A Syme of Our Times
Category: Contemporary
Written by Gregory J. Robb
Editor: Kellie Hanna

It seems poetic that Hugh Syme’s cover design for the album, "2112", by Rush would symbolize the very statement of artistic freedom which would vault both Hugh Syme and Rush on to the world stage. The 1976 concept album was the rock band’s breakthrough and, for Syme, the concept was won out of defense for artistic freedom.

In an interview conducted seven years later, Syme said he saw "that there is a good force and a bad force: the good force was music, creativity, and freedom of expression…and the bad force was anything…that was contrary to that." The symbolism is basic but powerful -- a characteristic of the 18 other covers that Hugh Syme has designed for Rush in his 24-year reign as the band’s artistic director.

Syme’s cover design of the 1977 album "Hemispheres" is reminiscent of the more classical messages of previous covers. Syme calls the "Hemispheres" cover "an abomination…in the progress area of punning." Nonetheless, followers of Rush would become very familiar with the depth of thought which would surround the design of subsequent covers.

1981’s "Moving Pictures", arguably the band’s most powerful album since "2112," is again a pun, but with a difference. Hugh explains: "The one painting had to be of Joan Of Arc as far as I was concerned -- which ended up being a bit of a nightmare because I couldn't find any archival pictures or paintings which were suitable. So I ended up getting some burlap, and a pine post, two sticks and a bottle of scotch.

Deborah Samuel, the photographer who I used on that session, got wrapped up in burlap so she could make her cameo appearance. We just lit lighter fluid in pie plates in the foreground. It was basically a half hour session because we had no other alternative but to do it ourselves."

Hugh Syme is as versatile as his art. In 1996, he designed the cover for Neil Peart’s travel book, The Masked Rider, and he has photography credit on Celine Dion's 1990 album, "Unison." In addition, Syme designed all the covers for the albums recorded by Max Webster -- a group of fellow Canadians. In addition, he has completed designs for the following covers: Megadeth’s "Cryptic Writings"; 1992’s "Countdown to Extinction and 1994’s "Youthanasia"; Whitesnake’s 1987 debut album and "Slip of the Tongue"; and Queensryche's 1997 album, "Hear In The Now Frontier."

He has also worked with Iron Maiden, Electric Boys and Aerosmith.

Hugh Syme's art education came from the Toronto New School of Art and York University in England. In addition to the album covers for which he is now internationally-renowned, Syme has worked on advertisements for companies such as Denon; and he has done video art and packaging design.

Listen to a friend explain the symbolism of a concept, then close your eyes and picture it. Hugh Syme has probably already pictured the same in one form or another.

The above-mentioned album cover designs can be viewed at Oceanrush.


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