obvious pun, I decided to exploit it in the artwork. I know Trippie has this playful side and I thought it would be fun to do a dark side to the painting and a lighter side with Trippie dominating the more colourful area. On the left, I wanted this night time scene, bits of medieval fantasy and contemplation of mortality. The threat of the dragon looms in the centre and kind of symbolizes the powers beyond our control. The headless knight ponders the skull as he leaks a purple haze from his suit of armour…the smoke bisects the painting and creates a divide between the light and dark parts, like his thoughts are drifting away from his ominous confrontation of death and ascending into a trippy, candy-coated world of psychedelic bliss. I fashioned Trippie as a product to be consumed, which every popular recording artist is essentially packaged to be.
There's plenty to look at and you've detailed it well, especially with there being multiple layers to uncover with each passing view. Seeing as you’re able to integrate Trippie seamlessly within your personified worlds, would you say that his persona is the ideal fit for your signature “Bubblegum Surrealism’’?
Gibb: Yeah, I think it works well together. I think it would be awesome to see an animated movie combining our two worlds!
Animators, take note! llgfx took on the 'Holy Smokes' cover for streaming platforms, so that was cool to see, and then there's KDC Visions who did the track's lyric video, which was fantastic. Great talent aboard the record's visual identity, that's for sure. Stephen, this is of course not the first time you’ve collaborated. You illustrated ‘Life’s A Trip’ (2018) and the single artworks for ‘Miss The Rage’ and ‘Holy Smokes’. How would you describe the collaborative process with Trippie and how has it evolved since ‘Life’s A Trip’?
Gibb: 'Life’s a Trip' was a bit of an experiment—it kept getting bigger and bigger as it developed. Trippie had this idea that it be so crazy-busy that the eye didn’t know where to look next. It grew from my more conservative start to this chaotic collection of characters that I think worked really well. With that completed, I think I earned some trust and with 'Trip at Knight', I was given the freedom to develop more of a concept and a narrative to the whole image on my own. 'Miss the Rage' and 'Holy Smokes' were more directed by him and his team.
Despite the maelstrom of figures and elements present, there's a synchronicity to it, so the goal was definitely met. Looking back at that initial collaboration, did you ever envision having your work represent a full-length record?
Gibb: I thought it would be cool when I was younger and did actually fantasize about it. I grew up with record albums all around me, so the visual impact of what they contained certainly left an impression.
You’ve done several music illustrations since then. Is this perhaps something you’d be interested in continuing to do down the line?
Gibb: As long as it makes sense and doesn’t go in a direction I’m unwilling to go. I have turned down so many potential projects that it’s crazy, simply because I can’t physically manage to do everything and because I just didn’t like the concepts presented to me. Someone requesting me to do something that just doesn’t fit my MO is just torturous to actually do. So, those kinds of commission I have to decline. Album art is pretty fun, so if the jobs that fit my aesthetic keep coming, I will keep doing them.
Here's hoping there are more down the line, like that new cover for Romero Mosley's 'Ro's Colored Glasses' you just shared not long ago. Great stuff! Touching back on ‘Trip At Knight’, is crafting a world around him distinct in any way to your own personal paintings? Cover artwork is of course not among your typical line of work even though you also illustrated for Hope Tala.
Gibb: It is a pretty easy jump from what I do and what Trippie and Hope asked me to do. I just have to keep myself in check a bit and not meander off into the land of Stephen Gibb too much.
At the surface level, your art creates intrigue through a signature happy yet dark visual commentary. There’s a very cheerful use of color that disguises the facial expressions and messaging laying underneath. It’s satirical and it works, encouraging immersion. Seeing as the cover is incredibly distinct to what one would consider a rap album cover, do you feel as though the cover can stand alone as a painting? Or would you argue that it’s synonymous with the records themselves?
Gibb: I think they hold their own in spite of the famous faces, but for fans, they are probably indelibly linked to the music. Either way, people are digging the art as well as the music and it seems to work. And yes, I think it was very daring and inspired for Trippie to use my work in the first place, because it was unusual for rap or hip hop to be linked to imagery like that before.
I'd agree, and it worked like a charm. As mentioned prior, his persona fits right into the vibrant worlds you depict. ‘Trip At Knight’, in addition to ‘Life’s A Trip’ and the single artworks for ‘Miss The Rage’ and ‘Holy Smokes’, is stacked with detail and vivid color use. About how long do these usually take to complete? Surely a lot of patience is needed in seeing these evolve from sketch to final product.
Gibb: At my normal pace, they could take a couple of weeks or up to a month depending on the complexity. As bizarre as this sounds—'Holy Smokes' took me about day because there was some urgency to complete it on a schedule. Don’t expect that out of me every day!
You pulled that together in day? Insane, especially with how these works evolve from sketch to final product, as we're privileged to show above. Like the predecessors, ‘Trip At Knight’ is a masterclass in intentional color use. Though some may deem it insignificant or as simply a marketing element, the color palette holds a great weight and in your works in particular, it’s synonymous with the characters and their facial expressions. How do you approach this particular element of your paintings?
Gibb: There is usually a notion of what colours are going where but until they actually go down I can’t be sure if they will work. One I’ve settled on the main areas of colour, the little nuances and balancing of the rest takes place. I try to balance everything compositionally and chromatically so there is a visual harmony. I know that sounds a little like some kind of formula, and maybe a little of the magic is gone, but there is a lot of looking and adjusting to get it right.
Continuing on this topic of color, duality is something you explore through it. “Essence of Hope and Despair”, “Death of Contemplation”, and “Laughing In The Face Of Death” are some of your works that immediately come to mind, in addition to ‘Trip At Knight’. Maybe I’m looking too much into the psychological aspect of it, but would you say it’s important to sometimes make light of situations for one’s own sanity?
Gibb: Again, like with the composition and the colour, there has to be a psychological balance even if it’s slightly lopsided or subtle. Evil gets paired with good, misery with humour etc. I don’t want things to take a dark decent into despair without the glimmer of hope sparkling somewhere.
Definitely, and as mentioned, it's a fine balance that is present in plenty of your works. In a time where it’s quite easy to become disconnected to art and music because of the fast paced lifestyles that we’ve become accustomed to, how important do you feel it is for art to spark a genuine reaction, whether that be through an analytical lens or a more general, surface level enthusiasm? I ask because of the great deal of fans that are now appreciative of your work because of Trippie’s music.
Gibb: I can only hope that something triggers a sense of wonder and intrigue with what I do. Some kind of connection is made with the viewer that goes deeper than a superficial appreciation of my painting skills. I don’t make paintings so that someone can marvel at my ability to represent something. That’s basic level painting. I think the underlying intent and motivation is to convey some kind of visual prompt that awakens dormant parts of the viewer’s mind and gets them thinking for themselves. My skills as a painter are surpassed by any number of artists—it’s the other, elusive qualities of narrative, commentary and mystery that I think are my strengths. Stimulating a response in the viewer that they may not have considered until they chanced upon my work keeps me excited by art. I’ll keep probing that relationship between abstract thoughts and concepts and how I can shape them into something interesting in paint until something else comes along.
Trip At Knight arrives soon via TenThousand Projects. Pre-save the record HERE.