Mila Fürstová interview (pt 1)
3 December 2014 2:57 pm
Exclusive interview with the creator of the Ghost Stories artwork
The Ghost Stories art exhibition - featuring Mila Fürstová's original artwork for the album - opens in London tomorrow, and runs until 7 December. The free exhibition takes place at 17 Osborn St, Shoreditch, London and is open from 11am until 8pm. You can also buy the works from the Album Artists website. All proceeds will go towards Kids Company's incredible work with disadvantaged young people. 

Ahead of the exhibition, we called up Mila to find out more about her artwork. (Update: click here to read part two.)

Hello Mila, how are you?
I’m very good, thank you.

How did you first get involved with Coldplay?
It was my agent, Fraser, who runs Album Artists. He rang me about two years ago and said there was a very faint chance that Coldplay may like my work and I could be working with them.

What did you say?
I just thought, “Oh Fraser, you’re such a space cadet, where did you get that idea from?” And then he went off and quickly got together four of my pieces to take to the Bakery to show to Coldplay and I think it started from there. But at the same time, there was another background story because Phil Harvey and his wife already had two pieces of my work that they’d come across totally randomly in a gallery. And I think Fraser once delivered some work to them and he saw a large piece of mine in their house. A total coincidence.

So how did it progress from “it might happen”?
OK, so this was in the summer of 2012 and I had a few month old baby. I’d had this traumatic birth and I was hardly making any art and it was a very low point for me. And I was thinking “How can I even start making art again?” I was trying to take the baby to the studio and it just wasn’t happening. But the whole Coldplay thing sounded so, so exciting that I thought, I just so want to do that. I think there was communication between Fraser and Phil for some time until in the winter, Phil contacted me for the first time and he started telling me about the ideas for the artwork.

How did that go?
Oh he’s such an artistic guy and we had such cerebral conversations. I really enjoyed the creative part of that. We started coming out with first ideas. And actually even my very first sketch that I made after Phil described what they want was this woman floating in the sky / sea. So already the soul of it was already there. But we were still a long way from finding it properly.

How did you find it?
Well, we talked with Phil about ideas for a few months and then I think in spring, they said, “Would you like to come to the studio and meet the band?” So I did that and they were so lovely and welcoming and I just immediately felt, “Oh, I just want you for my friends!” And we sat around the table and Chris was like, “Oh Mila, you are so incredibly talented.” And I was blushing and trying to make a joke out of it. I said, “Oh Chris, you are very talented too!” But he didn’t cast me out straight away, which was a good sign. And then we started discussing everything.

What was the starting point for the artwork?
Chris’s initial idea was this photo that he had that he loved for many years of two sea lions under water. And I can see why, because they are almost a metaphor for a soul or a human in a special kind of state of mind. So he showed me this photo and I thought I’d work around that, that actually he wanted a sea lion under water and I’d need to get that into my work and that’s what the album cover would be. And I worked and worked around it.

That’s not how the album cover ended up being, of course.
No. The problem is, I’ve never really taken a commission successfully. It felt for me a little bit like an arranged marriage. And I thought, “Oh, I really want this arranged marriage to happen!” But I wasn’t falling in love, if you like. I was doing everything to try and please them. I produced an awful lot of sketches and it had some essence of the album already, but it wasn’t all there. And then Fraser and Phil had this really great idea where they said let’s just print a lot of your work out in large scale and put it around the Bakery studio. It was amazing. The studio basically turned into a gallery of my work!

Ah yes, up the staircase and everywhere.
Yes! I just thought what an amazing act from them. They thought OK, we’re gonna have a go and we are willing to embrace Mila’s work. And I think Chris especially was looking at the work for a long time, until he saw this one piece which was a blue angel with two wings, and he said he really liked that and asked if the wings would work on their own. I said they would and I printed just the wings and when we put them together, they looked a broken heart. And he said he really loved that. That’s when the baby was conceived.

