On October 7 in an L.A.'s MAMA Gallery, Rihanna unveiled the four-by-four foot black, red, and gold painting that she commissioned to be the cover of her forthcoming eighth studio album—which we now know will be titled ANTi—as well as several more pieces that will be shrunk-down for inclusion in the album packaging. The painting, which depicts a young Rihanna with a golden crown slung low over her eyes and a black balloon in hand, also features a poem sculpted in Braille. The work was conceived by Israeli artist Roy Nachum, who also created the art for "FourFiveSeconds" and "Bitch Better Have My Money." In the day following the event, we spoke with a tired but pleased Nachum about his work, the cover, and working with Rihanna. His thoughts below.
How are you feeling about the reception of the piece?
Been working on it for almost a year it’s finally out, andI think we're both really, really happy with the result and feedback from people.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and the overarching themes you've been working with as of late?
I’m an artist, I'm a painter, I'm doing also some sculpture. I experiment with human perception and fate. I can tell you that I see my work as an eye-opener, and I think in my work I'm testing inner aura, inner vision, if what we see is what we think we see. One of the processes I did over the course of the experimental work with sight is I put a blindfold over my eyes for a whole week and experienced what it is to be without sight. And sometimes experimenting is better. I think sometimes to see tickles the eyes.
What do you think drew Rihanna to your work?
Jay Z and Beyoncé collected my work, and she saw one of my pieces in their apartment collection, and she immediately said this is it, this is what I want to do. Then she reached me and we started working on it.
Included in the album packing is a recreation of your Fire series that you did with Rihanna, can you tell me about that?
The Fire series started with the sculpture and the Braille, so the painting is completely white on white. I take the frame and I burn them until it becomes charcoal, so when you touch it you stain your fingers. I invited people who are blind, and by touching the work they experience the work and by reading the poetry and once they touch the black frame you see the fingerprints on the canvas and you it’s an interactive work. So basically the work is alive and it’s always changing. Over the years it’s just changing and changing, and it never looks the same.
We wanted to do the same thing but with a seeing person, so we asked Rihanna. I blindfolded her eyes in my studio. She put the music of the album and she started touching the work and just trying to feel what the painting is. You can see the emotion—there’s three different pieces, first one she decided to just be in front of it, the second one she just started touching it lightly, and the third one is really dramatic, she really went all the way. It’s very surprising, this kind of work is very interesting because you never know how it’s going to look like.
How did you approach this cover? Did Rihanna give you any guidelines, or did you have free reign?
When we met for the first time we just connected very fast. When I started explaining about my work, it was funny because it was really kind of the way she thinks. Being humble and being appreciative, I think this is one of the main connections we have. We share the same philosophies and we see the same things in a lot of the same ways.
It happened so fast. I did a lot of sketches and I showed her a few options, we really both thought the same way. She sent me some pictures of her when she was young, and I did a lot of sketches just to get that moment when she was young. [But it’s also] filled with symbols that I'm using in my art—like the crown is a signature element—so I think it is reflecting my work and what I do.
Who is that little girl on the cover, is it Rihanna?
Yes. She sent me a few pictures [of herself when she was young] and I just got inspired from that. It’s not any exact picture that she sent me, it’s a mix, kind of like a collage of a few pictures, just to get that look of that specific time and that specific age.
Why have her be depicted as a young girl, rather than the grown woman she is now?
The girl on the cover is to open people’s eyes, in a way, to appreciate the small things in life. I can feel it myself—I feel like a kid with a crown over the eyes. It’s personal to me, because I always go back to my childhood, and I feel that when you're young, that you're not exposed in a way. In that moment, it’s something very real and very free, in a way. So I really like that age.
What does the black balloon mean to you?
The balloon is lighter than air, so its kind of like a metaphor for escaping reality, you know?
What is this child is escaping?
It’s open, it can be anything. It’s not personal—everyone can relate to it in a different way, you can escape in a good way or in a bad way.
And is that feeling related to the music that you have heard in some way?
Yes, I would say so.
Braille is a recurring theme in your work, but is an unusual choice for album art. Will the Braille be functional in the actual packaging? Will there be text as well?
We decided not to do any text other than Braille on the cover. It’s painted on paper, in soft back, and the entire text is raised. There’s no credits and song lists and things like that, the entire album is just an art piece.
Why are there seven pieces?
It just happened to be seven pieces. We wanted to create [more than one], and she wanted it, too. There’s a very realistic painting with Braille. Then we have a very abstract piece, just fingerprints touching the piece. I wanted to—and she as well—showcase my work like I'm doing now. My next show is going to be a little different than this, but its still talking about experiment with perception and sight and all that but in a different way.
This cover pretty striking departure from some of her past albums.
I think she did an amazing job before but I wanted to do something a little different. Everything I do, I try to look at it as a white canvas. I try to speak to my vision and what I do, so I get inspired from life and people.
How much of the music have you heard the album?
I heard some of it. The music is amazing, what she's doing—she's a true visionary and an amazing human being. Rihanna is just unbelievable, for real.