Don’t call Dewey Saunders’ artwork “surreal” or “psychedelic.” He’s heard it all before. The L.A.-based artist, who focuses on collage, illustration, graphic design and installation work, points out his creative inspiration also braids magic realism and Dadaism into his pieces.
“That’s not to say my artwork hasn’t been informed by the psychedelic rock posters of the ’60s and ’70s,” says Saunders, 36, in a phone interview.
This mashup of styles has propelled Saunders to be one of the hottest artists in the U.S., bolstered by an impressive client list: rappers Anderson .Paak and Future, reggae artist Chronnix, Philly band Vacationer and brands such as Ray-Ban.
Saunders is best known for designing the album cover of Paak’s now-classic Malibu, released in 2016. While Saunders helped design the rapper’s earlier album Venice, it was Malibu’s collage-heavy artwork that propelled a design aesthetic that saw Paak fans gobble up posters and prints of that unique album cover.
“We actually had that image of Anderson in his boxers playing piano as a last-minute photo, to replace something we weren’t feeling,” Saunders explains. “The album has this Sgt. Peppers vibe about it, which I like.”
On the cover, surrounding the rapper in this beach scene are various animals and objects, some of which hold meaning but others came from Saunders as a way to add some fresh ideas to the cover. A classic car is a callback to a Paak lyric about a Chevy, while the orca whale was just Saunders wanting to add “something cool,” as he says.
He adds, “It’s so wild to know I’m part of this rapper’s visual storytelling journey.”
As enamored as Saunders has been with collage – “there’s a fresh joy and enthusiasm with collage” – his approach to every project varies, such as his album covers for Chronixx and Future. For the reggae musician’s Chronology album, Saunders chose a less collage-focused style and opted for something a bit more visually arresting. “An album cover should represent the music and a lot of times the solution isn’t a collage,” Saunders says.
For that album, he opted for a sunnier brighter look, with Jamaican colors in the background and Chronixx’s face playing center stage. “Chronixx’s manager wanted a cover that reflects roots-reggae music, that harkens back to the lineage of African music and history,” Saunders says.
For Future’s The Wizrd album, photography was the artist’s media of choice, which has long been a passion for Saunders. With the photo of Future filtered to look like he’s walking along an other-worldly forest, the album cover further demonstrates Saunders’ impressive range.
Saunders has also created installations and pieces for music videos, as well as installations for brands such as Ray-Ban and Urban Outfitters.
A Philadelphia native, Saunders has been surrounded by art his entire life, thanks to a father and grandmother who both enjoyed painting. “And when I went to Europe at like 8, that really opened my eyes to what art is out there,” Saunders remembers.
After studying illustration and graphic design at the Tyler School of Art, he dabbled in editorial illustrations for clients such as The New Yorker but soon gravitated towards photography, collage and graphic design. He was also influenced by skateboard culture, having grown up around those communities. “I loved the art I saw on boards, and the clothing style of skate culture,” Saunders says.
When he moved to L.A., Saunders would check out flea markets and garage sales to snag as many old magazines he could, providing fodder for his collage artwork that would soon become another facet of his creative output.
Another mainstay in Saunders’ life is cannabis. “More than just a recreational drug to me, cannabis is medicinal. It helps the pain I have in my lower back. And it helps me create some images too.”
As for what’s next for Saunders, it would only make sense the move to L.A. would spark some Hollywood dreams. He’d like to develop a screenplay he’s been working on for a bit. “It’s all about staying in the creative zone and making cool stuff that I enjoy,” he proclaims.