Today CVLT Nation has something really special for you…we got an opportunity to sit down with Joe Petagno, the artist who drew for Motorhead for almost 30 years, inventing their classic mascot Snaggletooth, and also for bands like Hawkwind, Led Zeppelin and Nazarath, among many others. But there is so much more to his talent and person than those years – his paintings are breathtaking in their beauty and movement, and their ability to envision the fears of humanity. Petagno has lived all over the world, and has used his art to share the many wisdoms he has acquired in his life. At a time where so much of the world seems to be sleeping while they take it up the ass from Authority, Petagno reminds us that we are here on CVLT Nation because we aren’t afraid to talk about what’s wrong with the world and with how human beings relate to one another, and he inspires us to keep our voices raised against injustice. Without any further ado, check out our rad interview with Joe Petagno…
Hi Joe! How is life today?
Life is fine thanks, business as usual. At the moment I’m working on a new series of paintings rather appropriately titled the Wasteland, which has been inspired by the latest turn of events in Japan, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan and Pakistan not to mention the rest of the insanity being broadcast daily at nine o’clock.
I’m also developing a few new T-shirt designs for the website and working on a video game concept in my spare time.
I am fascinated by and very appreciative of your explanation behind your seemingly violent artwork – that is, as a warning of what may come if humanity stays on it’s current path. What do you see as that path, and who is leading us down it?
Same old story, the path of darkness, ignorance and fear and we lead ourselves down it. Man is born free but is everywhere in chains. Our entire life is built upon violence or fear of it and authority: Priestly, Divine, Political, Economical, Social and Moral. It’s always the same executioner wielding this power and what’s more, we free willingly hand over this power, rather than take control of our own actions. We’re controlled from the cradle to the grave and with war being the health of the state, people at war become even more obedient and respectful and the mass of men serve the state not as men but as machines, there is no free exercise at all, actually we’re on a level with wood and stone.
The gift of reason and critical reflection is obviously not one of man’s outstanding peculiarities, we are so depraved by this continued slavery we can’t imagine administration without violence and if you have to resign your conscience to the legislator, why the hell have a conscience?
If we’re not continually proving our mastery over others, we become prey to panic of being defeated and victimized, in the end the goal of regulation no longer remains the well-being of men and the preservation of the ecosystem…but becomes the preservation of a political, social or even worse economic institution at the expense of the living systems, sacrificing our evolutionary flexibility. The establishment of universal suffrage does not guarantee the freedom of any people.
In general, do you see the world as a place of darkness and corruption, or do you see it as full of beauty and community? Why?
In spite of my Art, I see the world as a potentially light place but we continue to darken it with human stupidity, my Art is just a reaction to or a reflection of that stupidity.
Metal and art have an intricately woven relationship, more so than most musical genres; from the artistry of band logos, to band mascots like your Motorhead Snaggletooth and Iron Maiden’s Eddie, to the emphasis on album cover and poster art. Why do you think this special relationship between metal and art exists?
It exists simply because a picture is worth a thousand words and thankfully the pen is still mightier than the sword and hopefully will continue to be in spite of the near hopeless situation I mention above.
I think Metal is and will always be a call to arms, a shout, a plea to join the Army of hordes screaming to be heard above the din of battle, and Snaggletooth symbolises this shout better than any symbol created to date, and anyone reading this who agrees with what is being said here, should stand up and be counted and join the Army today at petagno.dk and let your voice be heard!
How is the aesthetic of the metal album cover art you do today different from your early Motorhead days?
I don’t think it is different, I think it’s a constant; as I say, stand up and be counted utilizing your Art, Music, Literature, whatever, just SHOUT!
The only way to improve the current state of the world is by active engagement, nothing else will suffice, we can change anything we want, and we have a choice and a voice. We don’t have to live in contradiction of ourselves, being continually apprehensive, the dupers and the duped, the liars and believers, somnambulistic until some extraordinary event forces us look around us and at ourselves, anyway usually by the time that happens it’s too late.
You started out in L.A., but it seems like your life has taken you many places around the world so far. When did you first leave L.A.? Where do you feel most at home?
I was born in Maine, we went west when I was 10. I spent most of my youth driving from one end of sunny Cal. to the other looking for the perfect wave.
When I left High school I started freelancing with the underground, the L.A. Free press, the Oracle, Rolling Stone etc. as well as doing hordes of black light posters and some sleeve designs. By 1972 I was ready for a change and I left L.A. for Europe.
Today I feel home anywhere and if I may rephrase Kerouac:
Home in Missoula, home in Truckee, home in Opelousas, is a home for me.
Home in Old Medora, home in Wounded Knee, home in Ogallala, Home I’ll always be.
What was your favorite thing to draw as a child? Did your parents nurture your artistic side?
Mostly war pictures, Crayons were my favourite toys and I started drawing early, both my folks were encouraging. My Mother drew a little and taught me some basic skills.
An Uncle was an avid comic book collector so I was exposed early to the likes of Black hawk, Terry and the pirates, Steve Canyon and Men at War…I was hooked from the start.
When did you first decide that being a graphic artist for the music industry was your path in life?
I was interested in music and at one point was going to be a drummer.
In school I was continually asked to draw pictures for everyone, the subject matter was either Surfin’ or Music personalities like Dylan or Lennon etc. so I guess it just sort of happened of its own accord, destiny so to speak.
How did you end up working with Led Zeppelin?
I was working with Hipnosis in London and the job came in, I was asked to make some sketches for the logo and came up with about 5 different ones, in the end they, “Zeppelin,” asked me if I could do a version of Rimmer’s angel. Needless to say I said yes, although my original designs were better in my estimation.
I know you have been asked this a million times, but tell us an awesome Lemmy story!
Nah can’t help you there; I’m all out of awesome Lemmy stories.
When you design an album cover, do you work closely with the band to shape your vision, or do people let you decide the artistic direction of the album?
Normally they just turn me loose…95% of the Motôrhead work was done this way, as is most of my work I do for bands.
They contact me for Petagno Art and trust me to come up with an image from their lyrics or rough mixes etc. I don’t take direction easily, I know my job and they know theirs, if a band asks me for something specific I’ll consider it and if I think it can be done satisfactorily I will execute it for them, but usually I will take their idea and change it into Petagno Art.
What are three of your favorite heavy records & why?
That’s a difficult one; I listen to a lot of music, but off the top of my head…
Marduk – Wormwood, Ministry – Last sucker and Machine head – The more things change – for all the reasons I mention above.
Thanks Joe, it has been an honor to speak with you! You are truly an innovator and you speak wise words. Thanks for your time and for supporting CVLT Nation.