Renowned album-cover artist launches iMPeRFeCT Gallery show this weekend

 Calvin Schenkel is probably best known for his art and art direction on dozens of album covers for figures like Frank Zappa and Tom Waits. (Alaina Mabaso/for NewsWorks)

Calvin Schenkel is probably best known for his art and art direction on dozens of album covers for figures like Frank Zappa and Tom Waits. (Alaina Mabaso/for NewsWorks)

Calvin Schenkel is the man behind the man behind the trout on the iconic cover of Captain Beefheart’s 1969 album, “Trout Mask Replica.”

An internationally know artist who now lives quietly in Willow Grove, Schenkel is probably best known for his art direction on dozens of album covers for performers like Frank Zappa, Tom Waits and many more.

Now, he’s bringing a rare gallery show to Germantown, featuring both new work and memorabilia from his famous career.

Germantown show launch

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Schenkel’s “Anthropomorphic Crankcase” will run at Maplewood Mall’s iMPeRFeCT Gallery from Saturday through Dec. 27.

NewsWorks recently caught him by phone in the studio, rinsing his brushes over Thanksgiving weekend after working on a new piece that will appear in the show.

After decades in the music and commercial art business, the artist — who now runs his own online mail-order store of affordable works for fans around the globe — said he enjoys not having deadlines these days.

But, with plans to pursue more gallery shows in Philadelphia in the coming years, things will get a little more hectic.

An iMPeRFeCT connection

He wasn’t familiar with the Germantown gallery until a mutual connection — musician and curator Jim Dragoni — suggested a Calvin Schenkel show to gallery co-founder and director Renny Molenaar.

“I did go to the opening of the current show and was pretty impressed with the presentation and the quality of work in the gallery,” Schenkel said of his introduction to the Greene Street space.

For his part, Molenaar is a big fan of Schenkel’s work. He wasn’t sure what to expect when he agreed last winter to schedule the show and prepared to meet the artist in person.

“I was worried I was going to get a grumpy old guy, but he is the sweetest,” Molenaar said. “Very easy to work with.”

Dragoni, who has collaborated on iMPeRFeCT shows in the past and is a veteran of the prestigious Martin Lawrence Gallery, had been bringing Molenaar a lot of suggestions, but none felt quite right.

“He kept bringing me different artists and they were amazing, but none of them really moved me,” Molenaar said. “Then, he showed me Cal’s work, and I was like, ‘Wow. I love his work. And of course I know his album covers.'”

Molenaar invited Schenkel to mount an exhibition, and Schenkel accepted.

Flexible space for unusual work

“For one thing, it’s small enough,” the artist said of what tempted him to try the space when he has done only a few gallery shows in his entire career. “It’s a good size for what I have.”

Schenkel also liked the freewheeling vibe at iMPeRFeCT once he got to know Molenaar, and the chance to adapt the environment to his own tastes.

“He was very open in how I presented the show,” Schenkel said of working with Molenaar. “I have a lot of freedom. … He didn’t require a lot of preliminary ideas of how we were going to do it.”

That worked well, because the artist doesn’t like to present his work “on a stark white wall.” He prefers “a bed of design of some kind,” like theatrical paneling or a backdrop of graffiti.

As for the work itself, Schenkel said it’s hard to describe.

It’s a mix of large canvas and panel paintings with smaller prints and hand-drawn pieces and collage. The combination of abstract and figurative styles, and allusions to his world-famous album covers, are also involved.

What’s in a name?

“I don’t usually have a show title,” Schenkel said, but when Molenaar asked him to come up with one, he thought about the imagery in his current work.

“I like to incorporate a lot of machinery and gear and parts and car-related stuff,” along with a cartoon-like influence, he explained.

That’s how the name “Anthropomorphic Crankcase” surfaced.

As with most iMPeRFeCT shows, Molenaar is content with an easy-going approach in the days leading up to the show, even if that means the actual hanging gets a little hectic as opening night approaches.

“It’s always nice to smell paint,” Molenaar insisted of mounting works so fresh they were completed this week.

Related events

A variety of events will pair with the show throughout the month.

Molenaar said Schenkel may even maintain a small studio space in the gallery during the run. There, he can work and chat with fans who stop by.

The artist will also be on hand for the opening reception, 7 p.m. this Saturday. Fans are encouraged to bring their favorite Schenkel album covers since he’ll be signing.

Next Wednesday, Schenkel will return to the gallery for a special slideshow retrospective and Q&A session for those who want to hear more about his career.

At 7 p.m. on Dec. 13, iMPeRFeCT will host a free concert of original music from Dragoni.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal