Roy Nachum talks ANTI cover

After a brisk album-a-year pace for her past four albums, Rihanna chose to slow things down for her latest project, making fans wait an agonizing three years for new music. But one man is giving fans hope that the wait may soon be over: Israeli-born, New York-based artist Roy Nachum.

A gallery showing of Nachum’s artwork for Rihanna’s eighth album — titled Anti, we learned at Wednesday’s event — was the first tangible sign that the release is imminent. In front of a packed crowd at Los Angeles’ Mama museum, Rihanna herself presented the album art, which features a young Rih Rih holding a black balloon with a gold crown obscuring her eyes.

“He’s a genius, he’s an artist, and he sees things beyond the surface,” Rihanna said of Nachum. And that vision is what made the pop star want to collaborate with him in the first place. The theme behind his work — all of which (including the album cover) features poetry written in Braille — is sight and how, as Rihanna put it at the album event, “Sometimes the ones who have sight are the blindest.”

Billboard spoke with Nachum at the event, where he explained how he met Rihanna (and what famous friend introduced her to his work) and why teaming up with her is so important for his message.

What does it all mean?

“I’ve been doing experimental work of human perception and sight. So for the last seven years, I’m writing Braille poetry, which encompasses sculpture in it on the canvas, and then I paint over it. So I kind of want to open people’s eyes to the real things in life … so I close my eyes. The process for that was me closing my eyes for a whole week to experience how it is to be blind. If I want to do art, if I’m going to do an experiment with sight, then I need to close my eyes and start from that. That’s the first step I need to do. So I did it for a whole week, and since then, I started creating. I started creating all those paintings and installations, sculptures.”

His interactive art

“One of the more radical works that I’m doing is basically I’m burning the frame until it becomes charcoal. So the canvas is completely white on white. … I brought blind people to my studio, and I was able to have them experience visual art for the first time. Once they touched the art and read the Braille and touched the burnt frames, it stained their fingerprints with charcoal [on the canvas]. … Rihanna really loved the idea, and we talked about that. So it’s kind of like an interactive work, like a group self-portrait, you know? The work is always alive. It’s never finished. I started that. Those paintings, actually, I decided to do with her — with a person who can see, basically. I blindfolded Rihanna and she started touching the work, so you can see the result. She touched it. I started it. And that’s her fingerprint on that.”

A museum for everyone

“For a blind person, a museum or a gallery is just a blank space. You can’t touch the work. I’m not saying you should touch every work, but it was important for me to include, to do something for them. And to open people’s eyes. A metaphor. When you see Braille, it’s kind of like to appreciate life and simple things and all that. I started it, but I want people to … look at the internal side and experience the work. I want them to see the two: the visual and the Braille together.”

The importance of Rihanna

“I think it was a year ago [I met Rihanna]. She watched me. She saw my work at Jay Z’s — he collects my work — so she saw my work in his private collection and she knew, she immediately knew that’s what she wanted to do. … I’m bringing a message. My goal is to leave a mark as long as I live. So it’s kind of like, you’re just bringing it to a whole different crowd and making it so that a lot of people can see it and connect with my art, so I really appreciate it.”