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How Baroness frontman John Dyer Baizley heals through punk metal and grisly art

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On August 15, 2012, a tour bus carrying John Dyer Baizley and his band, sludge-metal band Baroness, lost its brakes and careened off a viaduct near Bath, London. His leg was broken and his left arm was so badly crushed that it was nearly amputated. He spent two weeks in the hospital. The eight other people on the bus were also injured.

“It should have, by all accounts, been the end of us,” Baizley recounts. “To say that I was damaged would be an understatement. My body was completely wrecked.”

Extensive rehabilitation followed, as did the departures of drummer Allen Blickle and bassist Matt Maggioni from the band. They would soon be replaced by Sebastian Thomson and Nick Jost and, along with guitarist and vocalist Peter Adams, the band eventually recorded its fourth full-length, Purple, released in December 2015.

“It was a wildly traumatic experience,” he says of the accident and its aftermath. Baizley, who is also a visual artist, channeled the trauma through his ornate ink and watercolor work. 

“Getting through that, I realized that having an artistic outlet — whether it’s musical or visual — was as good a method of rehabilitation as anything else. It was a place where I could express some of the definable, articulate struggles that I was having. I could in fact use this really horrible thing that happened as a method to propel myself forward and to gain another standing for some of the things that were very difficult to contend with in that rehab process.”

While Baizley has always done Baroness’ album art, his desired scope for Purple was larger than what he had time for. He reached out to Marald van Haasteren, a fellow artist he met at Baroness’ first European show in Amsterdam over a decade ago. Van Haasteren, whose aesthetic is as equally grisly and morbid as Baizley’s, has created posters and album art for the punk-hardcore community since 1989.

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Baizley asked him to do one design. Six months later, van Haasteren had completed 16 illustrations. “I think it was fun for him. I was challenging him to move in a slightly different direction, and in doing so, we both took a big step forward, artistically.”

Baizley brought the concept while van Haasteren brought impeccable, hand-drawn technique and high technical standards to the collaboration. Best known for his figurative artwork, Baizley uses a “hierarchy of imagery” that includes the female form, then flora versus fauna follow, with skulls and vestiges of the natural world. A devotee of life drawing, Baizley’s melancholy interpretations of women are highly archetypal and ripe with mythological symbolism. Baizley imbues each design with something personal — a concept, a theory, an experience, an introspection — and finds the act of creation to be an excellent outlet to work out what goes on in his head.

Though he describes his process as “laborious, finicky, and detail-oriented,” while working with van Haasteren, “there was that really wonderful, magical, beautiful… I don’t want to say ‘competition,’ but we drove each other toward our goals in a really positive, constructive way. I’m not sure I’ve ever been in that situation before. I found a new edge and inspiration after many decades of making art.”

The resulting exhibition, "Desperation Burns: The Art of Purple," includes over 20 pieces by of these two artists. The week prior to the opening, they will be in Burlesque of North America’s studio working on prints, murals, and new paintings. The Minneapolis show marks the first time the two have exhibited together.

For Baizley, the color purple symbolizes hurt, but also healing. Through it all, he has been grateful to have not one, but two, therapeutic avenues through which to process his demons. “The fact that I’m doing both [music and art] continually has been kind of surprising to me,” he says. “For many years, I was waiting for one or the other to drop off. I consider myself very lucky to have found some personal success in both fields.”

IF YOU GO:

"Desperation Burns"

Through March 4

CO Exhibitions

There will be an opening reception Saturday, February 6 from 7 to 10 p.m.