King Crimson Album Art: The ConstruKction of Light

King Crimson The ConstruKction of Light

The Con­struKc­tion of Light is the sound of King Crim­son forcibly break­ing through exactly the kind of impasse that had caused pre­vi­ous incar­na­tions of the band to break up.

Crim­son found itself in a cre­ative impasse after the lengthy tours sup­port­ing the 1995 album THRAK, dur­ing which the band cir­cled the globe repeat­ing basi­cally the same reper­toire. Some bands pro­duce their most inter­est­ing albums while still on tour pro­mot­ing the pre­vi­ous one (such as R.E.M.‘s New Adven­tures in Hi-Fi and U2’s Zooropa), but that appar­ently wasn’t an option for the ungainly sex­tet that was Crim­son circa 1995–96. Writ­ing rehearsals in 1997 were deemed a fail­ure (although you may judge for your­self as excerpts were since made avail­able on a mail-order-only album called Nashville Rehearsals).

That’s when things got interesting.

Rather than employ the now-standard Crim­son tac­tic of break­ing up, the band splin­tered (or as they termed it, “fraKc­tal­ized”) into smaller sub-groups called Pro­jeKcts. The music was largely impro­vised around sets of devel­op­ing themes, some­times shared across Pro­jeKcts. This exten­sive cre­ative detour pro­duced a con­fus­ing array of albums, some widely avail­able in retail stores while oth­ers were rel­e­gated to mail order (espe­cially if you hap­pened to live out­side of the UK). Four were even pack­aged as the boxed set The Decep­tion of the Thrush, under the King Crim­son name.

King Crimson ProjeKcts
Cover art for the five major Pro­jeKct releases that led up to The Con­struKc­tion of Light: Pro­jeKct One: Live at the Jazz Café, Pro­jeKct Two: Space Groove and Live Groove, Pro­jeKct Three: Masque, and Pro­jeKct Four: West Coast Live. Four of these were com­piled in the boxed set The Decep­tion of the Thrush, but this time under the King Crim­son name.

Most of the THRAK-era releases shared a visual aes­thetic (mostly sup­pled by the Bill Smith Stu­dio) and an ono­matopo­etic nam­ing con­ven­tion (such as VROOOM, B’BOOM, etc.). For the Pro­jeKcts series, how­ever, there was lit­tle con­ti­nu­ity in the album art and design. Some sported the now-familiar P.J. Crook paint­ings, and oth­ers had min­i­mal­ist graph­i­cal designs more in keep­ing with the 1980s albums Dis­ci­pline, Beat, and Three of a Per­fect Pair. In terms of brand­ing and mar­ket­ing, the sole sign of unity among these dis­parate endeav­ors was the use of camel­Case (the inser­tion of a cap­i­tal­ized let­ter into a com­pound word, like “iPhone”) and the delib­er­ate mis­spelling of cer­tain words to insert the let­ter K, a con­ceit not seen since the track “Cirkus” from Lizard (almost 30 years prior).

The elab­o­rate, exten­sive Pro­jeKct exper­i­ment led to a pared-down quar­tet and the album The Con­struKc­tion of Light, released in May 2000 on com­pact disc for­mat only.

album covers by Ionnis Trey Gunn ProjeKct X The California Guitar Trio Uriah Heep The Allman Brothers Band Styx Dream Theater Lynyrd Skynyrd
A selec­tion of other album cov­ers by Ion­nis, includ­ing Trey Gunn, Pro­jeKct X, The Cal­i­for­nia Gui­tar Trio, Uriah Heep, The All­man Broth­ers Band, Styx, Dream The­ater, and Lynyrd Skynyrd

Artist Ion­nis Vasilopoulo (billed as sim­ply “Ioan­nis”) pro­vided the dig­i­tal art, with design by Alan Chap­pell. Within the King Crim­son fam­ily, Ion­nis had pre­vi­ously cre­ated sev­eral Cal­i­for­nia Gui­tar Trio and Trey Gunn sleeves includ­ing The Third Star (1996) and The Joy of Molyb­de­num (2000), and was also respon­si­ble for Heaven and Earth, a com­pan­ion album to The Con­struKc­tion of Light recorded in par­al­lel by King Crim­son under the guise Pro­jeKct X. Most of these sleeves were atyp­i­cal of Ion­nis’ more fantasy-based work for artists such as Blue Oys­ter Cult, Deep Pur­ple, and The All­man Broth­ers Band. These ornate sleeves are cer­tainly more in keep­ing with the prog rock tra­di­tion, mak­ing him an odd choice indeed for a band that had been try­ing to shake that asso­ci­a­tion off for years. Ion­nis acknowl­edged as much in a pro­file by the New Haven Reg­is­ter, albeit in a man­ner that pays a back­handed com­ple­ment to the mem­ber that most dis­liked his ini­tial sub­mis­sion: “For the new King Crim­son CD cover, Ioan­nis and the band agreed to a more con­tem­po­rary mono­chro­matic design, one bet­ter reflec­tive of the cur­rent tastes of the band’s quirky lead gui­tarist, Robert Fripp.”

