Artwork: Queen II by Queen + The sampling officials by Rembrandt (detail) from the “Album+Art” series. © Eisen Bernand Bernardo
Artist Eisen Bernard Bernardo is the mastermind “Album+Art,” a brilliant series of visual mash-ups that pair classic pop music albums with classical paintings to breathtaking effect. This is fourth installment of the “+Art” project, which started in 2009 with “Mag+Art,” a series pairing magazine covers with paintings that went viral in 2014. The following year, a follower challenged Bernardo to use album covers instead of magazines, and the result has thrilled people around the world.
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The pairings reveal the eye of an expert with a vast vocabulary of both pop music iconography and art historical references. “I’m fond of homage, similarities and references in movies, music, and other art forms. I felt that album covers (like other contemporary artforms) were inspired directly (and/or indirectly) by classical paintings. I wanted to compare and contrast modern and classical aesthetics,” Bernardo explains.
“Before, I just juxtaposed the contemporary covers and the classical artworks in purely visual terms. I only considered key factors such as the matching color palettes and identical/complementing body parts/movements,” the artist reveals. “When I got some feedback that my work is filled with humor and irony, I also considered the meaning/message of my collages. So, when I came up with the next batch of ‘Album+Art’ images, I tried to look for covers and paintings that can produce visual puns or can establish more meaningful connections (not only on the visual but on the conceptual level). I just wanted every piece to evoke a humorous or fascinating effect on the viewer.”
Scrolling through Bernardo’s Instagram page @albumplusart is like traipsing through the halls of a grand museum after dropping a tab or two. Is that really Michael Jackson lying in the grass in Edouard Manet’s celebrated painting Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe? Indeed, it is. Wait! Check the pout on the face of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring featuring Ja Rule. Genius!
Bernardo does not limit himself to a single of art; versed in the many forms of Western representation he deftly combs through the diverse means to representation to find the spaces where time collapses and eternal themes of human nature energy. Consider the mashup of Rihanna’s Anti with Carl Larsson’s Christmas Morning from 1894, each evoking the imperial spirit of childhood. But where Larsson’s work embraced the spirit of the bourgeois, Rihanna’s album shows an alienation from the perfection the Victorian age proffered.
“I love classical paintings, so I’m familiar with lots of artworks. I’m a music fan, so more or less I’m exposed to a lot of album covers. I do a mental matching of the albums and the paintings. However, when I do actual implementation in Photoshop, it is like I’m assembling a jigsaw puzzle. It’s trial and error. Sometimes, my instinct/mental matching is correct but most of the pieces posted in my Instagram are just products of beautiful accidents. All of them are unplanned and I’m always surprised with the output. It is really a fun activity. It tests my knowledge of the classical arts and popular culture,” Bernardo reveals.
The cumulative effect of looking at these remixed masterpieces is one of historical significance, a reminder that the things we take as commonplace will one day be kept under glass. Bernardo’s works transform the staid styles of the past into something more relevant to modern day. As with most advancements in style that become repeated to the point of cliché, they once were groundbreaking ways of changing the way we see ourselves and the world.
Bernardo restores this crisp sense of freshness to the work, bringing them alive once more by showing how much their iconography speaks to our current world—and in doing so he gives pop culture a crash course in the history of Western art. It’s a can’t-miss collection for anyone who enjoys the pleasures of the gaze.
All artwork: © Eisen Bernand Bernardo
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.