Mark Riddick Speaks About the Artwork He Did for Justin Bieber and Rihanna
With pop stars adopting the metal aesthetic left and right, no matter on which side of the argument you fall — gross cultural appropriation or casting metal’s venomous net to a wider audience — I think we’re all a bit curious about the process. Why did massive pop stars suddenly decide they wanted metal imagery to be a part of their look, and how did those projects come to pass?
Mark Riddick, who’s done hundreds of album covers, logos and t-shirts for metal bands over the years — and oh hey, who happens to be one of The Most Important People in Metal today — recently shared what it was like working with Justin Bieber and Rihanna on their metal makeovers last year.
In a new interview with Bandcamp, Riddick said about working with Bieber’s camp that he charged them the same amount of money he does his usual death metal band clientele. I’m pretty sure this isn’t new information (I recall seeing it elsewhere last year), but it’s still pretty revelatory: he probably could’ve gotten away with charging several times his usual rate — which I’m sure he knew — yet he chose not to. How metal is that?
You worked on a project for Justin Bieber. I would love to know what that experience was like and how you were treated/looked at by his team.
Yes, earlier this year, I was asked to come up with some logo concepts in support of Justin Bieber’s 2016 “Purpose” world tour. I was contacted by, and worked through, Jerry Lorenzo—owner of the Fear of God clothing brand and fashion line. Justin’s stylist, Karla Welch, reached out to Jerry to assist with some of Justin’s stage looks as well as a merchandise campaign for the tour, because Justin happened to be a fan of the Fear of God brand. Jerry in turn reached out to me to assist with an edgier look for Justin’s visual branding for the tour. I came up with numerous sketches, and they ultimately decided on the “Bieber” logo stamp that seemed to suit the vision they had for Justin. In essence, I was a subcontractor, and I treated the entire experience the same way I do with any underground metal band I work with—that is, the same fee and the same interaction. It was a very straightforward process. The only difference is that my logo was reproduced on a larger scale, showing up on billboards, building facades, in pop-up shops, and in retail stores.
The process with Rihanna, it seems, was a bit different. To start, Riddick didn’t design the Sepultura-like logo that appeared as the singer’s stage backdrop at the VMAs — Christope Szpajdel did that — but rather was tasked with coming up with t-shirt designs for her stage dancers to wear using that logo. Thr Rihanna camp was also more controlling with regards to what Riddick could and could not do; for example, he wasn’t able to share his preliminary sketches like he did with Bieber:
Same question goes for the Rihanna backdrop, as well as the t-shirts for her dancers that you designed. Is that experience, or seeing your work in that capacity, surreal, humbling, or special in any way for you?
A few months ago, one of Wilo Perron’s team members reached out to me for some illustrations in support of Rihanna’s 2016 MTV Video Music Awards performance. Wilo Perron handles video and stage production for various pop artists. They were looking for an extreme metal theme for one of Rihanna’s stage performances during the event, so they hired Christope Szpajdel, who drew the Rihanna logo variations (the one that you referenced appearing on a large screen backdrop) and hired me to come up with the T-Shirt illustrations worn by her stage dancers.
Christophe is extremely well known in the metal community. He has illustrated logos for thousands of metal bands. I featured Christophe’s work and interviewed him for the Logos from Hell book I published through Doomentia Press in 2015. Anyhow, Christophe and I have had our work coupled together for several death and black metal band merchandise products since the ‘90s, but this time, it happened to be for a top-selling pop musician and airing on MTV. It was an unconventional client, just as with Justin Bieber. However, the entire process was identical to my typical workflow process illustrating for metal bands. Unfortunately, Rihanna’s staff was very controlling of the art, so I was unable to release or share samples of the finished illustrations on my website or social media. They turned out well, nonetheless. I’m pleased Christophe’s Rihanna logo gathered some media attention, though; it was very well executed, and being a fellow underground artist, the extra exposure and recognition of his talent has been long overdue and much deserved. The entire experience was indeed humbling, and I’m glad Christophe and I could share the opportunity together.
Riddick goes on to share his thoughts on the mainstream’s appropriation of metal imagery in general. His feelings may surprise you… although perhaps not, coming from someone who just did work for Justin Bieber and Rihanna. (For the record: we’re firmly in the “who cares, stop making such a big deal out of this” camp).
Thanks: Ben S.