Christophe Szpajdel, who has created some 10,000 brand marks since the 1980s, may be among the more prolific logo designers anywhere. He may also be one of the most unusual: he creates identities for black and death metal bands such as Vomit of Torture, Sadistic Passage, and Godrot. When Szpajdel visited Minneapolis for the opening of the exhibition Graphic Design: Now in Production, he added one more name to his colorful client list: the Walker Art Center.
Variously dubbed “the Paul Rand of Metal” or the “Dark Lord of Logos,” Szpajdel began drawing band logos in the 1980s based on his love of music, from bands like Kiss and Iron Maiden to early black metal groups like Celtic Frost. His work caught the eye of Andrew Blauvelt, curator of the Walker’s design show, for both his signature style and the way he has almost single-handedly created a recognizable branding aesthetic for specific realms of the underground metal scene. Blauvelt included Szpajdel’s work in the branding section of the show, displayed just across from experimental geographer Trevor Paglen’s array of patches created for quasi-governmental black operations; Dexter Sinister’s heraldic neon logo; and three-dimensional “T”s in metal and ceramic created by Blu Dot and Stephanie DeArmond, respectively, for the New York Times’ T Magazine.
“This section of the show deals with the ubiquitous presence of branding in contemporary life in unexpected places, from supposedly nonexistent or ‘black ops’ military groups that nevertheless feel compelled to identify themselves to each other perhaps to Christophe’s black metal logos, a subcultural form of identity that has evolved organically to embrace a particular style,” Blauvelt explains.
Born in Belgium and based in the UK, Szpajdel traveled to Minnesota in October to attend the exhibition’s opening. He spent much of his time in the Twin Cities on two endeavors: developing some 40 logos for bands including Infinite Obscurity, Masters of Metal, and Jucifer; and photographing natural and architectural details that inform his designs.
As Szpajdel’s Flickr page illustrates, he draws inspiration from landscapes, plants, and insects as well as Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture. (One version of his logo for the band Volumes is based on lighting fixtures at the Art Deco Wells Fargo building in downtown Minneapolis.)
Meeting up with Szpajdel as he worked on logos on a picnic table outside the Walker entrance this fall, I conveyed a request that came from Walker carpenter/draftsman Kirk McCall: could he make a Walker Art Center black metal logo?
He excitedly agreed, and in a matter of days delivered his work–a logo that referenced the Mississippi River and Loring Park’s ponds, plants from the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, art movements such as Art Nouveau, and “a touch of black metal” (a personal request from me). His logo plays with symmetry and fluidity, he said, with sharp points mimicking the spiny edges of an aloe vera plant that he spotted in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden’s Cowles Conservatory.
“I went with the flow,” he says, “ to make a logo with a black metal touch, but [one that’s] completely without any symbol. To have something that is at the same time fluid, but not too aggressive. The logo has black metal, but it also has to be relaxing.”
But while he noted the Walker’s cutting-edge programming, he said his interpretation of the Walker’s brand needed to show restraint.
“If I was doing a logo like the one I did for Human Remains, that would be much too aggressive,” he said.