Who Is the Artist Behind Benee's 'Hey u x' Album Art?
6 November 2020
Discovered on Instagram, the work will be seen by millions.
Terry Hoff, Fireeaters (2019). Spray paint, acrylic and epoxy resin on a metal picnic table. Courtesy the artist and Republic Records.
'I'm constantly looking for artists,' pop star Benee told Ocula Magazine when we sat down with her at Universal Music in Auckland, New Zealand. Every single and album needs new artwork, and as her fan base grows, so does the exposure for the artists she works with.
The 20-year-old struck a nerve with her single 'Supalonely' this year. She wrote the song in Los Angeles, far from friends and family, following a breakup. The lyrics resonated not only with the heartbroken, but with millions of listeners confined to their homes due to the pandemic. The song peaked at number 12 on the global Spotify charts in early May, and has accumulated over 430 million listens on the app.
'They sent all this stuff, and I was like this is great, and these people are super quick and talented. They do stuff, I assume, for Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj—all the people who are signed to Republic—but I was like actually this doesn't feel nice. It doesn't feel right for the stuff I'm trying to do right now. So ever since then I've been like, I'm going to do this.'
Benee's aesthetic is maximalist and free-ranging—'honestly, I'm inspired by everything, even stuff I don't like,' she said—but she cites James Blake, Björk, and Grimes as visual influences. To find an image for her album cover, she reached out to her highschool friend Sadie for recommendations.
'She sent me this huge list and, okay, this guy Terry Hoff. I went all the way down his feed and then I found these pieces which I was like, holy fuck I love this. The one that I chose was so bright and crazy. I like how it's all over the place, and I think that's kind of what my album is like. So I was like this is freaking perfect.'
Benee assumed Hoff was 'some 30-year-old hipster', but he is in fact a 64-year-old hippy, a mixed media artist who lives in Pacifica, near San Francisco. He's literally a boomer, happily pointing out that the colours used in the video for 'Supalonely' seemed inspired by colours popular in the '60s and early '70s—'a very important time' for him.
Despite his age, he described himself as 'just a kid really'.
'My work has always been much younger than me,' Hoff said.
Solo exhibitions of Hoff's work have taken place at numerous galleries, mostly in California, including: James Wright Gallery, LA; The Fourth Wall Gallery, Oakland; Michael Rosenthal Gallery, San Francisco; and Andrea Schwartz Gallery, San Francisco.
His creation The Fireeaters (2019) is the work that appears on the cover of Benee's debut album, 'Hey u x', which comes out on 13 November. In pictures, the piece looks as if it could have been made in Photoshop using masks, layers, and the lasso, airbrush and gradient tools, but Hoff gravitates towards their analogue predecessors.
'I don't know how to use Photoshop,' he said. 'My girlfriend found a metal picnic table on the street and thought I could use it for something. ... It had cool rivets on the sides and obviously a history, which I enjoy being sensitive to, because objects resonate their history.'
The subject of the painting changed over time, he said.
'As the painting evolved a portrait emerged somewhat and was surrounded by a burning field. Its eye was crying and noise [was] coming from its mouth. ... It was my response to the political landscape at the time, I think.'
'Over a year and a half later I came back to it and realised it was close but not finished, masked out large areas that I wasn't satisfied with and went to town. No longer crying eyes, the burning field became a smokey field, the burning was now emanating from its mouth,' Hoff said.
Though they're separated by the Pacific Ocean and over four decades, Hoff feels connected to Benee, first, 'through the openness of social media and the opportunities it allows for artists' work to be seen and heard without as many gatekeepers involved.' Second, he said, 'my affinity with Benee's music is it's celebratory nature. Hey! It's great to be alive in this crazy, absurd world and body, but it's hard and it's fucking great too!'
Hoff is not sure how much impact the album cover will have on his career.
'Well my kids have responded,' Hoff said.' They think it's cool and awesome, I have gotten a few more followers on Instagram. We will see what happens when it gets out there.'
Visual artists who created iconic album covers in the past include: Andy Warhol for the Velvet Underground's The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967), Robert Mapplethorpe's photograph of Patti Smith for Horses (1975), Robert Rauschenberg's work for The Talking Heads' Speaking in Tongues (1983), Banksy's stencil for Blur's Think Tank (2003), Jeff Koons' design for Lady Gaga's Artpop (2013), and Sam McKinniss's painting for Melodrama (2017) by Lorde, another New Zealand pop star. —[O]