John Newsom
Rachel Boettcher
John Newsom

Painting the vision of a hip-hop musician

In ‘Painting the Forest of the Happy Ever After’ at BMAC, John Newsom and MC Killah Priest join forces

BRATTLEBORO-Two artists have joined forces for an exhibition currently on view at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC). The exhibit features the original work by visual artist John Newsom created for hip-hop artist MC Killah Priest's 2023 album Forest of the Happy Ever After.

In connection with the exhibition, which is titled "Painting the Forest of the Happy Ever After" and runs through June 16, Killah Priest will perform at Brattleboro's Stone Church on Tuesday, June 4, at 8 p.m.

The night before - Monday, June 3, at 6 p.m. - Killah Priest and Newsom will take part in a meet-and-greet at BMAC. All are welcome, and there is no charge to attend.

Killah Priest is known for his work with the Wu-Tang Clan and for writing "mystical, almost psychedelic lyrics," say organizers in a news release. Newsom is known for creating "richly detailed" paintings of the natural world.

The music of Forest of the Happy Ever After is layered with "a wild variety of sounds and lyrics," and Newsom's paintings "capture the same mood, depicting colorful landscapes teeming with plants and creatures, each one taking its cue from the album."

In one painting, a Tree of Life camouflages a gnome, a mythical spirit said to be the guardian of Earth's energy systems. In another, a river represents the knowledge that Newsom sees flowing through Killah Priest's rhymes, which are a "masterpiece of penmanship and lyrical wonderment," Newsom says.

A portrait of Killah Priest, which appears on the album's cover, shows the musician surrounded by flora and fauna, "like a natural deity or shaman existing in both an imaginary realm and the physical world."

In the museum gallery, Newsom's paintings are complemented by walls painted two shades of green, a small library of books on nature and mysticism for visitors to peruse, a seating area with naturalistic wooden furniture handcrafted by Vermont artist David Holzapfel, and Killah Priest's music playing in the background.

"Rather than simply exhibiting the paintings," BMAC Director Danny Lichtenfeld says, "we sought to create a holistic environment, a multi-sensory experience."

Newsom's artwork is included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the New York Public Library, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and many others.

He says he finds inspiration in other artists who have balanced the making of fine art and album art, such as Raymond Pettibon, who illustrated albums for Sonic Youth, Iggy Pop, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers; and the late Mati Klarwein, who made album art for Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, and Carlos Santana.

While Newsom made the paintings for Forest during the singular experience of the pandemic, it wasn't his first time creating art to accompany a hip-hop album. In 2015, he contributed original artwork to Fly International Luxurious Art, a solo album by Raekwon, another Wu-Tang Clan musician, who ended up connecting Newsom with Killah Priest.

When Newsom collaborates with musicians, he has a clear objective: "I'm like a visual scribe," he says. "I look and I listen."

For more about the exhibit and the June 3 meet-and-greet, visit Tickets for the June 4 concert can be purchased at

This Arts item was submitted to The Commons.

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