What next, once you’ve an accomplished suite of forest-black-metal releases under your belt, resplendent with transcendental artwork, deeply atmospheric lush orchestration that embraces both the old-style music of Falkenbach as well as forays into Portishead-esque trip-hop, and a solid fanbase across the world? Do you keep going, or…well, do you become a fairy-tale book illustrator? Benjamin König is probably best known for his work in LUNAR AURORA, as well as the more jazzy, but just as creepy, BALD ANDERS, and you may ask – is there a link between black metal music and such illustration, these two dream-like experiences, or is Benjamin just softening with age? Or maybe he just wants to frighten your kids with cautionary tales? We got hold of his latest book of cute-but-spooky pictures, and went to Bavaria to find out.
Hello Ben. We were very pleased to have received a copy of your recent book, which is very beautifully printed. In the notes you say that you ‘describe yourself as an illustrator’….for how long have you been thinking of creating this folktale-inspired art? Perhaps a certain story / stories influenced you?
I’m glad you like my book.
I never had the plan that my paintings would go in a fairytale direction. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s and in that time there were wonderful books about fairy tales, sagas and myths. But also great children’s books with imaginative illustrations. I rarely find books with this expressiveness on today’s book market. In fact, I find today’s book market horrible.
However, I was fortunate to read many great books growing up. Among them were of course many fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm and that still shapes my pictures today. Years later I realized how these early impressions are reflected in my paintings.
Many of us across Europe know fairy-tales from our youth, but perhaps not how much they were sanitised by the Grimms to better promote the ideal Germanic / Saxon person, a simplistic axiom of good against evil, nationalism, and so on. So, how would you describe the art of Sperber Illustrations to those perhaps not so familiar with the darker side of these stories?
I don’t believe that the Brothers Grimm consciously bent the fairy tales into a “Germanic” style. They lived in a certain time with a certain zeitgeist. They were Germans and of course that colored the way they collected fairy tales. I believe that collecting fairy tales from different regions and countries as a whole leads to extracting a “basic soul”. An essential commonality, like a core.
Personally, I think it is extremely important in fairy tales that there is a clear distinction between good and evil. I miss this clear division in today’s media.
And because there’s this clear labeling of evil, it’s also easier to characterize. This also carries over to my illustrations, in which darkness and light play an important role. And of course my pictures are also influenced by my personal taste in matters of darkness and mysticism. Even as a child, I could spend a lot of time looking at the illustrations in books over and over again. Most of the time it was the dark illustrations that drew me in. For example, I remember a book about a boy who turned into a werewolf once a month. His face was in the book as a simple ink drawing and it looked freaking creepy.
Did the book Struwwelpeter factor in your life when growing up? It was mostly cautionary tales for children. Heinrich Hoffman was inspired to create the book because he felt his children deserved some decent reading material. Perhaps you see your book and your new direction as an illustrator as something that similarly fills a gap in the market? Maybe you have children yourself?
I know the book from my childhood. I always found it a little strange though.
I generally think that my style and my way of painting fills a gap in the market, but it’s not always easy to get to people. The mainstream in the book market is too strong and there are also certain style trends in the music scene that I can only rarely cater to. But it used to be more difficult for me. I’ve made a name for myself now and it’s going better.
I don’t have children.
There are some interesting interpretations of old tales such as Sleeping Beauty. Maybe you have some opinions on the symbolism of such stories, or is it all a bit too Freudian?
Personally, I avoid dissecting fairy tales psychologically. Fairy tales speak to deep layers that feel touched in a homely way. It’s about moods and the connection with the world of spirits, animals and plants. These are the roots of the people who are touched here. And besides, for the average person, fairy tales are like going to church. “All will be well, and light and justice will reign,” the fairy tale tells us. This is also the case in the Church. Times were hard, mortality was high and starvation was widespread. The longing for justice, wealth, prosperity and happiness was therefore much greater.
How much practice did you need, before you were happy with your work?
I never trained as an illustrator or draftsman. All of my artistic skills have been honed over the years simply by painting and painting… and by observing and immersing.
Perhaps you have something to say about your technique, and how you decided on it?
Unfortunately I’m a bit lazy when it comes to learning techniques. That’s why I haven’t dealt intensively with painting techniques and tools yet. My pictures are created with acrylic paint, oil pastels or on the computer as “digital painting”. Mostly as “digital painting” lately because it’s easier to make changes then. Especially when it comes to orders it is quite normal these days for the customers to be able to implement their change requests.
Fans of Lunar Aurora may be wondering how much you link your two-dimensional art with your music? So, is this a continuation, or a break from the past?
Surprisingly, Lunar Aurora and my images have very little to do with each other. But I play in a band now that suits my paintings better. Please check BALD ANDERS (German for “the-soon-another”) https://www.facebook.com/baldandersband
Lunar Aurora was clearly influenced by your Bavarian homeland – did your music reach fans in faraway places, and do you hope this art will, also?
We did 9 albums, 2 demos and various contributions/splits. The music was always somehow shaped by our Bavarian homeland, but we were never particularly aware of that. But after a few albums we did realize that our nature, our dialect and our style can be emphasized very appropriately in the music. That ended with the last album “Hoagascht” (2012), which is all about our Bavarian homeland and is sung entirely in Bavarian dialect.
But of course over the years we’ve reached out to fans all over the world. Nowadays I can observe that regional and cultural peculiarities are being emphasized much more by bands again. I think that’s great!
If you could go back in time to when you were young and just starting out, what would you have said to yourself ( and would you have listened to the advice )?
I would probably go the same way all over again. There would be a few tweaks here and there, but other than that I’d do it again… and probably not listen to my own advice.
What next for Benjamin König, and how can people support your art?
There are no specific plans at the moment. But if you want to support my art, you are welcome to buy my book: https://www.etsy.com/de/shop/SperberBuch
It is printed in good quality and contains a collection of my pictures on 84 pages.
Thank you for the interview!
Buy Benjamin’s book here, it’s beautiful:
* We actually did two interviews with Benjamin, one more in depth than this, and it will surface in Morten B’s German-language magazine in 2022.