Kaotican Alphabet

Interview: Kristjana S Williams on the Butterfly package

The Icelandic-born artist tells us more about working on her collage for the new release

Hi Kristjana. How did you get involved with this project?
It was via [Coldplay fifth member / creative director] Phil Harvey. He randomly owns one of my original collage butterflies in gold leaf and apparently Chris walked past that a few times and said he’d like that for an album cover one day. And they thought that it could really fit with this project.

So you met up with Phil?
Yes, at a hotel in London and that was pretty surreal on its own. Even being considered to do something for somebody that has that amount of reach was incredible. He said they really like my work, so I made a proposal and then when we sat down a second time. There was so much imagery to choose from and put together. It’s been a really interesting journey.

How has it been working with Phil?
Phil is just a superstar. I think he’s so kind and considerate. I’ve never worked on a project where everything has been so carefully considered. He’s one of my favourite persons to work with ever.

What’s your background?
So I’m from Iceland, but I’ve been living and working in London for the past 20 years. I ended up studying electronics before I had the guts to go into art, so I went late and studied at Central St Martins. I originally did graphic design and then I went into illustration, then fashion. And then the fashion patterns that I was creating became more and more narrative and galleries started picking up on them.

And that led to collage being your thing?
Yes. Collage is really liberating. I like to work with really old Victorian engravings, which convey so much emotion. There’s huge libraries of them out there in the world, so I spend my time going around old markets and antique stores buying old plates and books, to collect together and create these images

And that’s what we see in the butterfly artwork?
Yes, absolutely. Like for example the blue elephant with the leopard print and the wings and the basket on top with the big feather headgear. That’s a typical way that I’ll work with a collage. I’ll find an old elephant and replace the eyes and paint him blue and then put the headgear and create new creatures out of the old found imagery.

So the Butterfly package art is a mixture of that and existing Coldplay imagery?
Exactly. Phil gave me a big old list of things to include. So the piano is the heart of the butterfly, that they travel around the world with. Also you have a feeling of their reach – the two wings of the butterfly represent the Americas and Europe / Asia. And I wanted to have the energy that the band have, hence the elements like the sea, the water and the sun.

Does one of the little butterflies represent Iceland?
No, Iceland isn’t in there. Although in a way Iceland is the foundation of all the work that  do. When I find the engravings, they’re often in sepia colours, so I scan them in, clean them up and then make them very crisp and white. So my work before I colour them goes back to Iceland, where we have the black sandy beaches and the white frozen-over sea. That crisp clearness is Iceland and then everything from there is looking out from Iceland.

It’s amazing how every time you look at the artwork you can spot more things.
Yes. I have promised so many people on social media that I’ll do a full-on annotated explanation of every single element!

Some are quite subtle. Like, the croissant and bread roll presumably represent the band’s studio, The Bakery?
Yes! And then there was a really lovely comment online asking if the shells were actually twisting caterpillars about to become butterflies. I was like, “Oh my God, that’s not what it is, but it’s genius!”. It’s great when that happens.

See, if the two butterfly wings are the continents of a world map…
They are.

…then that little red butterfly between Europe and North America is Iceland!
Oh yes, you’re absolutely right! Maybe it was subconscious. I love that!

Have you done anything this high profile before?
No, this is the first time. It’s totally surreal and I feel intensely grateful to have been asked. The only other thing even vaguely on this scale was a building projection I did for the Rio Olympics. But you grasp it for a few minutes and then it goes away. What’s been so lovely about this is having the chance to do the animations which is getting such a lovely response. That’s been wonderful.

And you did those yourself too?
Yes! It was amazing when Phil asked for those. Because my work is so multi-layered I think it has that connection to animation already.

And you’ve added even more elements into those.
Yes! And it was really lovely to be able to play with the emotion and have things growing as the animation is moving.

Are you enjoying having so much interest from the fans?
It’s just absolutely wonderful. The best thing as an artist is to get feedback and something on this scale is incredible. It’s all so positive and I think the spirit of the band is an amazing thing to be a part of.

Were you a fan before you worked with them?
I’d always been struck by their colour and joy and you can’t not be aware of them. But to be honest seeing the film is what has made me a huge fan. That type of passion in the world is so rare.

And now your art will literally be in millions of homes. That’s one of the amazing things about music artwork – it takes art to places it might not normally go.
And that’s just a huge gift. [Beatles cover artist] Peter Blake is a huge inspiration to me and you’re so right. I’m really interested in the social aspect of art and I really, really believe that everybody has artistic bones in their body. That’s the thing I’d tell anybody about collage, you don’t have to be the best painter or drawer, you can literally cut and glue.

Grab a few magazines and you’re on your way!

So, will you be going to a record shop the day the Butterfly package comes out?
Yes! A million percent. I can’t wait to see it on the shelves.

Final question, what is your favourite Coldplay song?
Oooh… Yellow. It gets inside of my bones. Everything stops a little for me when I hear that song. I’m not entirely sure why, but it’s that complete emotional connection. It just brings me calm, I think.

Find out more about Kristjana over on her website