St. Vincent New York
Alex Da Corte, “The Open Window,” 2018. HD digital video.Credit…Courtesy the artist and Karma, New York. Photo via NY Times.

Five Examples of Visual Artists Collaborating with Musicians

Art comes in many forms. But what happens when a musical artist and a visual artist bring their two creative mediums together? The results are complex videos with compelling imagery that is unique from their more mainstream counterparts. To show the range of what’s possible, we put together some of our favorite collaborations.

Punk rock all-stars Blink-182 and celebrity photographer and filmmaker David LaChapelle are a perfect match for the 2003 song Feeling This. In the video, Blink-182 performs while a revolt brews at a dystopian prison for punk rock teens. For the performance, the band is encaged in a wire ring flanked by inflated cartoon characters reminiscent of the Pink Floyd pigs (the result of a different musician artist collaboration). Like the themes in his photography, LaChapelle has no interest in the ordinary for this video. In his celebrity portraits, LaChapelle gives the famous subjects an almost godlike presence. He brings that same framing here, separating Blink-182 from the chaos until the very last moment. He builds an anarchist dreamland where anything is possible and nothing is too much. The end result is chaotic, fast-paced, and steamy (for reasons that will be apparent when you watch the video). From prison booking and shaved heads to inmate insurgency this collaboration created a riotous punk rock fantasy.

Santigold, “Banshee” (2016) Kara Walker and Ari Marcopoulos

Simple doesn’t have to mean uninteresting. For the song Banshee, Santigold partners with artists Kara Walker and Ari Macropoulous to create a video using only themselves, a few signs, some lights and a couple of hand puppets. Kara Walker is an artist known for using shadow puppets and silhouettes to depict the atrocities committed against Black Americans in the antebellum south. In a departure from her regular darker works she and Santigold actually have fun playing with the puppets for the dance song. Joyous and completely untethered to a story they replicate the levity of children putting on a homemade puppet show. Interspersed with the puppetry are clips of Santigold dancing and black and white shots of her sitting in the city streets holding various signs. In his photography, Ari Marcopoulous captures moments of unvarnished city life. Santigold in the streets holding nonsensical signs is reminiscent of wandering the city streets as a brooding artsy teen. The overall effect is a lighthearted video that is distinctly artist-driven.

Solange – “Cranes in the Sky” (2016) Arthur Jafa

The artistic touch is evident in every frame of the video for Solange’s Cranes in the Sky. Arthur Jafa and Solange show a softer side of black femininity that is often not depicted in popular culture. In his work, Jafa explores the multifaceted experience of blackness and being Black in America. Using images to shape the narrative of the Black experience he captures the exhilarating highs and the soul-crushing lows of a marginalized existence. The video for Cranes is constructed almost like a slideshow made up of countless vignettes of black women. Each vignette is staged like a portrait but instead of stationary subjects the women dance and move in soft deliberate motions. We see Black women in nature, Urban environments, rural environments, residential areas, industrial spaces. All of them framed by a gentleness shaped by the unobtrusive filming style and the wind chime quality of Solange’s voice. The throughline is Black femininity, quiet, at peace, protected, communal.

St. Vincent – “New York” (2017) Alex Da Corte

Is there anything triter than describing a piece of media as a “love letter to New York”? High art and high fashion meet in the video for St. Vincent’s New York and it’s a match made in heaven. Alex Da Corte known for his hypnotically immersive, large-scale installations is in his element stylistically for the video. The deceptive simplicity of the song from St. Vincent allows the quirkier aspects of the video to shine. Using Several meticulously curated and designed technicolor sets the video effortlessly toggles between minimalist and maximalist sets. Everything is instantly recognizable as New York while still managing to avoid the cliches. Da Corte and St.Vincent’s use of vibrant colored sets and trend-conscious costuming give the video the appeal of a sexier grown-up Kate Spade ad. But for all the fun the video has in the end it turns out to be more of a farewell letter. Together the duo set to music the perennial question city dwellers face, “What am I doing here?”

Kim Gordon – “Sketch Artist” (2019) Loretta Fahrenholz

Extraordinary, strange, fantastical things happening in a completely ordinary urban atmosphere. 

Loretta Fahrenholz brings her brooding intensity to the music video for Sketch Artist. In it, the musician Kim Gordon is a costumed rideshare driver using an app called Unter. As she navigates the city she causes pedestrians to fall out and seize with a single look from her glitter-covered eyes. The riders in the backseat change as the video progresses and Gordon continues to wreak havoc in the streets with each glance. The people afflicted thrash wildly throughout the entire video and yet are ignored by passers-by. Inside the car is a disco and under the multi-colored lights we see a woman and child, then a man and his dog, then a set of lovers. Everything is slightly off. The overdrawn eyebrows on a passenger. Or the glam-punk outfit of the driver. Or a solitary old woman eating a plate of pasta in an alley. Individual oddities pop up against the undersaturated backdrop of mundane urban spaces. We see strangeness at gas stations, on bridges, In alleys. In this video sparkles glint against the backdrop of the mundane. And Kim Gordon leaves us with a glowering stare from the darkness. 

Visual art is a vehicle for collaboration

A music video is the culmination of a lot of people’s work. It makes sense that when turning music into an audio and visual medium an artist would turn to visual artists. In the most fruitful creative partnerships, inspiration flows both ways. Sometimes the artist uses the music to expand upon their ideas. Sometimes the musician uses the artist to better elevate the story being told in the music. A creative symbiotic relationship.