As artist Roger Dean recalls, Matthew Sweet wasn’t at all roundabout when the two met to discuss packaging Sweet’s latest album, Blue Sky on Mars. ”I showed Matthew a lot of ideas,” Dean recalls. ”But he wanted the soft, round lettering of Yes in the early days. I was surprised.”
As he should be: Among today’s retro-pop movements, none is more unexpected than the sight of Dean’s futuristic, Dune-and-gloom paintings — long associated with prog-rockers like Yes, Uriah Heep, and Asia — once again adorning album covers. In addition to Sweet’s disc, with its take on Dean’s fabled Yes logo, new Dean artwork has recently graced the front of Space Needle’s cheeky indie-prog The Moray Eels Eat the Space Needle, the London Symphony’s Symphonic Rock: The British Invasion, and last year’s Supernatural Fairy Tales: The Progressive Rock Era box.
”There’s definitely some element of humor to it, a throwback to the past,” admits Space Needle’s Jud Ehrbar. ”But at the same time, I was so psyched to have him do a cover for an album I made. Growing up, I was a huge fan of his record covers. That fantasy artwork was really cool.”
Dean, 52, is modest about this renewed interest: ”I was lucky in the ’70s. I love landscape painting, and it was high-profile work.” Although his art has such cachet that he’s asking $600,000 for his original painting of Yes’ Relayer, Dean avoids treading too close to the nostalgia edge. The Brighton, England-based artist is designing graphics for a videogame (with a setting much like ”10th-century Viking Russia”), and he plans to start a publishing house devoted to fantasy art books. ”One has to move on,” Dean says. ”There is life beyond Yes, you know.”