How a Stone Sculpture Guided Rush’s ‘Test for Echo’ Cover Art
"Test for Echo is all about finding your way," says Hugh Syme, Rush's longtime art director, of the prog-rock band's 1996 LP.
And through the inspiration of drummer and lyricist Neil Peart, he arrived at a wise, wintry album cover that symbolized that theme.
"Neil did a lot of traveling, and I knew he would venture up into the Northwest Territories [of Canada] and less-travelled destinations like that," Syme tells UCR. "You would see inukshuks, those stone sculptures — some of them looked very crude. Throughout the Arctic, [they] were erected as beacons in this treeless and featureless Great White North, where you could easily get lost without some kind of landmark."
During one of Peart's famous motorcycle trips, he spotted a particularly striking inukshuk and sent the image to Syme in postcard form.
"I really loved [it], but of course, it was a low-res postcard," the art director says. "Despite extensive research, I couldn't find a better inukshuk than that one. I did a lot of research on inukshuks, and a lot of them were flat, shelf-like stones, and they were quite boxy-looking. They didn't have nearly the body language that this one did. This one [on the cover] had a really animated feel to it."
From there, "necessity became the mother of invention," as Syme carved a replica of the inukshuk as a 22-inch-tall sculpture.
"It's amazing what you can do with florist's foam, a little bit of plaster of paris and paint," he says. "Carving that at [that height] allowed me a lot of latitude in the photo sessions that followed. I could shoot our inukshuk from different angles."
In the studio, Syme used creative tricks to flesh out the image.
"I would later place some baking soda, and with canned air I would blow it and make it drift up onto the foot of the inukshuk to make it look like drifting snow," he says. "[In addition to] that in-studio photo and the arctic scene I used as the background, the sky was from yet another photo because I couldn't find anything I liked all in one frame of reference. It was all digital, except for the analog creation of the inukshuk."
Syme still owns the miniature inukshuk, and he still thinks about the deeper meaning of the creation — both the original and his own.
"'Inukshuk' is Inuit for 'in the likeness or man' or 'doll,'" he says. "It's kind of an interchangeable word. I find that fascinating."