Dec 202011

Working with artist Melissa Dunn on a piece we premiered last Friday called Ladies Home Journal was one of the more comfortable experiences I’ve had collaborating – and I kept wondering why.  Melissa and I have known each other for years, but many artists who’ve known each other much longer try to collaborate and the whole thing explodes in acrimony.

We talked about doing the thing several months ago.  We assigned ourselves and each other tasks to complete based on what we knew needed to get done.  We found the models together and communicated with them as one.  We’d worked with some of these people alone but never as a team, but there were no strange divisions. We shot the piece as a unit, working with DP Ryan Parker, one night about a month ago, and I couldn’t believe, as we directed alongside each other, that no control issues were rearing their heads.  There was nothing to resolve , which was a weird feeling.  Even the collaborators I love most involve difficult, laborious conversations.  I don’t regret those conversations, but it was an interesting change to operate without them.

While I edited the piece, Melissa took care of the installation details, sourcing the items we needed to serve as a context for the video portion of the work.  The day before the one night only exhibit, Memphis Connections, I was at home finalizing the cut, while Melissa painted and stenciled the gallery wall.  We were in separate parts of town but it felt like we were working in the same room.

I feel like the piece we showed is a beginning.  I stood there looking at it the night of the show and knew there were other places we’d want to take it – not just online (eventually, here on Evelyn Avenue) but in some real time space or series of spaces.  I look forward to working more on it together and seeing how it develops under our watchful cyclopean eye.

Picture above: Melissa Dunn with models Jessica Ann Buttermore and Savannah Bearden (top); Melissa Dunn applies finishing touches before the show (bottom).

 Posted by on December 20, 2011
Nov 172011


About ten years ago, I went over to visit Melissa Dunn, one of my favorite painters, and saw a stack of vintage magazines sitting out on her table.  They were mostly decor things geared at housewives, and seemed to date from around the 1950s.  The illustrations were amazing, especially the colors: pea greens, bird egg blues, yellow golds, dusty pinks.  There were pictures on almost every page, of bedrooms and kitchens and living rooms.  Boudoirs.  My favorites were always the boudoirs.  The women in these rooms – and it was always women, as if in their fantasy lives men stayed out of the picture – seemed high on some idealized fantasy of solitude and technicolor saturation.  I’m not really sure why I liked those old magazines so much, but I haven’t stopped thinking about their palette ever since.

Melissa is one of my most frequent collaborators, though until the other night we’d never actually worked together on anything.  I feel like her paintings and my films are engaged in an ongoing conversation, mostly about color, but about the effect those old magazines have on us too.  We both spend a lot of time trying to find the right colors and the right way to use them in our work.  We both ask the same kinds of questions.  What happens when you throw up a color field?  What kind of emotion or response does it produce?  What happens when you go from one color to another – or contrast two or more within the same frame?  What is it with pea green?  Maybe one of the reasons colors are so important to me – specific colors – is the fact they can bring back the past.  Like scent or music, a color has stealth.  It smuggles memories.

Melissa asked a few weeks ago if maybe we should actively collaborate on something.  Maybe bring the conversation into the same project and talk with instead of at each other.  We started talking about what we could do.  We didn’t want a story.  We just wanted it to be about color and mood.  We looked through Melissa’s paint samples, hundreds of them, stored in a heavy carrying case.  We found six shades we liked.  We decided to invite five or six women we know to come over and stand between a camera and these colors as if they were one of the women in the magazines, gazing into the mirror, living somewhere between that fantasy space in the magazines and the real time space of their own bathrooms.  We’re calling the film project Ladies’ Home Journal, after those magazines, and because it seems like if you could run through a series of those moments in front of the mirror taken from various points in time, it would be something like a journal.



 Posted by on November 17, 2011