The cover art for Black Sabbath’s ninth LP “Heaven and Hell” was painted by artist Lynn Curlee a year before the albums release in April, 1980.
Many Sabbath fans assumed the cover art had been inspired by the tracks on the album, but of course this was not the case. Mr. Lynn Curlee explained the “Heaven and Hell” painting, “The Smoking Angels” was not commissioned specifically for the heavy metal legends Black Sabbath, but was in fact part of Lynn’s “Masque Series” which featured an eye catching array of people in costumes.
The entire collection was for years exhibited at the Dunaway O’Neill Gallery in Santa Monica California. The gallery owned by non other than actress Faye Dunaway and photographer Terry O’Neill.
But the concept for the “The Smoking Angels” painting did not manifest itself out of thin air, Curlee found inspiration while looking at a 1928 photograph of women dressed as angels smoking backstage during their short break between acts, at a college Christmas pageant.
Christmas pageant angels smoking cigarettes, what else could better describe the existence of heaven and hell?
All being told, Smoking Angels took Lynn three weeks to complete. “It was done in acrylic on canvas, and measured about 4 by 6 feet,” he says. “I work with standard brushes in a meticulous technique, with no airbrushing. Since the painting already existed, it didn’t exactly fit into the square album format, so the right side had to be severely cropped. Of course, the original painting includes the entire wing of that angel.”
The original “Smoking Angels” painting was sold a few years later. “I think someone connected with the band in some way bought it, but I can’t swear to it, since my business records from those days are long gone,” Lynn Curlee says.
The folks at Warner Brothers knew they had to recover from the 1976 Technical Ecstasy disaster: One executive’s mind kept going back to the artwork of Blue Öyster Cult’s 1976 album, Agents of Fortune, which ironically also featured playing cards.
“They were in a jam,” recalls Curlee. “Black Sabbath were releasing the new album Heaven and Hell. The original cover-art plan was not working out, I received a call to ask if I had anything they might be able to use, since the timing was getting short.” Lynn Curlee sent them a photo of Smoking Angels; Warner Bros. sent a check!
And The Rest Is Heavy Metal History!