(born January 27, 1947) is an artist
specialising in album cover
was the main visual
collaborator of American
, record producer and film director
. Schenkel's work is iconic
and distinctive in style. A forerunner of punk
and the new wave
era, he is
responsible for the art and graphic
of many of Zappa's most well-known album covers.
is an active artist who lives and works in Pennsylvania.
Background and education
Schenkel was born in January 1947 in Willow Grove,
Pennsylvania. For a long time Willow Grove was home to one
of the premier amusement parks in the
States, but by the time Schenkel was of age it had been
eclipsed by Disneyland. Schenkel attended the Philadelphia
College of Art but left after one semester and set out to find his
own way in the fast developing world of art.
unemployerd artist in the late 60's he met Essra Mohawk
(otherwise known as Sandy Hurvitz
), who introduced him to the
composer Frank Zappa
. Schenkel's interview in Eyemagazine
Schenkel and Frank Zappa
late 1960s album cover design became a
highly significant part of the emerging music and art culture in
Europe and the U.S.A, primarily
as an expression of artistic vision and intent. Gatefold cover
, (a folded double cover), and
inserts, often with lyric
sheets, made the
album cover a desirable cultural
in its own right. One of the first artists to realise
the significance of album cover design in the perception of image
and artistry was the American composer, guitarist, record producer
and film director Frank Zappa
fortuitous circumstance, in 1967 he met and was introduced to the
young artist Cal Schenkel. Schenkel wrote,
- "When I first met him in New York, the art studio was in his
apartment - but that was only for a brief period. I didn't actually
live there [as widely reported], but I would commute to work at his
place. When we moved to LA...he had rented the log cabin, I had a
wing of it. It was my living quarters and art studio, which I
rented separately from them."
We're Only in it for the Money,
album sleeve design, Cal Schenkel 1968
Then followed a period of over 10 years when Schenkel, either holed
up in an annex of the Zappa household, or at work in his own
studio, attempted to give visual form to Zappa's music while
developing his own, distinctive, raw edged 'ratty' style.
- "I love naive and folk art, art that has an unfinished look. I
don’t like the polished for the most part. Now what that means or
where it comes from I’m not sure. But I was probably influenced
graphically by artists I saw in school. And of course there’s the
comic book look – like Krazy Kat. A part of it was just lack of
skill. Trying to take advantage of my own naivety. I’d really only
had a semester of art school, so I hadn’t evolved my style when I
was doing all of this. It just comes natural, too."
A king of rendered absurdities, painter
, and illustrator
, the instinctive novice in the 1960s
art scene, the young Calvin Schenkel was entrusted by Frank Zappa
to design most of his early album covers, because as he puts it "he
was someone who could get the job done", though it is probably more
true to say that Zappa realised his potential. One of the many
classic and iconic images that Schenkel worked on for Zappa's fast
growing music empire
at this time was the
cover for We're only
in it for the Money
: a parody of The Beatles
This was the first project he had worked on with Zappa. Schenkel
built the plaster figures, helped set up the staging for the photo
(at Zappa's direction), and put together the collage of people in
He also provided artwork, graphics, and/or design for Cruising with Ruben & the
, Uncle Meat
, Burnt Weeny Sandwich
, Chunga's Revenge
, Fillmore East - June 1971
, Just Another Band from
The Grand Wazoo
, Roxy & Elsewhere
, One Size Fits All
, Bongo Fury
, the Does Humor Belong in Music?
album, The Best Band You
Never Heard in Your Life
, Playground Psychotics
Ahead of Their Time
, Son of Cheep Thrills
slipcase art, and Threesome No.
Though foremost an artist, Cal provided vocal for Lumpy Gravy
. He also gets a namecheck in
the title for the track "For Calvin (And His Next Two
Hitch-Hikers)" (from The Grand
). When Frank Zappa came to register his son
Dweezil's birth name, the hospital refused. The first acceptable
names that came to mind were Ian Donald Calvin (after Schenkel)
Schenkel was production designer for the film 200 Motels
(see external links below) and
can be seen in the Zappa movies Uncle
and Video From
. Conceptual Continuity: the artwork for Burnt Weeny Sandwich
originally done for an Eric Dolphy
When Zappa signed with Herb Cohen
Schenkel began work with a number of other artists represented by
Cohen. These included Tom Waits
, Tim Buckley
and Don van
aka Captain Beefheart
He was also the art director on Zappa's production of the Lenny Bruce
Berkeley Concert in 1969.
Schenkel and Captain Beefheart
Schenkel created the artwork and design for Captain Beefheart
's Trout Mask Replica
, described by the
's DJ John Peel
in these terms:
"If there has been anything in the history of popular music which could be described as a work of art in a way that people who are involved in other areas of art would understand, then Trout Mask Replica is probably that work."
And the critic Steve Huey wrote that the album's influence "was
felt more in spirit ...as a catalyst rather than a literal musical
starting point. However, its inspiring re-imagining of what was
possible in a rock context laid the groundwork for countless
experiments in rock surrealism to follow, especially during the
punk/new wave era."
Schenkel went to a local fish market to buy the carp
's head that he wanted to use on the album cover.
He hollowed out the head leaving just the face, like some absurd
mask. Van Vliet, easing seamlessly
into character, instinctively picked it up and held it to his face
– and the image of a thousand cultural references was created.
Looking out at the world through the eyes of the raw stinking fish
head, he sat for over two hours while Schenkel took photographs.
Inside the mask the smell was choking and intense but the Captain
was good-natured about the whole process. The creation of the album
cover was as surreal as the album itself. At one point Beefheart
picked up the saxophone
and started to
play something 'raw' through the mouth of the stinking fish.
Schenkel has 'footage' of 'the carp playing sax'.
'Zappa machine' shut down for a while in 1977, Schenkel returned to
his home town of Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, hoping to jump-start an art career separate from
Zappa and, more importantly, from the record industry.
he began his own 'mail order' art business.
Schenkel's artwork, influenced at first by the comic strip Krazy Cat
and by Mad
, had by then developed its own 'primitive' 'ragged' surrealist
style. In 1976 together with Don Van
, Schenkel held an exhibition of his artwork in
Greenfields Gallery, at the Evergreen State College in Olympia,
where the young Matt Groening
of the Simpsons
was a student.
- For examples see the gallery below
- The actual credit on the album cover is: "PLASTER FIGURES &
ALL OTHER ARTWORK: CAL SCHENKEL (holding eggs lower right front
- Source United Mutations interview with Schenkel
Image:Frank Zappa - Cruising With Ruben & the
Jets.jpg|Cruising with Ruben and the Jets
. Album artwork,
Cal Schenkel 1968.
Image:Frank Zappa The Grand Wazoo.gif|The Grand Wazoo
Album artwork, Cal Schenkel, 1972.
Image:Playground Psychotics.jpg| Playground Psychotics
Album sleeve design, Cal Schenkel, 1992.
Album Artworks Credits