[Music Through the Canvas] Førtifem: “being together, cats and DEATH resume what we love”

By Mary Carmen
Photo: Nicolas Brulez

The first international artist that we present you is the duo called Førtifem.  You’ll recognize them for being responsible of all the artwork behind Carpenter Brut or the last album of Alcest. They are based in France, love cats and are obsessed with japanese foods. Don’t miss the chance to know a little bit more about this talented and funny couple.

When did your passion for art start? How did you decide to combine art with music?

This is such a common thing to say but we’ve both loved to draw since our very young years. We both chose artistic studies early in our lives. But illustration and art wasn’t something we thought we could make a living of so we both went for more « serious » careers, Adrien as a web art director and Jessica as a graphic designer for print.

Adrien being into metal music and gigs for a long time, he did some gig posters here and there. But it’s only when we got together seven years ago that we thought about putting more energy into doing art for music. It was fun to share and mix together these two passions of ours.

One of your last works that I have enjoyed the most is the artwork for Kodama, the last Alcest album. How was working with Neige? I also LOVE the update you’ve done on the Emperor Royal Crest.

Neige has been a friend for some years now, we met him thanks to Valnoir from Metastazis and one of the first moment we shared together was a one week holiday in Bergen, Norway.

We had big respect for his art and we were very honored when he asked us in 2015 to work on the poster for his US and Mexico tour. Not far after that we also did a t-shirt design together.
So when he asked us to work on Kodama, we already had some experience in working with him and so it went smoothly.

Neige is really great to work with because he has a strong visual approach that goes along his music. So we could exchange a lot about what the cover and the rest of the design should look like. He’s a perfectionist in the good sense of the term. Meaning that he knows what he aims for and he knows how to guide us towards this goal with positivity and trust. It’s funny that you mention Emperor because working with Samoth reminded us of working with Neige. He’s the same kind of perfectionist, being as challenging as respectful, as it’s probably the mark of those who never compromise their work and always try to elevate it.

What is your idea of a perfect or dream project? Any special band you would love to work with?

It’s difficult to pick because there’s so many things we did that we never imagined we could achieve and so many we want to do but can’t for the moment due to lack of time… or courage! Working with Emperor was definitely one dream project. It’s a band that hold a very special place in Adrien’s life since his teenage years so when we received an email from Samoth we couldn’t believe it. Working with Carpenter Brut is another dream project, because it’s amazing to create basically from scratch the visual universe of an artist through the years and to contribute to make it evolve and going to places we would never have imagined.

We also worked recently for another of our favorite band on two tee-shirts that will be released soon. We can’t name them already, but it’s still unreal for us to have worked with them, as unreachables as we thought they were. And one of our regret is to not have been able to collaborate with Slayer before they stop. We’ll have to find a way to work with Darkthrone before they call it… but we think we still have a few decades! Maybe work on something for Tower Records in Tokyo would be the closest to a perfect project.

Førtifem is a duo formed by Jessica Daubertes & Adrien Havet. How is working side by side with another human being instead of doing works on your own? 

Working together gave us the strength to show our illustration work and to focus on it. We never stop encouraging each other and if that weren’t for that we probably would have go back to a less challenging life both on our own. We are lucky to complete each other skill-wise and to know often without saying a word who will be the best to take care of a project or part of a project. We never sign our work by our own real name, even if only one of us did everything, because the base of our work is being a team.

What of the artworks you’ve done until now have you enjoyed the most and why?

As a whole, the work we did for Carpenter Brut is probably the most important to our eyes. Their requests often push us outside of our comfort zone and we did some works for them that helped us progress way faster than with any other project. Color-wise especially, we’ve experimented a lot with them, or working on big detailed landscapes… Now it’s part of our « aesthetics » but if that wasn’t for them it wouldn’t take such a big place in our work. So artworks which make you progress are very enjoyable.

We also love to work with l’Imagerie D’Epinal which is a famous printing institution in France since 1796. They often ask us to illustrate old legends or myths with a modern twist and it’s something we have a lot of pleasure to do.

