Rolling Stone and the Art of the Record Review, Pt. 2: Senior Art Director Steven Charny

Rolling Stone and the Art of the Record Review, Pt. 2: Senior Art Director Steven Charny Rolling Stone senior art director Steven Charny is the guy responsible for assigning the lead record review illustration that appears in every issue of the magazine. Under the direction of RS art director Joe Hutchinson, Charny continues the long tradition of one of the premier editorial spotlights for illustrators. A great collection of 40 years of Rolling Stone illustrated portraits is now on display at the Society of Illustrators (through October 22). Tonight, October 5, at 6.30pm, the Society presents An Evening with Rolling Stone Magazine Senior Art Director Steven Charny. He'll be presenting lots of wonderful work, as well as discussing the creative process, and showing off lots of behind-the-scenes sketches. This is an essential evening for anyone interested in illustration. Charny answered some questions for SPD, and shared some of his favorite recent illustrations from the magazine, on the jump page.

(Above): Unpublished illustration of Shakira by Roberto Parada, for Rolling Stone (see details on the next page).

R1093RC1G.jpgRihanna (and Chris Brown): illustration by Jody Hewgill

Why has Rolling Stone had such a long commitment to using illustration, especially in the record reviews section?
Steven Charny: I think it can really be traced to our editor and publisher, Jann Wenner. He has always been a big advocate of illustration from the very beginning of the magazine and continues to this day. You can really see the evidence of it if you've ever paid a visit to our office-- it's like a museum of classic illustration. The walls and hallways are covered with original art that has appeared in the magazine over the last 44 years, including stuff from Ralph Steadman, Philip Burke and many more legends of illustration. Jann has purchased a lot of the art over the years and still does on occasion. If you stroll down our corridor with all the RS covers hung in chronological order, you might be surprised to see how many of them were illustrated, especially in the 60s and 70s.

KanyePhoenix_RollingStone.jpgKanye West: illustration by Chris Buzelli.

How do you decide who to assign the opening art to each issue?
Steven Charny: I usually find out who the lead review is going to be about eight or nine working days before the page has to ship. Then I put together a list of about five to 10 artists whose aesthetic I think fits that particular artist or band. For example, I just assigned the new Red Hot Chili Peppers record. They seem to me to be living cartoons, so I looked for people whose style is more cartoony or humorous. People like Mickey Duzyj, Eamo, Drew Friedman, etc. We have certain people who we use relatively consistently, but I do try to add new people to the magazine whenever I can. I forward the list along with web links to my AD Joe Hutchinson and then we usually get together and discuss who he thinks would work best. Sometimes we narrow the list down to two or three and send it to our managing editor Will Dana, and he makes the final selection from that list.

BEP Final.jpg
Black Eyed Peas: illustration by Pablo

Is there a particular Rolling Stone illustration aesthetic?
Steven Charny: Not exactly, but we are always conscious that this is somewhat of a showcase piece, so we only want what we consider to be the very best people currently working. We really treat each one as a stand-alone piece, so the aesthetic can vary depending on the band or artist featured-- certainly you are going to go in different directions aesthetically if you're doing  a retro-sounding T-Bone Burnett-produced blues record by John Mellencamp as opposed to Lil Wayne's latest.

PBurkePSimonFinal.jpgPaul Simon: illustration by Philip Burke

What is one of your most memorable assignments?
Steven Charny: I guess I would say that one of my all-time favorites was one that never actually saw the light of day. We were going to review a new record by Shakira called She-Wolf and I decided to make it an homage to my favorite artist as a teenager, Frank Frazetta, the master of pulp sci-fi covers and mostly naked slave girls. There was one particular piece of his I had in mind, of a cave girl warrior with a saber-tooth tiger. I thought that Roberto Parada could pull it off, since he has a somewhat similar feel for paint and the brush stroke feel of Frazetta, and happily, he agreed to do it. The final piece was exactly what I had envisioned and I was really excited to actually get my original concept through. Unfortunately, just a few days before the page was to ship, we found out that the record company had pushed the release date by three weeks, so we had to run something else.

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