Mars Volta designer's Sonny Kay L.A. Gallery Opening
Sonny Kayís work will certainly be familiar to devotees of The Mars Volta, and in particular the vast solo output of Volta head-honcho, Omar Rodriguez Lopez. As creative director for Rodriguez Lopezís L.A.-based eponymous record/film imprint, Rodriguez Lopez Productions, Kayís meticulous collage and graphic design work has become synonymous with a seemingly endless stream of heady, inspired psychedelic albums that began appearing en masse in 2006. POV Evolving presents Tamper Proof, a show of Kayís most recent album-related works and some as-yet-unseen creations intent on wriggling out of the confines of the 12Ē LP sleeve.
Kayís music-world pedigree predates the coming of The Mars Volta by more than 10 years. During his college years in Boulder, Colorado, Kay became a central figure on the underground music scene, first as a promoter (culminating in his management of the U of Cís notorious Club 156 venue between 1993 and 1995), and then as a performer. As vocalist for the cult punk bands Angel Hair and The VSS, Kay traversed the United States repeatedly, following in the footsteps of groups like Black Flag and Fugazi, anticipating those of The Faint and At the Drive-In. Launching the celebrated Gold Standard Laboratories (GSL) label with student loan money in 1993, Kay went on to release seminal material from then-unknown groups such as The Locust, The Rapture, !!! (Chk Chk Chk), Chromatics, and eventually, The Mars Volta. By the time he designed the packaging for that bandís 2002 debut, Tremulant, Kay had partnered with Rodriguez Lopez and GSL became, effectively, the bandís own label.
Kayís design work was soon finding its was onto stage backdrops, t-shirts, laminates skateboards and myriad other tour-related ephemera, but GSLís days were numbered. The labelís enthusiasm for releasing the work of like-minded avant-punks didnít typically translate into record sales, and the top-heavy label closed its doors in 2007. Switching gears to full-time artist/designer, Kay seized the opportunity to carve out a recognizable niche for his idiosyncratic work. Falling mostly within the realm of digital collage, his rapidly evolving style has consistently striven to avoid the typical trappings and technical shortcomings many expect from a colloquial medium juxtaposing the old and new for comic or ironic effect.
Comprised of web-sourced snapshots and thrift-shop reference book illustrations, Kayís painstakingly assembled composites themselves often resemble photographs, or even paintings - alternately poignant, opinionated, illustrative, occasionally funny, or simply unexplained. Fantastic, and yet eerily realistic, Kayís images point to his convergent interests in perception, human and primate anthropology, entheogens, consciousness, evolution and anarchism. Buffeted by the virtually free-reign platform afforded by modern rock musicís arguably most prolific recording artist, Kayís pace has quickened and his output diversified considerably thanks to Rodriguez Lopezís literally nonstop flow of albums.
Which isnít to say that Kay doesnít enjoy some good old-fashioned stream-of-consciousness-derived haphazardry, nor trying his skill at designing for other artists. Tamper Proof presents examples of a variety of Kayís work, much of which was produced since his last exhibition, Colliding on Purpose (January 2009), at Han Cholo Gallery. 2009-10 has seen his imagery adorn the sleeves of groups as varied as RX Bandits, Shooter Jennings, Red Sparowes, and NoCanDo, to name only some. However, with Rodriguez Lopez sticking to his promise to release ďan album a monthĒ, the effect that level of productivity has on Kay's other endeavors remains to be seen.