Musicians the world over paused to pay their respects to Rosław Szaybo, a graphic designer and illustrator who acted as the creative force behind many of the most recognizable album covers of the last few decades. Born in Poznań in 1933, Szaybo attended the capital’s Academy of Fine Arts and soon found himself immersed in the bohemian world of 60s Warsaw. Mentored by Henryk Tomaszewski and Wojciech Fangor – two artists whose works still resonate to this day – Szaybo was also a popular figure on the city’s social circuit, partying with the likes of Krzysztof Komeda and Roman Polański.
Often experimenting with photographic techniques, early designs included the logo for the Polish Jazz series and the cover for Astigmatic, an album commonly regarded as a European masterpiece. More success was to follow. Moving to England in 1966, his rudimentary language skills were outshone by his latent talent and by 1972 he was heading the artistic division of CBS Records. It was in this role he designed 2,000 album covers, including sleeves for Elton John, Janis Joplin, Bob Marley and Simon & Garfunkel.
Perhaps most famously of all, he coined the design for the logo of Judas Priest as well as the cover for their seminal album Stained Class: “Szaybo’s cover image for the record was fabulous in its futuristic appeal,” wrote guitarist KK Downing. “He perfectly captured, with that single image of the strange glass-and-copper head, where I thought we were at the time, but he also left scope, intentionally or otherwise, for something to build on.” Returning to Poland in 1993, Szaybo continued to be active in artistic circles with his works frequently exhibited at home and abroad. His death at the age of 85 draws a line under an era.