I’m sure there is a pithy story about success being born of abject failure, but the appropriate quote eludes me right now. Instead I will tell you one of mine…
The Color Room Project started as something very different. My work over the last couple of years has often been inspired by artists that have gone before me. About two years ago I developed a school-boy crush on a Danish artist named Vilhelm Hammershøi, a contemporary of the Skågen School of painting. He worked around 1880 – 1920, and used a wonderful soft light. The rooms he depicted were almost always his own house.
I had just finished the series I call Hopper’s Americans, but still loved the creative process of building sets and telling stories within them. I decided to create a set that looked a lot like Hammershøi’s house, and to shoot a project that used his soft light, different than I had been in my previous work.
The project failed almost immediately. I had a very good model, but the clothes made it virtually impossible to tell the kind of stories I like. She was smothered in heavy fabrics, and they give little opportunity for physical nuance. Instead the images came out looking like something from the cover of a fancy candy box, something that Sarotti or Quality would put on their biscuit tins. Worse, I had given my stylist very little guidance, and we ended up with looks that were way to exaggerated for the subdued images I wanted to create.
I got so mad at myself that I went to my studio at some point on a Saturday night, got out a very large bucket of grey (or blue?) paint, and blasted Joy Division while repainting the whole set a solid color. I used a big fat bushy brush to slather the entire set, covering the walls, the decorative sconces, the chairs and tables all in a dark tone that reflected my mood. I was embarrassed, because the new project I had hoped for evaporated in front of me. I knew I should have focused on quieter images, more pensive poses.
Now I realize that it is not where I wanted to go creatively. I love the light. But I am so intrigued by the visual language of motion, which is utterly out of place in such a project. I admire Erwin Olaf’s most recent work, but it is not the kind of images I want to create right now. I chose instead to create images that focused on movement and drama in those stylized rooms.