Harrison Haynes, who lives in Chapel Hill and works in Durham, has always been compelled to make art. His photographs from 2012, Oran Mor / Pointe Ephemere / Feierwerk / Button Factory / Trix Centrum / Subterranean, on view in the exhibition Area 919, were inspired by his travels with a rock band.
“So you’re looking at a grid of six photographs,” Harrison told us. “The prints themselves are 18 by 24 inches. They’re framed in Nealson chrome molding, and they are trimmed at full bleed and floated on a backing, the way that you would frame a painting as opposed to the way that photographs are traditionally mounted and framed. They each are monochrome to a certain degree. Each of the cushions that are represented in the photos are a solid color, so red, blue, teal, black, et cetera, but there is a lot of play of light across the surface of those individual cushions causing shadows and other colors to emerge, but for the most part, they are monochromatic, so imagine a rectangle filled up with a color, and they are in a grid of two rows of three.”
We asked him why he chose this subject matter cushions from leather or leatherette sofas in green rooms at clubs around the world.
“Those sofas happen to be all respectively situated in what’s known as a greenroom, or the greenrooms, where the band hangs out and gets dressed and has a beer and sends an email and sits for hours being bored before and after a performance, so they, and the greenrooms that are depicted in these photographs, happen to be all over the place, primarily in Europe and the United States. If my memory serves me correctly, from working along from left to right, the top, they are Glasgow, Scotland─what’s the blue one?─Dublin, Ireland, Chicago, Illinois (these are not in order at all), Munich, Germany, and somewhere in Belgium. Antwerp? I think maybe Antwerp, yeah. The titles of the photographs are simply the names of the venues. So the picture of the red cushion from Glasgow is titled Oran Mor, which means beautiful sounds, I think but it’s also just the name of a rock club which I thought was really great as the name of a title because of the literal translation of that. Some of the other titles are more oblique, like Button Factory, because the club in Dublin is an old button factory warehouse, and Trix Centrum is the one in Antwerp and I don’t know what that means, it sounds kind of smutty or something. I don’t know, and then Subterranean is the club in Chicago, and Pointe Ephemere, the club in Paris. I don’t know too much about the derivations of the names except for the one in Glasgow, but I think about that grid of photographs as a single piece. I don’t think about them as individual photographs and I don’t allow them to be exhibited, except for one special occasion, as individual photographs, so the overall title of the piece is a kind of list of those names of clubs, making it very unwieldy and takes up a lot of space on a label card!”
We wondered─what compelled Harrison to take photographs of these cushions and then put them together in this piece?
“I’ve always been compelled to make art in my life,” Harrison told us. “But the circumstances under which I made these pieces of art was a circumstance of constraint in a way. I found myself as the drummer in a band that had a very aggressive touring schedule for many years, and I’ve always done music and visual art concurrently or alternately, I guess. It’s hard to do them at the same time; but my compulsion at this time was that I was really itching to make some visual art but I was on the road all the time and I didn’t have a studio and I didn’t really have the means to make the kinds of art that I had been making prior to that, which were more drawing and painting based studio work. So photography is something that is pretty conducive to travel as an image making tool, and I had already been using it my whole life but in a more social and causal way and not so much in the format of making pieces of art, and so I think I realized … that the camera needed to be a kind of problem solver for that issue. I needed to make artwork. So photography was something I started looking at in a different way all of a sudden, making images that would stand on their own and speak for themselves as art, rather than being references for other pieces of art that I would make. So then it became an issue of what would the pictures be of? I had been taking photographs on tour in that same context ever since I had been doing it as a teenager, touring with a band, that is, but those pictures always served as a kind of social scrapbook, snapshot, travel log─I never considered them to be within the context of my art, my art output, and so I kind of knew what I didn’t want them to be. I didn’t want them to be diaristic, in a traditional sense, and by that I mean the pictures that I love so much of the Rolling Stones in a backstage room, the pictures that I love so much of bands that I obsess over, like those glimpse into the everyday [lives] of those bands, like somehow I wanted to eschew that kind of image making, because it didn’t really fall in line with the art that I had made previously. I was looking for a way of making images, or making pictures, that could kind of speak to something outside the experience while still being rooted or tied to my reality or my place in the world at that time. And then the cushions came about in a very intuitive way. In Glasgow, I saw these red cushions that were lit by the stage lights and there was this kind of psychedelic pallor and a palette like where the shadows on a red cushion ended up being kind of violet or green because of the contrasting colors of the state lights, or yellow. Honestly, at that moment when I saw that red, rippled leatherette and the light passing across it, it reminded me of a portion of Velázquez’s Pope Innocent X, where he has this satin cowl and the way that Velázquez painted light reflecting of this satiny material has always been a huge inspiration for me and so, I thought, here is a moment of light that is beautiful and strange. So I photographed it, and my compulsion at the time was to make a photograph that maybe referred to the fact that I was using a camera and didn’t try to depict a slice of life that was just inherently about that slice of life, but also referred to the moment of using that camera. I think therein lies a sort of formal gesture that I made, which is to frame the cushion within the frame of the picture plane, and so I think about it as if I were stuffing that picture into the rectangle of the camera, you know. And so, across the six images I work with the way that the cushion is a rectangle and the camera makes a rectangular image so, you know, rather than having the rectangle of a camera be an arbitrary cropping, having the aspect ratio be a productive and proactive part of the image.”
We asked Harrison to talk to us about the yellow cushion.
“That’s the one from Antwerp. The yellow was like maybe the second one where I started saying to myself, here we have this recurrence of leatherette sofas, the red one was the first and so when we walked into the club in Antwerp, I first had a sort of visceral response to that color because I just wasn’t used to seeing a yellow sofa. There’s something kind of lurid about it, something kind of in bad taste or funny about it, but then when I made the photograph and that yellow became the entirety of the visual field, it was a strange situation. I actually photographed a lot of things on that sofa. I photographed a pear from the fruit bowl on that sofa. I photographed our guitar player asleep, I photographed our guitar player taking a bite out of the pear and like mugging for the camera. I just felt that that yellow was a really strange and unusual backdrop, you know, and it kind of put this emotional twist on everything that you photograph within it. In the end, I thought that just the yellow on its own was the most strange of all, and then that was an example when I wasn’t photographing just the single cushion, but I was more photographing the creases where like the backrest comes into contact with the where your butt goes. And then yeah, I think there’s like a kind of anatomical thing that happens with the leatherette because it becomes like skin and then the crevasses and the puckers of the skin become like orifices or flaps and fat and fat rolls and all kinds of things, and so, then I think there have been a lot of references and observations about them that relate to the body or animals or skin, I guess. I think those are more like inadvertent, but I’m totally open to those being in there.”
Find out more about Haynes’s work in this video, which features a cameo appearance by his father, David Haynes. Portrait of Harrison Haynes by J Caldwell.