King Crimson The ConstruKction of Light
Two ver­sions of the cover for King Crimson’s The Con­struKc­tion of Light (early rejected ver­sion on the left)

The ear­lier ver­sion of the album cover seen above is hardly max­i­mal­ist or overly ornate, but it’s inter­est­ing that the final cover is the result of a series of extrac­tions and sim­pli­fi­ca­tions. The ver­ti­cal motion blur effect on the text is greatly reduced, the small glyph above the album title is removed, and two images are reduced to one. The glyph is dif­fi­cult to dis­cern but appears to resem­ble a man­dala. If so, that would be in line with the sacred art tra­di­tions that informed many pre­vi­ous King Crim­son cov­ers, espe­cially Lizard, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, and Three of a Per­fect Pair. It’s also pos­si­ble there’s a con­nec­tion with the type of Celtic knot­work that adorned Dis­ci­pline, but it’s dif­fi­cult to say with­out being able to view a clearer image.

“I came up with the young man hid­ing his face and then open­ing his fin­gers to peek in the dark­ness. The way a child would if he was scared, or some­one griev­ing. It was ambigu­ous enough so you could inter­pret it in all sorts of ways.“
– Ion­nis, In the Court of King Crim­son, page 314

This orig­i­nal con­cept was report­edly vetoed by Robert Fripp. Trey Gunn pro­vided the new source image, a dig­i­tal manip­u­la­tion of a pho­to­graph taken dur­ing the record­ing ses­sions. The final graphic is so dras­ti­cally manip­u­lated that Gunn is no longer sure what the orig­i­nal image was (Smith, pages 295–296).

Looked at closely, the final graphic evokes the neb­ula image on the album Islands and even, to a degree, Peter Sinfield’s water­color paint­ing on the inner gate­fold to In the Wake of Posei­don, or Dave Wade’s mar­bling on that of Lizard. This astro­nom­i­cal imagery is related to Fripp’s phrase “the con­struc­tion of light,” derived from his per­sonal study of J.G. Ben­nett and the mys­tic G.I. Gur­d­ji­eff (Smith, page 299). Another visual motif asso­ci­ated with Ben­nett is the Celtic knot graphic that adorned the 1981 album Discipline.

The final design retains the gen­eral color scheme and typog­ra­phy. In my opin­ion, the type treat­ment dates this par­tic­u­lar album sleeve to a par­tic­u­lar era more than almost any other Crim­son album. The extremely widely-tracked con­densed font, cou­pled with exces­sive ver­ti­cal motion blur, reeks of Photoshop.

King Crimson The ConstruKction of Light Tour Program
The King Crim­son Con­struKc­tion of Light Tour Pro­gram cover

Ion­nis also designed the tour pro­gram, which included a great deal of addi­tional art­work not used in the CD pack­age. How­ever, the orig­i­nal image of the young man cov­er­ing his eyes does not appear.

King Crimson Heavy ConstruKction
King Crimson’s Heavy Con­struKc­tion

The ensu­ing tour was doc­u­mented with a mam­moth three-disc live album Heavy Con­struKc­tion released in Novem­ber 2000. A sin­gle P.J. Crook paint­ing is stretched pretty thinly across the entire pack­age, appear­ing in full on the book­let front cover, and re-purposed mul­ti­ple times across the jewel box inlay and book­let back cover. The album is unfor­tu­nately pack­aged in an bulky dou­ble jewel case, a for­mat that had already gone out of fash­ion in 2000.

Also unfor­tu­nately, the third disc con­cludes with a record­ing of an ugly inci­dent in which a fan dis­rupted a show with flash pho­tos and had his cam­era con­fis­cated by secu­rity. End­ing the album with sev­eral min­utes of an audi­ence boo­ing is, to say the least, some­thing of a down note and makes the album a rather dis­mal lis­ten­ing expe­ri­ence. Instead of being a record of the tour’s best moments, it pre­served the worst for posterity.

King Crimson Level Five
The King Crim­son live EP Level Five

If Heavy Con­struKc­tion didn’t pro­vide enough live Crim­son from this period, an addi­tional live EP titled Level Five was released in Novem­ber 2001. It was recorded ear­lier that year, after any­thing that appeared on Heavy Con­struKc­tion. It included mate­r­ial from The Con­struKc­tion of Light, pieces orig­i­nally explored by var­i­ous Pro­jeKcts, and early ver­sions of pieces that would appear on the 2003 album The Power to Believe. The cover paint­ing by P.J. Crook of a fig­ure in a gas mask pre­fig­ures the apoc­a­lyp­tic imagery that would appear on their next and final stu­dio album The Power to Believe. As such, Level Five serves as a kind of bridge between Crimson’s penul­ti­mate and ulti­mate albums.


  • Art Direc­tion: Ioan­nis for Vivid Images Worldwide
  • Dig­i­tal Art: Ioan­nis (thanks to Bob Grober)
  • Design: Alan Chap­pell for Vivid Images World­wide & Trey Gunn
  • Pho­tog­ra­phy & Video Images: Trey Gunn


  • Art­work from a paint­ing by P.J. Crook
  • Pho­tog­ra­phy and Video Images: BootlegTV Crew, Trey Gunn
  • Pho­to­graph of KC: Michael Wilson
  • Design: Hugh O’Donnell


  • Cover art­work from paint­ings by P.J. Crook
  • Pho­tog­ra­phy: Bill Munyon
  • Design: High O’Donnell


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