So What! Article

The Artist’s Way - Marald van Haasteren

Jan 9, 2023

BY STEFFAN CHIRAZI

I don’t believe I’ve ever come across another artist who is at once as classic, baroque, yet explosively colorful as Marald van Haasteren. Born In Leiden, the Netherlands, Marald is that rare blend of impressionist with swathes of gothic influence and equally eruptive yet supremely finite use of color in the way of modern muralists. The juxtaposition lends itself to some intriguing work, as illustrated by his “The Thing That Should Not Be” poster (available in The Metallica Store at 1 PM PST this Thursday, January 12), where the creature is one thing, but that churning field of red is a whole other engaging ball of wax.

Marald is perhaps best known in rock circles for his collaborative work with fellow artist John Dyer Baizley on two Baroness album covers, including their last Gold & Grey (the pair also have a very evolved theory on why artists don’t like working with the color orange – to do with the “loudness” of pure orange, and how, in that form, it’s used predominantly to denote something dangerous).

My conversation with Marald lasted 90 minutes, and that was us keeping it tight. He is a unique, open, and very friendly character, with stories and theories on all manner of things from art to music to philosophy that mark him as the ideal coffee shop hang. I’ll leave you to get to know him a little more via highlights from our conversation…

FAMILY OF ARTISTS

I’m a very lucky guy. My father is really interested in art, and he always took me and my sisters to museums. I was the youngest, and my two sisters were very good at art as well. He also has a huge library, so I got exposed to some really impressive art at a very, very early age. I remember, as a young kid, being at the Royal Museum in Brussels (Belgium), and I ran towards a painting I recognized by [Henri] Rousseau. It’s a very naïve painting of a forest with a female. I recognized that painting, and I ran toward it, starting to point at it. The guard there was in total panic and started shouting at me, but my father was really proud of me because he had shown me that painting in a book, and he knew how special it was for me to actually see it in real life.

My father also went to art school. He did that in the evening [after his] day job. He was trained professionally as an artist, but he never sought a career to be a professional artist. He had to provide for a family. So I think he really wanted his children to succeed in that field. He’s been pushing me all my life, actually, and I was always reluctant to go professional.

CREATING ESCAPES

I loved to draw but what I liked most was that I could create my own world. That was one of the amazing things, to make my own little world. When I was probably five or six, my father used to tell us bedtime stories, and what he did was start with The Lord of the Rings. So from an early age, he told those stories, and every character had its own voice. That shaped a lot of my imagination as well. Plus, his library. I mean, at an early age, before I was 10 or 11, I saw the works of Bosch, Bruegel, H.R. Giger, and Druillet. When I was 11, I got Urm le Fou by Philippe Druillet as a birthday present. I have that to this day. That shapes you as a kid.

ART SCHOOL, POOR TEACHERS, SCIENCE, PUNK ROCK, AND DISSECTION

I didn’t know if I was good enough, but to my surprise, I got accepted into art school in The Hague. The first two years were really good, and I was among the highest students in my class. The last year was very different, and I couldn’t figure out why it didn’t go so well in terms of grades. I soon realized that all my teachers that year came from the ’70s. The ’70s in art were all about liberation, about overthrowing all institutions and all traditional art. That was all done; that was history. And at that art school, they literally smashed the classical statues. Not the real ones but reproductions [that] were scattered around the school. So when they got confronted by students who wanted to learn classical methods and wanted to paint traditionally, it was like the devil before them. It took me a while to realize that, and also to actually realize that not only did they not want to teach me those techniques, but the frightening realization that they couldn’t teach me those techniques because they didn’t possess the ability.

My father thought it was very, very important not to let them win. The idea is that if you give up, they win. So fight. Just stay and fight, finish school, and that’s your victory. That really helped. I was also in the midst of being really involved in the DIY punk community, so that helped as well. Around that time, I started making cover art, creating my own family and network, and I was really into the political side of the punk scene. There was a huge new wave in the US that came over and toured in Europe. I remember Nausea from New York having a huge impact. We went to every gig that we could in the Netherlands. We saw them, talked to them, and connected with them. I met Dan from Profane Existence, the label and fanzine. Born Against also made a huge impact on me, and so did the UK scene, Amebix, Antisect, and Axegrinder. Then there was crossover stuff like Concrete Sox.

