Rihanna doesn’t play by normal rules, so it made sense that she did the abnormal and revealed her new Anti album cover at an art gallery on Wednesday night. It also made perfect sense because of who created it.
For the front and back covers, as well as five other pieces, including inside art for the album, RiRi teamed with Israeli artist Roy Nachum, who describes himself as a painter who also does sculpture and installations, and uses large scale oil on canvas.
“I experiment with human perception and sight and I see my work as an eye-opener,” Nachum told MTV News on Thursday.
While working on a series over the last four years, called Blind, he went without sight for a period. “I blindfolded myself for the whole week, to experience how is it to be without sight,” he said. “I got a lot from that. I think it was one of the most difficult things I did so far, and I learned a lot from that experience. Sometimes, in order to see, you need to close your eyes.”
That sounds a lot like what Rih said at the gallery last night — “Sometimes the ones who have sight are the blindest” — and that’s probably partially because, according to Nachum, the Rihanna paintings were “inspired from [the Blind] series.”
MTV News spoke with Nachum about how he and Rihanna came up with the idea for the cover, what their working relationship is like, the significance of the braille and plenty more. Plus, he sent us all seven pieces in the series.
MTV: When did you and Rihanna first start working together?
Roy Nachum: A little over a year ago, I got a phone call. Rihanna saw my paintings in Jay Z and Ty Ty’s private collections, and she said she wanted to meet up and talk about maybe doing the album cover. As soon as we met, it was a great connection. Rihanna understands my vision very well, and she’s a fan of my paintings, and we share the same philosophy.
MTV: Can you explain the Fire paintings?
Nachum: The fire paintings inside the album, I wrote poetry, and I sculpted the poetry in braille for the canvas. So it’s basically white-on-white, and there’s a black charcoal frame, and I invited people, while blind, to see the work and experience it. So when they touch the frame, their fingers become black, and then reading the braille poetry on the canvas, it’s interactive work that I start and let them continue. It’s kind of like an oversized self-portrait.
MTV: How long were you working on the pieces?
Nachum: We met in L.A. and we talked about the concept and ideas. Then we met again in my studio in New York. We talked more and more. And then I started to do sketches and put it all together. From that point, it took me another two months to complete the painting, and then we worked on the fire series inside the album. I wanted to see how Rihanna touched the work, and how she experienced those paintings without sight, and you can see her fingerprints touching the work and experiencing it, while she was listening to her music from the album. It was a very interesting moment to see. I didn’t know what it was going to look like. She didn’t know what it was going to look like. She went with my vision, and I think it became fantastic.
MTV: What was the whole process like? How many more steps until we see what we saw last night?
Nachum: It’s a lot of layers. It’s kind of like a book. We started talking about ideas. I do a lot of meditation, as well, just to try to imagine how it’s going to look, with my eyes closed. Then we talked about the concept and the way I wanted it to look. We created the text. And then after that, I sculpted the braille on top of the canvas, then I made the sketch, then I painted over it. I never know exactly how it’s gonna look until I finish the entire piece.
MTV: How did Chloe Mitchell, who wrote the cover poem, get involved?
Nachum: We all were together and we talked about it. Rihanna tried to really explain to Chloe what my vision is. I always write my own poetry, but here, we wanted to collaborate, because Rihanna really loved the way Chloe writes and thinks. So we sat together and I tried to explain the vision, and Rihanna, as well, she wrote the text on that.
MTV Did you hear the music at all before you started?
Nachum: Yeah, I heard some music.
MTV: Did that influence what you were doing?
MTV: In what ways did that manifest into what we ended up seeing?
Nachum: I think, if you look at the painting, I painted a young Rihanna over the canvas. There’s the balloon that’s lighter than air. It’s kind of a metaphor of escaping reality. You have the gold crown covering the eyes, symbolizing the success of people, and how sometimes people forget to appreciate the small things in life. Just going and going and going. When you see the braille on top of that, it’s also a metaphor, to open people’s eyes — to stop for one moment and try to appreciate the real simple things in life. That was the goal.
In terms of the music, I chose the red color because it’s very bright and dramatic, and that symbolizes the music. You have something very innocent — a young girl — and then you have that red.
MTV: Is that based on a specific picture?
Nachum: I created that. She sent me a few pictures of her when she was a little girl. I studied the way she looked then and I tried to capture her as close to how she was when she was young. A lot of sketches to get the right thing.
MTV: How was this different from projects you’ve worked on in the past?
Nachum: I didn’t look at this as an album. I tried to do a series of paintings that would work with the concept. That was the goal. I didn’t look at it to design an album. It’s more about thinking about paintings and then, after we have that, OK, what are we doing with that?
In a typical album, you have the song list, you have different kinds of text and credits. We took all of that away. It’s going to be only the art. The only text that’s gonna be there is the braille.
MTV: When the actual CD is printed up, will the braille be on there? Will we be able to feel it?
Nachum: Definitely. This is, I think, the first album ever that incorporates physical braille on the album. Wherever you have braille on my canvas, you’re going to feel [it], it’s going to be raised.