The Story Behind Tyler The Creator’s “Call Me If You Get Lost” album cover
Since Tyler, the creator released his first studio album Leprechaun in 2011, the Los Angeles-based rapper was a fan of alternative album covers. Many of these covers feature the work of Tyler’s favorite artists. For example, when T has dropped Wolf, the deluxe edition featured special works of art by surrealist pop painter Mark Ryden. While the dream cover for flower boy Was at the origin an oil painting by artist Eric White. And for his Grammy Award-winning album Igor, Tyler also tapped Lewis Rossignol for a more gritty album cover art which was later released under the title a special vinyl.
Gregory Ferrand is a Washington DC-based painter who is the latest artist to receive a coveted cosign from Tyler, the creator. Watching fans may have recognized that when Tyler shared the album art on Instagram for Call me if you get lost, he also shared an alternative album cover painted by Ferrand. A self-taught painter, Ferrand first obtained a film degree from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1997 and began painting in the early 2000s. Ferrand’s work viscerally captures the human experience through narrative paintings that can evoke stories full of emotions at a glance. Whether it be uncertainty an immigrant family clings to an American passport inside an empty airport, or the sense of adventure it captures for Tyler’s latest album.
We spoke to Ferrand about his experience working with Tyler, The Creator, his artistic influences, how he started painting, and his plans for the future.
It was interesting to hear that Tyler the creator contacted you himself. How did you feel when you received a DM from him on Instagram? Were you already a fan of his work?
Yeah, I’m definitely a fan of his stuff. When I had this DM from him, it was like a self-pinching situation. At first I thought it was a joke. I checked to make sure it was and was his account. It was exciting, for sure. When an artist of his stature recognizes your work, it is an exciting thing.
What did this first DM look like?
He was like ‘Hey, I love your job.’ and I said it was a nice surprise. He asked me if I was working on orders and I told him I did but didn’t get them that often. But if he wanted to order something, I was definitely up for it. After talking a bit about what he was looking for, we went head-to-head with FaceTime so I could get more information on what he really wanted. There were no real details he gave me other than this rough sketch. Now after seeing this “Lumberjack” video and all these other visuals that he has put out, I’m really impressed that he was able to communicate his vision to me without showing me any of that.
I’ve heard so many stories of artists commissioned by record companies to create art for rappers, but I feel like it definitely means something different when the artist contacts you. How would you describe your style to someone who is now familiar with your work? Why do you think Tyler resonated with this?
It’s always difficult to talk about work. I guess we always want to box people and their work. But the easiest way for me is to say that these are narrative paintings that tell stories about the human condition. From there I would recommend people take a look at my work and read my artist statement. I think the emotion he saw in my work was something that resonated with him. He definitely talked about the saturated palette I use and those tones. I don’t remember if he had any specific paintings that he liked. But I think overall he liked that I was able to convey that emotion. I mean, I didn’t ask him why he chose me or anything. But he told me at the beginning how much he loved my job and how much it resonated with him. He didn’t remember exactly where he had found it, but he had found it himself.
I would like to know how you just got started in painting in general?
I have been drawing for as long as I can remember. As a child, I was a huge fan of comics. The comics were really where I learned to draw. When I was young, I thought about getting into stop motion animation. And when I went to college, I was exposed to all of these other art forms. At first I thought I was interested in sculpture, then I started making videos. The sculpture department wasn’t really working because they weren’t looking for linear narrative pieces and that’s what I wanted to create. I wanted to create stories. So I left to get a film degree and made my own way at that time. After graduating from college, I moved to Argentina to find myself and explore. Although I studied film in college, I wasn’t quite ready to go to Los Angeles. When I went to Argentina, I was living and discovering things. I taught English to professionals and then spent a lot of free time creating an illustrated journal to record my experiences. At the end of those years, I realized that painting was my thing.
So going to Argentina, drawing and painting in this illustrated newspaper, it was like finding myself. I continued to grow as a painter and stayed true to the medium. I opted for acrylic, which is difficult to use as it dries very quickly, but I think I’ve found a system that suits me pretty well.
You have this background as a filmmaker and your work is heavily inspired by the Americana of the 1950s. I feel these two things sync up perfectly with the creative visuals that Tyler deploys for. Call me if you get lost. What kind of creative conversations have you had that led you to this cover?
Definitely, I think it was heading towards the early ’60s maybe, but that’s not far from where I place my paintings aesthetically. I really mean it when I say he came to me with this very rough sketch. But he nailed exactly what he was looking for. I mean, he was looking for that perspective and you see it in the âLumberjackâ video where he stands on top of the trucks. I hadn’t seen any of this before and had no idea. Obviously he has all kinds of visual imagery, even in his lyrics which are chock full of references. But his videos are the same. So for me, it was exciting to watch the deployment. I wasn’t one of them, so I didn’t know. But he could express his vision so clearly that I could still get it and it still seems like that is part of it. I think that says a lot about his creative genius.
Going back to your own work, why does the aesthetic of 1950s America personally resonate with you?
My parents came of age in the late 1950s. And I grew up hearing a lot of stories about that time, post WWII America, and that idealization of a certain type of America. And I’ve always been interested in the facade that we humans put in place to protect our real selves or to hide our real selves. I always thought that the look of the 50s, this idea of ââpalisades and suburbs replacing these facades that hide truths, still resonates politically to this day.
You said Tyler sent you some reference photos. What were these photos exactly? Did he explain why he wanted to include certain things?
Well the picture you see, I didn’t have a picture of him like that. He gave me a photo of his face from that angle, because for me it was obviously very important that he was recognizable. This perspective is not a typical view either. For the rest, I called on a childhood friend and I had lots of tips to make him a model. I bought him a sweater, a hat, then set up some lighting and took my own photo of him. I’m in Washington and Tyler in LA. So I had a very short deadline. There was no way I could do anything else but it worked. It’s just his whole aesthetic. So all these details, like the way he holds the trunks, all I knew was that he was interested in travel. But I did not receive any clarification on the album or the images surrounding it.
Is there a particular frame for this painting?
For me, it’s somewhere in Europe. He said he really liked boats and bodies of water. So I was thinking of places like Italy or Switzerland because of the mountains in the back. But it was not a specific location.
There has been a lot of work on this. I read that you spent nine days, working 12 to 15 hours a day, to complete this painting. There were two sets of rough sketches, six color studies, a final drawing, and then the actual painting. Did Tyler choose the colors for this piece and what creative input did he bring between these early sketches and the final painting?
So I made two sets of rough sketches. The first was six rough sketches based on his own sketches he gave me, drawn from different angles with different kinds of dynamics. So, from those six, he picked two that he liked and suggested some adjustments. So I gave him six more based on those notes he gave me. In the end, it was my sketch. As for the color palette, he was definitely interested in pastel colors. I gave him six options and he chose the one he wanted.
Tyler dropped this on Instagram, with another cover for his upcoming album. He ended up tagging you in the post, which is great. How has this exhibition affected you as an artist over the past week? Have you sold more paintings or received orders?
In fact, I sold paintings and prints. I do an interview with you and I also did one with Creative review. My Instagram account has also grown quite quickly. So far it has been a very good experience.
Do you have other plans to work with him in the future? In general, what are your plans for the future and what should we expect?
There are no specific plans to rework but I would love to. Right now I have a solo show with one of my galleries in the DC area, the Ada Rose Gallery, this fall that I’m preparing for. I will have another solo show scheduled for 2023 at my other gallery in Santa Fe. There are other plans that are tentative but nothing I can really talk about at the moment.