Mark Cooper King of Death Metal Art

Interview by: Kyle Bernstein

Q: What was your early art career like?

A: I always wanted to make huge paintings, and that's what I started off doing once I got out of prison, yet at the time when I was starting out, it wasn't practical in my situation. I was fresh out of prison after 7 years. I was living with a friend in New Smyrna and on probation. I needed to pay rent and probation fees, and no one around the area was hiring. So, I basically threw myself out there onto the internet as a freelance artist. At the time I had no professional experience other than making art in prison. I had the idea to make art for metal bands since I’ve been into metal for so long and that's the type of stuff I like to paint/draw anyways. So, I started off on Myspace posting images of my stuff and contacting as many bands and labels as possible. It only took a few days of doing that to get my first work.  I had no other choice at the time, so I wasn't picky about who I worked with. Luckily the bands I started off working with didn't give me any problems. I guess I got lucky. Yet I had to learn to draw and draw every day for those 7 years to make my work presentable enough when the time came. So, it wasn't actually luck after all. It was a lot of work. 


Q: What inspirations did you have to develop your style?

A: I love any type of art that is highly refined/detailed. You can just tell when someone puts a lot of care into their work. To me that's highly appealing.  It doesn't have to be horrific or anything like that. I'm inspired by a wide variety of things. Yet when you get into doing metal band art, it’s like a vice gets put on your head. Most bands have very limited budgets, so you have to work fast. Ideally, I would only want to produce a few paintings per year and take plenty of time to plan and refine them. Unfortunately, the world is in a hurry and high paying clients are few and far between in my experience. Perhaps that's because people see me a certain way. Probably. It’s hard to tell.


Q: Why did you start your career?

A: I love to draw, and I’ve always had encouragement to do it, so it seemed like the thing to do. I used to also love playing drums, but that didn't work out so well. Had I not gotten into trouble I probably would have still been playing drums in a deathmetal band. That's what I get for hanging around "bad" people. lol.

Q: Did you have a formal art education?

A: I suppose by formal you mean "paid schooling". No, I never did that. I did have some art teachers in public school when I was younger. I always hated being told what do draw, so I definitely wasn't in line for a scholarship. One thing I learned early on is that art teachers seemed to be anti-art in the way that they tried to control me. That made me very disinterested in any "formal" training early on. I did spend quite a bit of money on art books and dvds and started seeing a pattern, so I quit paying for those. I learned a lot from tattoo artists in prison as well. That's where I learned about line art, proportions, composition, and different ways of shading. I never did the actual tattooing. I was the guy they went to get designs from. One of the biggest things I learned is that time is your enemy when it comes to making artwork. And most people that make art take a lot of shortcuts to minimize how much work they put into their art so that they have time for other stuff. Those that paint dirty and say less is more are lazy imo. But time forces us to compromise. I've came to the conclusion that real art isn't for sale.  It’s as if any act of creation is a form of time worship. 


Q: What is your favorite part of the art?

A: Everything is kind of blurring together these days. Maybe it’s a feeling I get while making a drawing. But that's in my head, isn't it? I'm not so sure the art even exists. It's more like a mechanism of energy transference. I get bored very easily, so if something looks “good", i want to mess it up and try approaching it in a different way...If I have time.


Q: What was the biggest challenge of your career?

A: I'd say endurance is a huge thing. I try not to waste energy. So, things I used to do I do a lot less of these days. For physical exercise I basically stir my blood and call it a day. No extreme body building like I used to do. Waste of energy. I don't go out anymore cause there's nothing out there I want to see. There's a lot of ideas in my head that I want to get out. If I put out a concept, someone else can steal it, so I feel that any work I care about needs to be uncopyable. Sometimes I think that is false and maybe there are no new ideas and we're all repeating ourselves. You have to slow down and figure out new things. Yet at the same time everything is forcing you to speed up. That's a huge challenge. Pretty annoying actually. I would totally cut the cord to the outside world if I could get away with it. Money, bills, people, opinions, fears, entertainment, etc.. All distractions. Imagine having the luxury to spend your entire life on one painting. Then you could make a real mess of it. No one would be buying it, so there'd be no reason to follow all of those generic rules they teach you in school.


Q: What part of the design process is the most challenging for you?

A: Having enough time is the biggest challenge. There's not enough of it. The pressure to get things done fast messes up my ability to plan things out. Once you get something properly laid out, the rest is easy. It’s just time consuming. And when you want a highly refined look to your art, you need more time. If you don't put in the time, you'll end up lying to yourself and saying that it’s just a style, less is more, etc.. I have a lot of art that I feel sucks cause I put myself under extreme time constraints to have work out there that bands can afford. They are often done in only 3 hours with no planning. All spontaneous. You'll end up compromising your integrity when money is involved. Either that or you’ll give away your time. 

Q: What’s your favorite subject matter to make for your art?

A: For me the way it looks and feels is just as important as the subject.

My moods change a lot. So, some days I’ll want to paint one subject matter, and another day I’ll want something abstract that doesn't need to look "correct". I like to combine things that makes sense with nonsense. Both are interchangeable. If I have a bunch of jobs to finish, I don't have that freedom. So, I’d imagine that probably hinders my results during that day.


Q: What is your favorite project you’ve done?

A: The one I’m working on right now is my favorite. I've been working on it for over 2 years. I’m almost 3000 hours into it.  I spend about 80-100 hours on it every month. I'm already over 80 hours into it this month. The detail is insane. There’re images inside of images. It’s for a metal project called Bandwhore that has over a dozen musicians involved. The full image is over 20 feet long and I’m breaking down the image into 40 album covers. I noticed that ever since I started this large project I stopped posting as much, so a lot of my social media following has basically abandoned my page, which is cool, cause I don't like people that are followers of hype.


