From the moment that FKA Twigs unveiled the album artwork for Magdalene, her highly anticipated follow up to 2014’s critically acclaimed LP1, a five-year wait somehow felt worth it. The album’s nine cinematic and deeply introspective tracks, each accomplished works of art on their own, amount to a remarkable gestalt, an operatic tour de force that soundtracks years of highly publicized personal struggles. Since LP1, Twigs split from long-term boyfriend Robert Pattinson and had six fruit-size fibroid tumors removed from her uterus, jeopardizing her ability to physically express her music through dance and theatrics. (“I never thought heartbreak could be so all-encompassing… that my body could stop working to the point that I couldn’t express myself in the ways that I’ve always loved and found so much solace,” she said in a statement.)
Magdalene recounts the fraught narrative of a devastated woman looking inward to reclaim her autonomy from the unforgiving public eye and a body that was failing her. Welcoming us inside this universe is the disarmingly vulnerable album artwork crafted by British artist and longtime collaborator Matthew Stone, whose work often deconstructs the human form through a combination of painting and digital manipulation. The cover image, as well as the album’s two accompanying visuals, depict Twigs as a humanoid figure lavishly adorned with Stone’s signature sweeping brushstrokes and kaleidoscopic, dimension-blurring expressionism—an ideal visual counterpart to Magdalene’s lush production and ethos of empowerment. “The way she uses her voice, both emotionally and lyrically, feels so grounded, and I wanted to reflect that in some way,” he tells me over the phone.
Stone’s multilayered process, which oscillates between analog and digital, begins by painting on glass and translating images of his compositions onto the computer. “I make individual bust gestures, photograph them in high resolution, carve them out digitally, and work with various 3D modeling software to combine those images of paint in a way that suggests form,” he says. “It brings an uncanny digital feeling to what’s essentially a painterly image,” which he prints on linen canvas.
Twigs and her creative director, Matthew Josephs, first approached Stone in January with a series of visual references and an unfinished demo of the album. “What I really noticed about Magdalene was how Twigs was removing these layers of vulnerability,” he says, referencing the figure’s clay-like adobe complexion, which chips away to reveal a hollowed-out woman who, despite it all, presides like a monarch over her fractured domain. Traces of Leonor Fini, the late Argentine surrealist painter who often depicted strong women, are evident, as well as the demise of Cleopatra. (Look closely: Magdalene’s braid morphs into the asp that purportedly poisoned the Egyptian pharaoh, throwing her kingdom into disarray.)
Much like Fini’s muses, Twigs ultimately reclaims her downfall, elevating it into a life-affirming inner sanctum. “I’m constantly inspired by the physical presence Twigs brings to her performances,” Stone tells It’s Nice That. And his depiction of that strength is unrelenting: The figure’s exaggerated muscle definition bucks gender, while her marble-like eyeballs, glazed with gentle brushstrokes, suggest a casual conviction. By the time Magdalene’s 39-minute adventure draws to a close, she feels less like a doomed heroine rather than a close confidante whose journey toward the sublime has become universal.