One of my classmate’s friends had a friend who [studied medicine]. One of her teachers was really interested in art, so she came to us with a proposal for a visit to a dissection chamber in Rotterdam under the guidance of her teacher, a surgical/anatomical pathologist. He gave us a guided tour, and it was amazing. It was shocking too, because you got the whole experience, the smell as well. There’s the anticipation and the adrenaline buildup: how are you going to react? I remember very well the smell when the first specimen got presented. It was covered in cloth, they took off the cloth, and there was a wave of formaldehyde that was so intense. We were drawing with pencil, no colors, which worked out fine because, with the formaldehyde, it all turns into the same brownish leather color. It’s a very intense, weird, and absurd experience to walk around at 10 in the morning to a big tray of human heads! That surgeon thought it was really important to combine science and art, which is one thing I really loved, and we were very lucky to have that man on our path. I also had a wonderful opportunity to visit the Museum of Natural History in Leiden and actually go into their collection and draw objects there, thanks to a very good connection. This one is the biggest in the Netherlands and the first to have a complete T-Rex skeleton in Europe.

COVID ERA OPTICAL NIGHTMARE

Unfortunately, I lost some of the sight in my right eye during covid. When I went in for surgery, I had 25% of my vision still left, and they recovered it to [a total of] 75-80% percent at best. I’ve become very sensitive to light, especially artificial lights and high contrast. I had to get an artificial lens in my right eye, and my left eye became my dominant eye. It had been my right eye, but it had to shift to my left, so the whole mix-match in my brain has been weird. The left one still sees the colors like I used to. My surgeon says the natural one is more yellowed and warmer, whereas the artificial one seems to be cold, but that’s because it’s so bright.

I think my therapy helped me way more than having to physically heal. The acceptance that life is finite and that we’re vulnerable are lessons I learned at a very early age. Having that realization really helped. Also, the realization that, “Okay, what can I control?” The thing I can control is how I cope with this, and that really helped me. I was already accepting the fact that I had a responsibility to take care of my mental health, and that takes effort as well. You don’t only have to exercise physically; you also have to exercise your mental health. So working on that probably made me realize I can cope with this, and yes, I can feel sad about loss, but it is what it is. This is the path I’m on, and I had to find a way to accept it, to go on.

THE THING THAT SHOULD NOT BE AND FIFTH MEMBER ART

“The Thing That Should Not Be” is one of my favorite songs from Metallica, and it definitely has the most Kirk Hammett solo of them all, I think. It doesn’t get any more wah, wah, wah than that solo. The creature is, of course, H.P. Lovecraft, which was a writer my dad introduced me to at an early age as well. I’m very familiar with Lovecraft and the atmosphere he describes. His central theme is one I truly love: cosmic horror - humankind as almost a speck in the universe in the vacuum. It’s a classic Lovecraftian monster, but then sort of like a crustacean as well. My initial plan and proposal were to do a take on an old horror comic magazine cover, like the Creepy magazine covers, and that got greenlit. But when I started to make the actual art, the art itself started asking questions and making demands, which is the thing I love. It’s that mid-journey. I really enjoy the process of creating. I found myself thinking, “Okay, this needs to be almost like a classical painting with a lot of depth and a lot of drama,” and then there was the red sky. That was the one thing that really changed it all.

With the Fifth Member art, the color scheme I took is a nod to the… I think it’s a French pressing of Ride the Lightning – the one that got misprinted, which was green. I had the idea for the scythe and the arm wielding the scythe inside the M for a long time, actually. I had to check to make sure nobody had done it before. They hadn’t, so I was really, really pleased when I got the opportunity to finally make that.

THE POWER OF NATURE

I have a fascination with insects and animals generally, and as an artist looking at nature, nature is always the better artist, the more creative. The color combinations you see in nature are incredible. They’re a huge source of inspiration, but mostly admiration, and it makes you feel humble. I hope that when people see a work of mine, they’re amazed and get drawn in to explore all the little details. You always have to zoom in. They’re there right in the center, in the bright center in the poster, there are four band members playing in the midst of all that chaos.