Art in Music #1: Futura

Visual art and music are intricately related to each other, and oftentimes intertwine without the audience actively realizing this. In the series “Art in Music” we zoom in at some of the most iconic combinations of visual artists and musicians. In this article we will look at legendary street artist Futura and the impact he has had within the music industry.

Futura (New York, 1955) initially became famous by the name Futura 2000, which is a reference to the Kubrick classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. He is known as one of the originators of the New York subway graffiti movement. In his highly successful career -which is growing even after five decades– he came to be one of the biggest culture and streetwear icons of our time. 

While known for his impact he had on the graffiti movement and more recently for his collaborations with brands such as Nike and BMW, his work within the music industry may be more obscured in the memory of the people. In 1981, Futura started working together with the punk-oriented music group The Clash, which he joined on tours to make live art, creating works on stage while the band performed. One year later he released his own single called “The Escapades of Futura 2000” with The Clash and on the backside a part of one of his artworks.

After the birth of his son in the mid-80s, Futura took up some odd jobs, including bike messenger for which he went to Berlin to enter the world’s first Cycle Messenger World Championships. While he was out there he was creating live art with his friend Stash and he met James Lavelle, the founder of music label Mo’ Wax. Lavelle asked Futura if he had any artworks that could be used on the record sleeves, and thus started a long-term partnership between Futura and the record label. 

The first paintings that were bought by Lavelle were used on records by DJ Shadow/DJ Krush and UNKLE’s “The Time has Come” in 1994. Around this time Mo’ Wax started sponsoring Futura’s art exhibitions and briefly after he met Japanese designer Nigo, followed by collaborations with Japanese streetwear brand A Bathing Ape (started by Nigo).

This was then followed by the debut of UNKLE’s “Psyence Fiction”, which featured the infamous pointman characters by Futura that we are all familiar with. These figures have been used in popular culture on figurines, merchandise, and the rather controversial Nike Dunks (DUNKLEs) in 2004, which were combined with the Futura atom swirls. The design came from the second UNKLE album “Never Never Land”, but Futura never authorized the use of his artwork on the shoe. Even though the controversy occurred, Futura himself admits that without the UNKLE albums, most people would not have heard of the Pointman figure. 

The story of Futura shows how instrumental music can be to an artist’s career, and how it helps to introduce the artists to a different audience. Without Mo’ Wax, who would have known the path that Futura would have taken? We still think he would have risen to the place he is right now, but we are still thankful for his legacy. Stay tuned for more “Art in Music” articles.