Holly Andres makes photographs that evoke the simmering terror of a Hitchcock film mixed with the precariousness of adolescent awakening. Her exhibit at the Missoula Art Museum last year, for instance, included several narrative pieces riffing on young girls discovering locked rooms and boxes, suitcases and a hornets nest, all rendered in the rich colors and suspenseful staging of a Nancy Drew cover.
Andres grew up in Missoula in a family of 10 kids, and even now, living and working in Portland, Oregon, she still pulls images and stories from her childhood to create her art. (Her sisters once found a woman's suitcase on the shore of the Clark Fork, and another sister was brutally stung by hornets one summer afternoon.) Over the past decade, Andres' eye for candy-bright colors and meticulous detail, and her ability to create visual tension, has put her in high demand with the most prestigious magazines in the country—she's shot commercial and editorial work for Time, The New Yorker, Popular Mechanics, Wired and the New York Times Magazine, to name a few. When she makes art for exhibits, she often returns to the palette of childhood. But ever since the November election, Andres has found herself unmoored from her usual inspirations. A few months ago, while preparing to give a presentation of her work to a college class, she started questioning everything she'd been working on.
"I was dusting off the old PowerPoint, and I had this thought, like, 'Who cares?'" she says. "My work just felt in that moment so inconsequential to everything that's happening in our country and, by extension, the world."
And so, when Missoula's Radius Gallery asked Andres to contribute to its upcoming figurative art exhibit, she decided to go political.
The new four-piece series has all the flair of a signature Andres vision—rich color and an anachronistic feel. She shot it in her bedroom, capturing the crisp detail of personal objects: stacked books, vintage camisoles hanging out of drawers, an aqua rotary phone. The only human subject is a man whose face is mostly obscured, but the bleach-blond sweep of flyaway hair is unmistakable. The photographs are a sequence in which this Trump-like character ransacks Andres' room, beginning with him dumping out a dresser drawer of her underwear and ending with him crawling out the window like a burglar, at this point nearly disrobed, his boxers bunching just below his buttcrack.
Andres says she was trying to re-enact the feeling she had on November 8. She had a shoot that day and she was excited about it, and in the middle of hurriedly packing up her gear, she suddenly started to cry with overwhelming relief.
- photo courtesy of Holly Andres
- Photographer Holly Andres’ new series explores her feelings about the presidential election, and is part of Radius Gallery’s upcoming group exhibit.
"The polls were still promising in Hillary Clinton's favor, despite the Comey fiasco," she says. "And the possibility of a woman running the country struck me as so powerful—this ripple effect that could impact the respect and the self-esteem of women and girls everywhere. And, finally, this uninvited intruder who had been occupying my mind for the last six months was going to have to exit the situation." She pauses. "Of course, we know that did not happen."
The new body of work is an attempt to capture that image of Trump as a violator. It's humorous—that hair and the plumber's crack!and also grotesque in the way the figure seems to be lecherously and carelessly helping himself to the objects in the room. "I'm using my room—this intimate private space—as a kind of a proxy for my mind, and I was thinking of this monstrous figure upending it," Andres says.
Andres considers the work a light homage to Jeff Wall's 1978 photograph "The Destroyed Room," which is itself a piece in dialogue with Eugène Delacroix's 1827 painting The Death of Sardanapalus. Delacroix's piece is a critique of the French bourgeoisie in the post-Napoleonic era, and depicts the last king of Assyria on his deathbed ordering the destruction of his possessions and the slaughter of his concubines. Andres notes that the Delacroix painting echoes the maniacal Trump administration, but she also acknowledges the silver lining in the Wall photographs: Despite the violence evoked by the destroyed room, a female figurine remains on the dresser, untoppled.
Since the election, Andres has involved herself in Portland-area political action on social media. She talks a lot about white privilege and protecting and elevating the country's most vulnerable voices. The Trump series is the first time she's incorporated politics into her art, and while it has all the elements that Andres usually brings to her work, it's also much more directly to the point.
"Part of the anxiety of this time period is not really knowing what is going to happen from day to day," she says. "And that feels like a type of psychological warfare. This is a great country, don't get me wrong. But I do feel like Donald Trump perfectly epitomizes all of its ills—the greed, the ignorance, the narcissism, the gluttony. He's not the American Dream. He's our American monster."
Radius Gallery's group show featuring Holly Andres opens Fri., May 26.