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Meet the Queer Brooklyn Artist Behind Lorde's Melodrama Album Artwork

Meet the Queer Brooklyn Artist Behind Lorde's Melodrama Album Artwork

'Melodrama' by Sam McKinniss

Sam McKinniss painted Lorde as a "sinister ray of light."

On Thursday, Lorde released the first taste of her forthcoming sophomore album, Melodrama, featuring a Jack Antonoff-produced single, "Green Light," and powerful new music video. Described by the 20-year-old singer as the first chapter of a story about the last two "wild, fluorescent" years of her life, Lorde's comeback is a post-breakup anthem that soars with bright piano melodies and a chant-heavy chorus: "I'm waiting for it, that green light, I want it."

Related | Lorde's New Single & Video for 'Green Light' are Here

The artwork for Melodrama is a moody depiction of Lorde, who's shown laying in bed with her head on a pillow--her eyes staring directly at the viewer. Painted by 31-year-old Brooklyn artist Sam McKinniss, the blue-lit portrait was created after he photographed Lorde in a friend's apartment, which took a few days for the two to get right. Though Melodrama's release date is currently unclear and "Green Light" is our only glimpse into Lorde's newly matured sound, McKinniss' vibrant work offers an ambiguous, beautiful preview of what's to come.

OUT caught up with the queer artist to discuss about his notable contribution to Lorde's discography.

OUT: Bring me through your background--where are you from and how did you get first begin breaking into art?

Sam McKinniss: I'm from a small town in Connecticut. I've always made art, but I guess my paintings started to be seen when I moved to New York and made a lot of friends. I hang out a lot. I started grad school at NYU in 2011, and when you go there you get to work in these absolutely deluxe studios on Stuyvesant Street, with like, ten-foot windows with penthouse views of Manhattan. So anyway, I made tons of paintings all day in a studio that I loved and then I went out at night to get the party talk. I like to have fun. After I graduated, a friend and I got a studio for almost no money all the way downtown on Beaver Street, upstairs from this gross Irish bar where stock brokers drank all day. I made a lot of good work in there. Eventually the galleries noticed.

Describe your practice--what do you do and what perspective are you bringing to the art world?

There are millions of pictures to look at all the time--a fact that I am acutely aware of. I'm obsessed with [pictures], generally speaking, and I'm sensitive. I enjoy sifting through film stills or promotional images for popular events [and] music--popular moments that have made an impression on my consciousness or imagination during my lifetime. Every image in the world is requesting your undivided attention, similar to the way a lover can require a certain amount of undying love and devotion. Good ones do this very well. I love pictures nearly to a level of perversion. I need that kind of devotional or amorous relationship in my work, more or less as a flavor, if not as the central theme. I'm a romantic. I've tried to give the art world a romance for our time.

What are you inspired by?

I'm inspired by light and color, fear and tenderness, the ways that pop culture can amplify or enhance sensitivity and attitude into something grand, epic or death-defying.

Are there any other artists who've inspired or informed your work?

Some of my favorite artists [are] Alex Da Corte, Borna Sammak, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Elaine Cameron-Weir, Maureen Gallace, Ryan McGinley, Frank Ocean, Carly Rae Jepsen and ABBA.

How did Lorde discover your work?

I don't know how Lorde first saw my work, but we had a few mutual friends who must have shown her some paintings. Our relationship has been largely collaborative, as in, we had several in-depth conversations about how to make the album art. A mutual respect for each other's craft developed between us to the point where she trusted me, and I her. ]

What was the process for creating her Melodrama artwork?

I showed her a series of images I had seen over a brief period that reminded me of her and her music as a way to describe the kind of painting that eventually I thought I would make. Sometimes I would just text her a [picture] of something like, say, a young Kate Bush or a French impressionist painting with a color scheme that seemed to fit into her world. Eventually we had this profile in mind for the mood and time of day for where she needed to exist in order to project the attitudes inside Melodrama. So I photographed her one day, got it right, and then I went to my studio and made a series of paintings for about a month or longer until I knew we had it.

How do you feel this cover is reflective of both your work and Lorde's?

There's a line at the end of Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford: "A most sinister ray of light suddenly fell upon the future." That's precisely how I feel, all the time. It's thrilling. This is a "sinister ray of light" kind of painting and this first single "Green Light" is a killer pop song about light and color.

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