Mr Kelvin Fonville has designed every logo used by Chuck D and his companies since the early 1990s. Truly he is one of the most significant contributors to Public Enemy and many surrounding entities. This 25 year relationship has florished with his dynamic cover art of Public Enemys' latest album MAN PLANS GOD LAUGHS. The cover was presented in front of a worldwide audience on the Jimmy Kimmel Show October 23 2015
The SpitSlam Record Group (Kate G): Meet Kelvin Fonville the artist behind the cover of PE’s newest album, Man Plans God Laughs
The new Public Enemy album, Man Plans God Laughs was just released in July. Chuck’s artist Kelvin Fonville, who has been with him since the late 80’s, designed the cover. I had the opportunity to sit down with Kelvin and talk about how he met Chuck, how he got into the art field, how he came up with the concept for the cover of the new PE album, as well as learned about other projects that he did which were memorable, and learned about artists who have inspired him to create art.
How did you connect with Chuck?
Kelvin: I would hear Chuck on the mic at parties and he would give talks on campuses and at club’s in the early and mid 80's, but hadn't met. We connected in 1989-90. My wife and I were vendors selling conscious designed shirts at an event held outside at Hempstead High School. Chuck was the speaker. He saw my mother-in-law wearing one of the shirts and asked where she got it. She walked him over to our booth and he introduced himself. He liked the designs and gave me his number and said let’s do business. He brought a shirt and wore it during his speech that day. That was an amazing moment for me.
What inspired you to get into the field of art?
Kelvin: I've been drawing as long as I can remember. It's all I wanted to do in my life. Creativity was in the family, so I soaked it all in. I wanted anything to do with design and creativity and became interested in art, photography, architecture, cars, clothes, and lots of other things.
You developed the cover for the last PE album, MPGL's. How did you develop the concept of the cover?
Kelvin: I began by meditating on the title and how to visually approach it. You can approach it on many levels and get pretty deep, but it was important to show a lot with less. I wanted to begin with the stars and universe and an image of man. Then the chessboard I thought represented the games and the strategy that are played by man in his mind and in society. Then the chess pieces themselves showed the dynamics between black and white. The lightning bolt is symbolic of the force of God, naturally, and the energy generated in the universe striking down. I thought a blueprint of a city on the back cover was a better representation of the planning concept of man and gave a sense of continuation and the future. They indicate the force and energy that brings about the fiery sky, which you may interpret as God saying I warned you on the front cover, but you will feel my built up fury on the back. The universe, God, man, God in man, the battles in man internally, what man does around the world, these and a string of other thoughts went into the creation of the cover. You can delve into this on a lot of levels, but again, how can I say a lot with less. I hope I was able to do that in this cover for the album.
Tell me about other artwork projects you have done that are memorable?
Kelvin: The motivating designs for my clothing company were special because of the people they touched and inspired from all walks around the world. It was a good feeling to see celebrities wearing the message on stages and in magazines and have people express what the messages meant to them. I've been blessed to work on numerous projects and they are all memorable. The first one was MistaChuck album cover with the Blue Note vibe. Then the SLAMJamz cassette cover and also Chuck’s face logo and The Bomb Squad logo were also memorable. Designing a Muhammad Ali poster and having it signed by his daughter was fantastic. Being able to design a clothing company in NYC and seeing my designs in Macy's, to artwork for various clients in the entertainment, health, and education fields have all been unique and memorable.
What artist inspires you and why?
Kelvin: I grew up in the 60's and 70's, so I was always drawn to the graphics of that era and the 50's. I have always been a big admirer of Saul Bass who created so many classic logos, posters and movie graphics. They were the Girl Scouts, United Airlines, United Way, The Man With the Golden Arm and Anatomy of a Murder. I liked the clean, minimal and thoughtful designs. They stand up over time and still have a strong impact. I grew up staring at the TV show graphics from repeats of 50's and 60's TV shows and I discovered in the 80's that a black man named Georg Olden did a lot of those graphics for CBS television and later went on to an advertising agency in the 60's. He was an inspiration when I was in college majoring in advertising. I was told by a professor that black people weren't accepted in the advertising world. I also was influenced by the Blue Note Jazz covers when I was little. I would look in awe at my father’s albums and the way the coolness came through in the photos and the type treatments. It drew me in and made me want to listen. I buy music today just from the cover art and the music usually lives up to the cover, just like Blue Note. Other designers that I admire are Jay Vigon who did the Purple Rain type treatment and the original Star Wars treatment. Margo Chase who has done logos for Madonna, Cher, Prince and branding for Target and other stores have also been influential to me. I am also a big fan of Illustrator Martin French. The way he uses brush strokes and color with black shadows and strong lines inspires me to turn the Mac off and go back to my roots and draw and paint.
Is there anything else you want to add?
Kelvin: Big or small, I am always grateful with each project I get to work on. It gives me the opportunity to pull various separate elements into a harmonious unit. For example, black and white, color, type lines, shapes, and space all are elements I use to build each individual image. It's great to work with Chuck on so many projects, and I look forward to collaborating and creating on future projects. I'm always thankful and feel blessed that he has given me the opportunities. He is a good man to work with and I always think back to that day when we connected and when he signed on the card, "Let's do business".
Kate G is Kate Gammell for Update Reports on The SPITdigital SLAMjamz Recording Label Group