Wes Benscoter: Portrait of an Artist | Revolver

Wes Benscoter: Portrait of an Artist

Meet the man behind visuals for Slayer, Black Sabbath, Cattle Decapitation and more
wes benscoter, Wes Benscoter
courtesy of Wes Benscoter

You might not realized it, but if you're a fan of metal, and particular extreme metal, you've seen Wes Benscoter's artwork, and you might even own some of it, too, probably as the cover of an album or the image on a T-shirt from one of your favorite bands. The Pennsylvania-based visual artist had his big breakthrough when he created the stunning, iconic cover painting for Slayer's 1994 album Divine Intervention, and he hasn't stopped making morbid masterpieces for mosh-pit–fueling bands since. His clients include AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Cattle Decapitation, Hypocrisy and pretty much every classic death-metal and grind band on the Relapse Records' Nineties roster. We recently tore him away from his easel long enough to get some insight into his twisted vision and meticulous process.

REVOLVER What is your artistic background?
I've always drawn or painted essentially the same imagery. I grew up drawing monsters and skulls with pencil and, later, pen and ink. Then towards the end of high school, I got an airbrush and taught myself how to paint freehand, because that's what H.R. Giger did. It was pretty soon after I graduated that I started doing the record covers, so I never went to art school.

How long have you been creating albums cover for metal bands?
Since 1992 when I did the Sinister Diabolical Summoning and Hypocrisy Osculum covers at the same time. I can't remember which was released first. I ended up painting that Osculum cover in one night. I think I had only been painting for a couple years at that point, and they look a bit primitive. The only band art I did before that was a Dismember tour shirt.

slayer divine_intervention_full.jpg

What piece are you most proud of and why?
Probably the first Slayer cover I did, but not necessarily for the illustration. I was a huge Slayer fan in my teenage years and then it seemed like only a few years later I was painting their covers and shirts. It really helped put me on the map. I've seen at least four people who have that Divine Intervention cover tattooed across their back.

What materials do you use?
I used to use thinned acrylics with an airbrush, but I've essentially abandoned the airbrush and now use acrylics and brush on hard-board for the paintings. Eventually, I'll get around to trying oil paints.

Do you approve of using computers?
It's a necessary evil, I guess, especially with deadlines, but sometimes it does feels like cheating… I'm definitely doing more illustration using traditional materials than I did a few years ago.

How long does it take you to complete a piece?
Anywhere from one or two days to a couple of weeks. It really depends on how complicated the concept is.

What sort of things do you use for inspiration?
Besides the obvious stuff like horror films, I'm always checking out other things like vintage propaganda posters, animation art, Japanese creature design, etc. The one constant seems to be the grotesque, which I've been obsessed with for as long as I can remember. It's like second nature to me.

Cattle Decapitation "Humanure"

How much input do you have into the ideas behind the work?
Usually I come up with most of the ideas based on an album title or loose concept from the band. For example, with Cattle Decapitation's Humanure, I heard that title and came up with the entire concept, but with their last album, The Harvest Floor, Travis [Ryan, vocals] had the whole thing mapped out in his head, so I just had to figure out how to realize it for a suitable cover image.

What musicians have you worked with in the past?
Everyone from AC/DC to Regurgitate. Some of the big ones include Slayer, Black Sabbath, Dio, Nile. I've done a lot of T-shirt art, too. I've never actually made a list of bands I've worked for and there's stuff that I've completely forgotten about. I recently saw a Mötley Crüe T-shirt from the mid-'90s on eBay that I can't even remember doing.

Which other artists do you admire in your field?
There's definitely too many to name here. I'm one of those guys who checks out everything. Zdzisław Beksinski, Hans Bellmer, R. Crumb, they're some of my favorites, although I'm not sure we're in the same field.