Ancestral Art

Stacey Rozich brings Croatian culture to album covers.

At first glance, the watercolors of Seattle artist Stacey Rozich look like scenes from a psychedelic, gonzo fairy tale. Mischievous-looking beasts in traditional Eastern European regalia and colorful folk masks smoke joints, dance, even dismember each other. Bold, primary colors, geometric patterns, and organic brushstrokes fill the spaces in between.

But look again, and deeper musical themes emerge. Rozich’s images, inspired by her Croatian folk heritage, can be seen on the album covers of Earth’s Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light and The Curious Mystery’s We Creeling. In her painting “Jam Band,” an anthropomorphic tiger strums a balalaika while another beast shrouded in hair pulls a vinyl copy of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours from its sleeve. In “Ode to Tito,” a personal commission for local experimental musician Tito Ramsey, a band of masked animals strut around playing lutes. But the haunted characters Rozich contributed last year to Fleet Foxes’ stop-motion animated video for “The Shrine/An Argument”—an Odyssean folk narrative featuring a carnivorous antelope—fixed the visual artist’s arresting images within the indie-music scene. The video has received nearly 400,000 views online.

“The rewarding part of working on the video was being able to collaborate with [Fleet Foxes lead singer Robin Pecknold’s older brother and director/animator] Sean Pecknold and [Seattle filmmaker] Britta Johnson, both of whom brought my work to life,” Rozich reflects during a phone call to her Capitol Hill apartment. “And the album and song are so great—the perfect soundtrack to score this short film/music video. The challenging part was that it took many, many weeks and months to bring this narrative to life, all spent in a windowless, hot studio in Portland. We could all get pretty loopy in the wee hours, but the work always got done.”

Later this summer, in a special installation, Rozich and Laurie Kearney, who curates Capitol Hill’s Ghost Gallery, will exhibit Rozich’s designs to the Capitol Hill Block Party’s music-loving masses. They’re still discussing details, and whether the installation will take shape at a specific site or appear as “different installations at multiple locations,” Rozich explains, “but the project will incorporate large-scale reproductions of figures that could potentially outfit the stage.”

On such a scale, Rozich’s Sendak-style monsters and folk-tale-inspired creatures could take the CHBP to the next level, ushering in a collaborative arts-and-music element seen at other festivals like Bumbershoot or All Tomorrow’s Parties, which curates art, film, stand-up, and spoken-word together with music. (This year, the CHBP is welcoming other art-based additions to the lineup, including a video contest aimed at amateur filmmakers).

Rozich is also planning the cover art for the debut full-length of one of her closest friends, local singer/songwriter Kaylee Cole. “I’m definitely doing the art for Kaylee’s record,” Rozich said at one of the singer’s recent shows, and among their ideas is the possibility of including paper-doll cutouts in the album insert. “We’ve already tossed around a few concepts, and we just have to pick one.”

But Rozich is pacing herself with a steady workload this summer. Not only is she one of two recipients of the 2012 Cornish Neddy—a distinction enhanced by an unrestricted $25,000 grant—she’s also prepping for an upcoming solo show in Chicago and a trip to Eastern Europe to study the region’s superstitions and folk traditions. “It’s my first time to Croatia and Eastern Europe; I went to Western Europe about 10 years ago when I was a teenager, but I didn’t really appreciate it,” she says. “This is going to be a completely different experience, now [that] I am older and oh-so-much wiser. I’m anticipating a bit of a culture shock, which I am very much welcoming.”