Q: What are some of your favorite bands?

A: The late 80's thrash and early 90's death metal bands can't be topped. I also love a lot of ambient, world music, electronica, jazz, etc.. Some of the bands in no order would include old Deicide, old Morbid Angel, Monstrosity, Angel Corpse, Napalm Death, old Carcass, Drab Majesty, Dead can Dance, Delerium, old Megadeth, old Metallica, Deep Forest, Adiemus, Front Line Assembly, The Rain Within, SRSQ, old Godflesh, Lycia, Boltthrower. Emperor, Strapping Young Lad, Dark Angel, Slayer, Choir Boy, Coil, Arcana, My Dying Bride, ...I could go on for a long time. I also enjoy Rings of Saturn, even though I don't listen to deathcore.      

Q: What drew you to doing primarily album art covers

A: I think a lot of that has to do with the way people see the art. It could be used for other purposes. I also think painting album covers is kind of the best of both worlds. I get to make a painting and at the same time a band can use it. If I make a taller shirt design, it probably won’t work for an album cover. Yet a good album cover can usually also work on a shirt. Plus, I prefer art with no lines. A lot of people like line art on shirts. Line art can take forever if you sculpt the lines to be perfectly clean and intricate. I haven't encountered many bands that are willing to pay what I charge for the time it takes to make intricate line art with color separation and everything organized into channels.  


Q: If you could go back to the early days, what is something you would do differently?

A: I wouldn't have wasted my time with dating. I would have never let a thief stay at my house and influence me in any way. I probably also would have quit school sooner and got into art more instead of drums. I would have never tried to help people that didn't ask for help.


Q: What are some of your favorite references for textures?

A: I don't use references for my textures. I generally already know how a surface is textured based on observations. I also like to add all kinds of extra texture to give objects more density. I feel that simple or no textures look too boring and cartoonish. I tend to add dings and scratches everywhere.


Q: With a good chunk of your pieces, the color scheme tends to stay with just one or two colors. What things do you look out for in creating the massive sense of depth in these works?

A: It’s all different with many different color schemes. You must be looking at some of those 3-hour paintings. Yet, many of those are colored in a wide variety of ways. Some quicker sketches are colored using gradient maps. Those are usually simpler. If it was up to me, I’d not even use color in a lot of my work because I don't like how colors add feelings to a piece that isn't meant to be there. The benefit to keep the colors simple is that it helps to unify the image. Plus, most metal bands don't like super colorful art.

I did paint one that has every color in the rainbow. That might get posted next year. I put over 100 hours into it.

Q: How often do you get the self-doubt feeling with your work and what do you do to overcome it?

A: I doubt other people more than I do myself. I have my many limitations figured out. I know that we're prisoners of time here. I do what I can. If people don't like it, I don't care.


Q: What kind of activities/exercises to continue to push yourself as an artist?

A: I just get up and work all day every day, focusing as much as I can. I do what I can for clients within their budgets and often end up doing extra. There isn't much I can do besides that. I don't take time to play around with the art. I have a lot of unfinished work to get done. The clock is ticking.


Q: What would you say is your biggest weakness in your art?

A: I'm limited like everyone else. Some days I don't feel very good. Sometimes I feel burned out and need a day off, so I rest. It all comes down to planning the art. I feel that weak clients that don't care about quality are my biggest weakness, since I’m set up to work on art for them. I would like to make it something I also enjoy, but at the end of the day, it's their art. If they can't pay for quality then it’s probably going to be less satisfactory, that's all there is to it. Maybe I get lucky on some days, and I can create magic on a couple hours. That type of outcome is out of my control. There's too many outside influences trying to beat me down.

Q: Is there a part of the design process you dread or dislike?

A: No, I love to draw. These days I try to feel out people and if they have a request I don't like, I’ll flat out say no. That way I don't torture myself on a project I hate doing.

Some days I dread working on other people’s projects and I want to do my own thing. So sometimes I’ll take a day off and work on my own stuff. That helps to keep me feeling balanced.


Q: What advice would you give to the next generation of artists looking to do something similar to your style?

A: I can't really tell anyone what they should do because everyone is in a different situation. If you're like me, then you need to forget about wasting time hanging out with friends and going out. Relationships are a waste of time. I also noticed that people on the internet don't care about you. They only care about themselves and what is trending. So forget about them. Just focus on your work. Nothing else matters too much. Keep things practical. Also avoid drugs and alcohol. Avoid doctors unless you're already dying. Don't talk to the police. Basically, don't waste much time talking. Don't exercise too hard. Also avoid sugar and carbs as it causes brain and nervous system damage. You don't need to eat all of the things they recommend. They are just distracting you and trying to get your money. Do that and just grind on your art nonstop till you can't anymore. Yeah, I know I broke my own rules by doing this interview, but doing other stuff once in a while won’t hurt you. Just be careful. Focus on yourself.


Q: What are some of your favorite artists that aren’t in this style?

A: There's a lot of popular artists I used to like till I learned that all of the media is controlled.   I don't know anymore because I don't know who is real and who is part of the mind control propaganda machine. I suspect that a lot of the "old masters" are fake.

I do like a lot of retro-futuristic art. Syd Mead and Tanino Leiberatore are good. I used to like Giger, but his art looks blurry and redundant to me now. A lot of metal artists try to copy Beksinski. I have my own style. I don't wanna get distracted with what other people are doing any more. 


Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: I'm going to keep working on art and keep it going until I can't anymore. That's the plan.


Thank you to Mark Cooper for taking the time to participate in this interview. You can find more of his work as well as all the bands he's worked with at his website.