How to album | Art by Reuben Bhattacharya

Of everyone that I worked with to bring this album to life, Reuben was the only person I knew from before. We’ve been old friends since 2007, though we’d not been in touch because this is how life sometimes happens. 

Our paths converged again when I was getting ready to record. An aimless weekend afternoon scroll of Linkedin led me to seeing one of Reuben’s posts. He rarely posts there, so in hindsight, it was serendipity. I reached out to him and asked to chat. 

We had an initial conversation where things got real deep real quick. We both found ourselves having reached a life stage where we wanted to work in service of art and were comfortable navigating the unknown. All I knew was that I wanted an album cover by an incredible artist and that Reuben is an incredible artist. 

He listened to my reason for putting out the album, understood the essence of the tracks, my philosophy behind the need to create art and how I wanted to work. He has worked with established acts and did me a big favour by agreeing to create the artwork. Not only that, he said he wanted to make it in the form of an actual painting (and not digital art) that will soon be on my wall for me to appreciate and be grateful for each day for the rest of my life. 

Our conversations were wide-ranging. We discussed books, music and other art that inspired us. Reuben shared his perspectives and gave me the space to reflect and share my points of view. 

I remember one particular conversation that took us along a journey of art that we admired. It was a conversation that began with “Wanderer above the sea of fog” by Caspar David Freidrich, evolved into Reuben’s love for Caravaggio and Raphael, our common admiration for Studio Ghibli movies and the importance of telling a great story through arresting artwork. 

Some of our conversations were about Julia Cameron and The Artist’s Way, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and about Rick Rubin and his approach to making art. Time flies when minds are in sync. For someone that has been cutting down on phone calls, hour long discussions I had with Reuben recharged my batteries. 

We spoke on multiple occasions as Reuben did what I imagine most masters do. He absorbed, listened, understood, internalised and worked on the essence of the painting and came up with the concept he had in mind. 

He shared an initial version of an outline of a child and an old man, signifying the journey of a person from an infant, mewling and puking all the way to second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything. Within the outline was vivid scenery, with all the colours of nature popping out. Outside of this outline was the cosmos in all its glory. 

It was supposed to represent how we all contain an island universe within us, waiting to be discovered and understood as we aspire to more meaning in life while simultaneously signifying how there is a vast external universe out there waiting to be discovered and understood as we aspire to find our place in it. 

The world, after all, as my buddy Billy Yates is known to have said, is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper. 

Reuben narrowed down the concept of the artwork further, moving to the head of a person rather than a full body. After all, the theme of the album is all about trying to be the ruler of the real estate between one’s ears. 

When he shared the penultimate draft, the only hesitation I had with Reuben’s version was that the outline of the person represented someone slightly older and balding. Nothing against old or bald people, I swear. It just didn’t connect with me as strongly and I felt comfortable telling Reuben that I didn’t feel it. 

Reuben, ever so patient, was able to tease out how I enjoyed “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius. He decided to model the face of the person on the art using Marcus’ face. 

The final artwork is breathtaking. I think I will cry when I hold the painting in my hand when he ships it to me. 

There are so many stories the painting tells. The space outside the head represents the vast cosmos, waiting to be discovered. The space within the man’s head show an inner world that is waiting to be explored further. 

The colours are inspired by the vivid, bright, beautiful, natural colours that are representative of Studio Ghibli. The faces floating below in the dark water are masks that have been discarded in service of a more authentic self. 

The sun, the clouds and the blue sky represent the way the mind works. Thoughts might be clouded with darkness, doom and gloom, and yet the blue sky is always there. 

The old-looking books signify the importance of classic literature in shaping a person and helping them climb up, ascend towards a more elevated state of mind. 

The golden lines around the eyes are inspired by Kintsugi. Accepting flaws, and not hiding them. Learning through them and growing stronger to be better than yesterday. 

There is so much symbolism, and so much subtlety and mastery that has been incorporated in the art. 

Reuben Bhattacharya, thank you. I am grateful for your mastery and I am grateful that you embody the virtues of an artist, a philosopher and a warrior. Without you, this album wouldn’t exist. 

Reuben Bhattacharya goes by the nom de plume Visual Amnesia. You can find him and follow him on all social platforms.