​Envisioning Mitski

Still from Saad Moosajee’s luminous music video for the Mitski song A Pearl

Two alumni have been helping singer-songwriter Mitski cement her reputation as “the 21st century’s poet laureate of young adulthood.” Working independently of each other, they have each created visual contributions that bring her latest album Be the Cowboy to life.

Mary Banas MFA 09 GD earned a Grammy nomination for her design of the recording package for singer-songwriter Mitski
Mary Banas earned a Grammy nomination for her inspired design of the recording package.

Released last September to rave reviews, Be the Cowboy is Mitski’s fifth album and one that’s still inspiring sell-out crowds as she tours Asia and Australia and prepares to resume her US tour this spring.

San Francisco-based designer Mary Banas MFA 09 GD, who teaches at California College of the Arts and runs a studio called Yes Is More, earned a 2018 Grammy nomination in the Best Recording Package category for her inspired design work for Be the Cowboy (last month Willo Perron ultimately took home the award for his work on St. Vincent’s Masseduction).

Mary Banas MFA 09 GD looks through a cut-out in a piece of paper

Banas’ design features cinematic portraits of the artist by photographer Bao Ngo in a format that feels both mysterious and fresh—much like Mitski’s music itself.

Including little nods to a devoted fan base—like spot-glossed lyrics on the interior gatefold that are only visible in the “right light”—she took a multifaceted approach to conveying the musician’s distinctive style.

Recording package for singer-songwriter Mitski, by Mary Banas MFA 09 GD, who earned a Grammy nomination for her design

In addition to the album art, the wonderfully well-conceived package includes a large-format poster (27 x 40"), a CD design, visual treatments for three digital singles, a coke-bottle green special edition record and a pair of screenprinted silk handkerchiefs—featuring song lyrics like: “I thought I’d traveled a long way but I had circled the same old sin” and “a lake with no fish is the heart of a horse named Cold Air....”

Mitski poster, by Mary Banas MFA 09 GD

“I’m very interested in the idea that you can stop an animation on any frame and still have it feel visually engaging and considered.”

Saad MOosajee 16 GD

NYC-based designer Saad Moosajee 16 GD collaborated with Danae Gosset and Spotify by Art Camp to produce the official music video for A Pearl, a single from Be the Cowboy. Music lovers have been captivated by the video since its release earlier this year. “I think it’s beautiful and I’m honored my music accompanies it,” Mitski tweeted at the end of January.

Deploying a multitude of talents, Moosajee served as director, designer and animator on the 3D piece, which features more than 1,480 individual frames illustrated and painted by hand to vertiginous effect. “I’m very interested in the idea that you can stop an animation on any frame and still have it feel visually engaging and considered,” he observes on Instagram.

Like Banas, Moosajee appreciated the creative latitude he was given to enhance Mitski’s already strong reputation. As a critic for NPR Music observes: “There’s a lovely sequence [in the video] that finds our protagonist in total free fall, only to find herself back at the beginning. It’s a visual delight that matches the song’s circuitous tension.”

Lauren Maas/Liisa Silander

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