Indian Head Penny and Caress of Steel Man: Separated at Birth?
In the “Fun with Optical Illusions” Department, it’s worth wondering whether Hugh Syme was having a little fun with Rush fans when he illustrated the 1975 Caress of Steel album cover image.
The story of how the image was supposed to be a silvery steel rather than a coppery sepia is well known. “They printed [the cover image] in a sort of pseudo-sepia tone,” Syme said in a 1983 Creem interview.
Syme also said the image was never intended to have a hard mask around it. “I had vignetted with an airbrush the blue area around the illustrations,” he said in the same interview, “which was later reinterpreted by the film strippers who were making the jackets in Chicago at the time. They took it upon themselves to cut a hard-edged mask around it. The lettering was cast, and chrome plated.”
The hard-edged mask has the effect of making the illustration look like a coin or a medallion, so it sounds like that was never Syme’s intention. But it’s fun to speculate whether he had the old U.S. Indian Head penny in mind when he did his initial pencil drawing, because the image, of a robed man looking at a levitating pyramid, looks like a head in profile when looked at from a distance.
It reminds me of those optical illusions in which the image looks like one thing up close and like another from a distance.
Of course, the idea that Syme had an optical illusion in mind could be completely off track and it’s purely coincidence that the robed man from a distance looks like the profile of a head—kind of like how that Martian rock formation from a distance looks like a face. Someone could call Syme and ask him what he had in mind, but no doubt he would think the person’s from Mars or something.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault