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August 1, 2012 2:39 pm

Matisyahu’s Graphic Designer Strives to Capture His Evolving Spirit (INTERVIEW)

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Belkin's cover design for Matisyahu's newest album "Spark Seeker."

Yossi Belkin is an accomplished graphic designer who was nominated last month for the prestigious Benjamin Franklin Award for his cover design of “The Torah, The Five Books of Moses” published by Kol Menachem. He has designed logos and websites for a number of well-known businesses and non-profit organizations, and is the artist behind The Algemeiner’s logo and print edition design (full disclosure), but perhaps the Chicago native’s most famous work is the album cover art he does for Jewish reggae singer Matisyahu.

Belkin says that he started dabbling in graphic design and photography as a young thirteen-year-old when he received Photoshop from his father as a gift. Shortly afterwards, Belkin started his design business at home and has been working with Matisyahu since his teens. Now 23, Belkin recently designed the cover for Matisyahu’s newly released album “Spark Seeker.”

The Algemeiner spoke to Belkin about the ever-changing reggae artist and the creativity process that goes into capturing his evolving music and persona through art.

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Matisyahu's album displayed by talk show host Jimmy Kimmel. Photo: Screenshot.

On having his cover for Matiyahu’s “Spark Seeker” album displayed on Jimmy Kimmel Live:

Yes it felt great! It’s your work’s few seconds of fame. My cover for “Miracle” was also displayed on Jimmy Kimmel last year and I got the same feeling again.

On the inspiration for the “Spark Seeker” cover:

We went through dozens of drafts for Matisyahu’s album cover…and the picture we used of the girl came from a very talented photographer named Mary Margaret Chambliss, the wife of Matisyahu’s agent. We found this girl in the Judean desert; she was happy and had this sparkle in her eye. When Matisyahu saw that, he said “that’s it – she is spark seeker.” She got what he was looking for. We felt it was the most iconic picture we could use and it gave a pure, fresh, and young feel.

On his history working with Matisyahu:

I started years ago…when I did photography. I followed Matisyahu around for around 30-40 of his shows to photograph him for his website and we bonded over that… I would see him all the time and and one day I had the nerve to tell him that I am a graphic designer. He gave me a shot at the Bonnaroo festival, in 2006, I was 17. That was my first graphic project with him. Last winter he gave me my first album cover, “Miracle,” when he started his own label Fallen Sparks Records and commissioned me to brand it.

On capturing Matisyahu’s evolving spirit:

[Matisyahu] is actually a photographers dream – he’s very animated when he sings. He moves his eyes and he is really in touch with his songs – his music means so much to him. Back when he didn’t have payos (side locks), when he was Chabad, and then afterwards became Karliner, it didn’t change the way he showed emotion in his music, the way he performed. After he shaved, I was one of the first photographers who shot him. When he came to Chicago we went to a forest reserve for a photo shoot to come up with iconic images for spark seeker, this was my first time seeing him like that – it was very raw, he was in the forest and looked as if he was praying there.

Photography or graphic design?

Definitely graphic design. Photography was just a hobby – I grew up with it because my father is a photographer.

Proudest work and why?

I think Sparkseeker- It’s such an iconic time in Matisyahu’s career – his music is changing.

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