So it wasn’t designed to look like a broken heart? It just ended up that way?
Yes. I think that’s probably the best thing about all art, including music, that you are following a thought and then something else happens, like some intervention from heaven, and it’s up to you to spot it. And I think that Chris spotted it. So that was great. Then he handed it over to me and he said, “Look, I love the wings and I want you to do whatever you feel is right.” He was giving me total freedom to be myself. I remember he called from LA and I said to him, “Oh Chris, are you sure you don’t want a particular motif?” And he was so magnanimous and very clever and it was an act of understanding of how art is made. So he gave me freedom.

How did you get started?
Well, they gave me the album before it was shared with anyone. So that was very lovely of them as well. I went away and had this template of the wings that I drew and then I started listening to the album and I just drew directly onto the wing plates.

So that cover artwork didn’t exist until you’d heard the album?
Exactly. It’s totally about the album. Etching involves working on metal plates. You cover it in wax and then you work on it. So I had the needle and I was listening. And it felt like walking into this dark room in which Chris is singing. And the darkness was the plate and I had the needle. So I tried to trace his feelings. And I tried to trust my intuition. I drew the wing gradually. I completed an entire wing, based on the whole album. There was something from each song.

(Click for hi-res version)

So if people look closely they should be able to tell which bit is about which song?
Yes, exactly. And some images can work for two, because it feels to me like some of the songs are quite connected. And at this point A Sky Full Of Stars wasn’t on the album. That was added later. But already it appears in the wings through divine intervention, with the stars. And so I drew that one wing and sent it to Phil and Chris and they were lovely and they said “This is great, this is what we want” and then Phil said “And where is the other wing?” And I said, “What other wing?” I thought it would just be a mirror image of the same wing. So then I made the other wing!

Did you do the left wing first?
Actually, it’s the right wing. My drawing started with the couple that’s lying underneath the blanket of stars. Then I drew the walking man with the birds, because that last song totally captured me immediately. And also I have to say that so much work later was done by Tappin and Gofton. They have done the art direction for many of the band’s album covers before. So I was doing the basic metal print and I gave them so many choices of how they could have printed them and it was actually Mark and Simon from Tappin and Gofton who were presenting the band with how they felt the wings should be placed. So it was a big brainstorm. And they were great to me. Really supportive. So there was the wings and the background for them - the sea - is actually a very small etching plate and the stars are just drawn in by hand, and then it was all brought together digitally.

So then the artwork for Magic and the others followed afterwards?
Yes. They hadn’t been offering that from the beginning at all. I didn’t really know where we were going with everything. I didn’t know until the last minute that I was definitely going to be making the album cover. Then they said, “We really like the cover” and they said they’d really like to see some sketches for Magic. And I said, “Well, I never do sketches” but by then I already felt through the experience of the wings that I have this intimate creative relationship with them, so I was willing to do sketches because it felt like it’s not just their project it’s now my baby as well! I’m usually too impatient to do sketches - I just love drawing straight onto the plate, because it’s more fun for me not to know what’s coming - but that was something I did more and more as we went on.

The detail is incredible in the Magic one.
I drew three sketches for that. There’s one sketch which features a magician, but the band went for this one where’s there’s just a couple. It’s more poetic, I think. And then I think there’s a vinyl with Midnight, which actually has the etching of the three sea lions. That goes back before the wings when I was drawing the sea lions. This was when they became a bit more mine because they are see through and they are no longer sea lions, they’re these structures, and one of them has a man inside them, floating.

At some point did they say they wanted you to do all the artwork for the whole album?
It was gradual, really. It was like a relationship! You think, well this is going well, shall we go together a bit further? I felt I was really enjoying it. I was working from home and it was a really intimate small scale work. I was looking after my baby and then I was pregnant again, and I couldn’t travel or anything so it was my “me time”. I was drawing and in a way they were really helping me to be mother. Because having a baby, I never realised what hard work it would be! And I needed something that was me and actually this Coldplay thing ended up being intimately me.

That’s a pretty good little side project away from parenting - creating the cover of a worldwide hit album!
I know! I would not believe if you told me that!

Click here to read part two of the interview

Tagged As: interview Magic Ghost Stories