How do you usually work with artists? Do you like to be given free will, some guidelines, you want them to send you some of their music to inspire you (…)

We tend to prefer working with some guidelines, it usually means we’ll have a real collaboration with the artists. To be able to have a real exchange about what the artist and us have in mind regarding a project will generally product the best results in our opinion.
Free will is most of the time tricky and kind of hit or miss. Especially when you’re being given a carte blanche, which usually means the artists didn’t take the time to think on what they’d want from us. Finally sharing songs is essential, especially if that’s the first release of an artist, because if the music doesn’t resonate with us it probably means we’re not the right team for the project.

Beside the musical field, you’ve been working as a graphic designer for many other different fields. You also do t-shirts and totebags and you sell it on your online store. Do you see yourself on a future doing more merch of your own brand? This design is my favorite: 

Thank you! This design is probably the simplest way we’ve found to resume what we love : being together, cats and DEATH.

We love to have an online store, it’s fantastic to release spontaneous and sometimes silly designs and to see that people actually like them. Or that people like our work not only because there’s the name of the band they listen to next to it. Unfortunately we have some difficulties producing stuff for the shop regularly, we’re not the best at planning ahead! But we want to keep going and do more qualitative and unusual stuff in the future.

I guess not everything must have been a bed of roses, what has been the most challenging moment in your career?

When we started Førtifem, it was a part-time hobby. We we’re working on other things during the day and drawing for Førtifem in the evening. But as more requests were coming for Førtifem, we decided one year after we started to ditch our day work and to dedicate ourselves to illustration only.

Jessica was already a freelance but it was a big bet for Adrien to  give up the stability of a monthly salary. The first three years were rough, we were lucky to have some money on the side because illustration was clearly not paying the rent, even if we we’re working non-stop and accepting all kind of projects. But being in this together helped us pursuing our common dream. And step by step we’ve finally found a good balance between the amount of work and a steady economic situation.

How much of your personality and thoughts can we see in your works?

If you look at our work as a whole, you can see a lot of us as drawing is probably our favorite way of expressing ourselves.

The metal bands commissions are great to play around dark thematics that often echoes strongly with our feelings. Death, loss, despair, isolation and the dark side of humanity… it’s nice to have a way to express ourselves about these thoughts so we feel less the need to express them in your everyday life.

But we also love (dark) humour and kitsch stuff and we can express that through our work for Carpenter Brut for example. And through our personal work we express our love for cats and more romantic stuff.

I think what you can barely see in our work is our obsession with japanese food, whenever we eat out or cook something special chances are it will be japanese oriented. We should draw more ramen and raw fish.

And fundamentally we rarely invest ourself in a project that doesn’t resonate at least a bit with us. If there’s no sincere approach the result cannot be good.

What kind of commission would you never accept?

Commissions from bands who put far-right, xenophobic, racist or homophobic ideas in their music. We don’t want to have our work associated with this way of thinking.

What artists -not necessarily visual- have influenced you the most throughout your career?

There is hell of a lot! From the Old Guard, with Gustave Doré, Albrecht Durer, Hans Holbein, to the English Art Nouveau artists, Aubrey Beardsley Harry Clarke and Frank C. Pape, to Japanese geniuses Suehiro Maruo and Takato Yamamoto. In the Metal world, legendary Pushead, Florian Bertmer, John Baizley, and amazing people we’re lucky to share words and images with, Zbigniew M. Bielak, Aaron Horkey, Marald, Sin-Eater.

There are many others, as we meet everyday insanely talented peopled friends which influence our day to day work. Adding to all these illustrators, we also follow a lot of musicians photographs stylists and tattoo artists that inspire us everyday, we feel pretty lucky to belong to such a lively chaos!

Could you tell me what was your favorite album of 2017 and what is the most expected one of this year?

This is a crushing question! We’d say Drab Majesty’s the Demonstration, Etienne Dahos’s Blitz and Spectral Voice’s Eroded Corridors of Unbeing. For 2018 yet, Ungfell’s MythenMärenPestilenz  seems a pretty solid contender.

The last lines are yours. Anything else you want to say?

This sentence which turned to be a motto for us, exhumed from a Scooter song, which sounds more and more essential as the time goes by.
« It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice. »