When visual artists meet musicians, the results can range between brilliant and bizarre. Think of Salvador Dalí’s hologram portrait of Alice Cooper’s head, or Grace Jones draped in a 60-foot-skirt by Keith Haring. Then there are artists who have been tapped to direct music videos, with their mind and eye behind the camera. Below is a roundup of artist-directed videos that can be watched any time, with some of recent vintage and others that count as relics of eras past.
Kara Walker and Ari Marcopoulos – Santigold, “Banshee” (2016)
According to Kara Walker, the video for Santigold’s “Banshee” was shot in one day. “I pulled out all the low-tech tools I have in the studio, spotlights and overhead projectors,” Walker told the New York Times. Walker’s signature black silhouettes often feature brutalities of the antebellum South, but the shadow puppets featured in the Santigold video are uncharacteristically joyous, accompanied by street footage shot by photographer Ari Marcopoulous. “It’s been a few years now, but the last video I made shows one puppet being tortured and set on fire—so this video is a bit more cheerful,” Walker said.
Doug Aitken – Interpol, “NYC” (2003)
Interpol’s 2002 debut album Turn on the Bright Lights remains an essential addition to the brief, indelible explosion of New York City alt-rock in the early ’00s, with an angular, grand, and hypersensitive sound that is still trickling through today’s post-post whatnot. The video for “NYC” was directed by Doug Aitken, who’s best known for media-minded installations which encompass film, photography, and sound. For Interpol, he created a montage of inverted portraits and dejected locations, including an airport hangar and abandoned park. Visualize the Williamsburg waterfront at dusk and hit play.
Robert Longo – Megadeth, “Peace Sells” (1986)
On closer inspection, thrash metal group Megadeth and Robert Longo, a member of the Pictures Generation, aren’t so an incongruous match. Both flashy and graphic, with practices preoccupied by mass media. Here, subtlety was not the intent: Longo cut footage of bombed buildings, statues of Buddha, and a burning Constitution. The effect is shameless to point of parody, but the video is a proper artifact of late-’80s nuclear anxieties. For further watching, Longo also directed R.E.M.’s “The One I Love” and New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle.”
Jon Rafman – Oneohtrix Point Never “Sticky Drama” (2015)
Video artist Jon Rafman and Brooklyn-based experimental musician Daniel Lopatin, who records under the alias Oneohtrix Point Never, first collaborated in 2013 for Rafman’s work STILL LIFE (BETAMALE), a dystopian mix of retro anime women, kink, and virtual abandon all set to Lopatin’s trickling synthesizers (he composed the scores of the latest Safdie brothers’ films). In contrast, the video for Oneohtrix Point Never’s “Sticky Drama”—hyper-violent and reliably lo-fi—offers a semblance of narrative as children wage war in “Tekken”-inspired costumes between slices of Rafman’s web-sourced imagery.
William Wegman – New Order, “Blue Monday” (1988)
William Wegman is known for portraits of dogs, and New Order is among New Wave’s most seminal acts. Together, they made a fun, frenetic video for Quincy Jones’s 1988 re-recording of “Blue Monday.” The classic remix is paired by stop-motion sketches, floating carrots, and hand-drawn animation by experimental filmmaker and painter Robert Breer. (Wegman’s dog Fay Ray also stars opposite the band members.)
Allison Schulnik – Grizzly Bear’s “Ready, Able” (2009)
Veckatimest ushered in Grizzly Bear’s mainstream breakthrough in 2009, and the album’s sleeper hit “Ready, Able” remains a standout. Its mournful, anxious mood is complemented by Los Angeles-based artist Allison Schulnik’s uncanny claymation, with gloomy, gloopy creatures melting and mutating beside a lake (the water is hair gel). According to an interview with L.A. Weekly, Schulnik shot about 9,000 frames for the four-minute video.
Wolfgang Tillmans – Powell, “Freezer” (2017)
Wolfgang Tillmans and London-based electronic producer Powell met at Tillmans’s exhibition at Tate Modern in 2017. The Turner Prize–winning photographer is acclaimed for his tense, diaristic images of youth culture. The London-based producer makes techno punk that Pitchfork once described as “queasy, sometimes shockingly ugly, and often quite funny.” Their collaboration is appropriately inscrutable: a twitchy, incessant beat accompanies a slow reel of leaves blowing and riot cops. Tillmans has shot imagery for Aphex Twin and the Pet Shop Boys, but in Powell he found a kindred spirit—so much so that, in 2018, the two together released an EP titled Spoken By the Other.
Andy Warhol – The Cars, “Hello Again” (1984)
Andy Warhol is credited alongside Don Munroe as a co-director for the video, and he appears in it as a bartender, first seen watching an episode of the fictitious program Rock Talk. The plot devolves into a Factory party from there. The video was a massive hit for the synthpop quintet, featuring some of the earliest digital graphics technology. Warhol later wrote, “The crowd of extras looked like the old Factory days—Benjamin [Liu] in drag, and a bald-headed mime in a Pierrot outfit, and John Sex with this snake… The Cars were cute.”