Mati Klarwein – Surrealist [Miles Davis’ -“Bitches Brew”] Cover Artist

One of the reasons I love music released on Vinyl is the cover art. There are two of Miles Davis’ album covers that really stand out to me from his other albums released during the 70’s, these are  ‘Live Evil’  and ‘Bitches Brew’. After years looking at these, wondering who painted the original artwork, I decided to see if I could find out about the original paintings and to my surprise I discovered both covers were actually painted by the same artist – Mati Klarwein.

Taken from his website here:   Mati Klarwein

Klarwein moved to New York in 1965. By then his work was considered to be inspired by surrealism and the so-called psychedelic movement of the time. However, it was more his extensive traveling and wide interests of non-Western deities and symbolism that inspired his art more than the use of psychedelic drugs. His friend Timothy Leary once stated, that judging the character of his paintings, “Mati didn’t need psychedelics!”

During his New York years he created paintings such as Bitches Brew, commissioned by Miles Davis for his landmark album of the same title. He also completed many portraits of people such as John F. Kennedy, his friend Jimmy Hendrix and other important characters of the time, and finished his large scale project, The Aleph Sanctuary, a cubic temple of all religions, featuring 68 paintings, representing some Biblical passages such as “Anunciation” (1961) (later used by Santana for the cover of his best selling album, Abraxas), “Crucifixion” (1963-1965) represented by a highly sexual tree of life which caused quite a turmoil within the puritan white establishment as well as with the black panthers, “Nativity”(1962), “Grain of Sand” (1963-1965), and many other of Mati’s best known paintings. Later, Klarwein was forced to dismantle his Chapel and sell the paintings individually for economical reasons. The chapel was rebuilt in 1992 using aluminum structures to hold Plexiglas reproductions lit by rows of fluorescent tubes.

As well as being commissioned to paint the two covers for Miles Davis he also painted the artwork featured on the Santana cover ‘Abraxus’. He’d planned to paint another album cover for a collaboration between Jimi Hendrix and Gil Evans but unfortunately this was left unfinished when Hendrix passed away. “Unfortunately Jimi died during the recordings and it was never released”.

Bitches Brew – Mati Klarwein – 1970

Original Painting used for Bitches Brew Gatefold Cover

Live – Mati Klarwein – 1971

Evil – Mati Klarwein – 1972

Original painting used for the Miles Davis “Live” Cover.

Quote from Mati:  “I hooked up with Miles the way I hooked up with everything else in life: through the women I’ve known.  Be they friends or lovers, they are all mothers with excellent taste.  Without them I’d be a dead spermatozoid in a dry puddle, and Miles saw that in my paintings.  The only time he discussed subject matter was for Live-Evil.  He asked me to paint a toad for the ‘Evil’ side.  So I painted J Edgar Hoover as a toad in drag – which turned out to be another one of my prophetic insights.”

Annunciation – Mati Klarwein – 1961 – 128 x 88 cm

“Annunciation is the first painting I painted after my initial New York awakening.  I was 28 years old and at the peak of my molecular bio-energy.  You can feel the sudden burst of the Big Apple’s electric zap in the composition after all the early years of adolescent brooding over potatoes and eggs and the romantic nostalgia of the preceeding Flight to Egypt.In those days I had an obsessional passion for the female body that lasted deep into my thirties (to be replaced by rocks ‘n’ stones)..

Years later Carlos Santana saw a reproduction of the Annunciation in a magazine and wanted it for the cover of his all time best selling Abraxas album.  It did me a world of good.  I saw the album pinned to the wall in a shaman’s mud hut in Niger and inside a Rastafarian’s ganja hauling truck in Jamaica.  I was in good global company, muchissimas gracias, Carlito!”

Jimi Hendrix – portrait by Mati Klarwein – 1970

New York Angel – Mati Klarwein – 1965


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