Published: October 5, 2021
The homes and studios of artists has long been a subject of fascination to photographer, artist and writer, Leslie Williamson, who views the rooms we live in as a portrait of ourselves. In her most recent book, Still Lives: In the Homes of Artists, Great and Unsung, recently published by Rizzoli (www.rizzoliusa.com), Williamson invites us into the creative spaces of 15 artists – living and dead – around the world. We sat down with her for some insights behind her craft, and what this new book brings to the coffee table.
What was your inspiration for the book?
Still Lives grew out of my love of visiting artists’ homes and studios and witnessing the creative through line that invariably runs from their artwork to the spaces they inhabit and create in. It is something I have been doing so long it would be impossible to pinpoint a true starting point. Maybe it began when I was 19 years old and first visited Monet’s Giverny, but it probably was further back than that.
How long did it take you to write/photograph/publish the book?
It took me quite a while – about seven years from start to publication. I decided to make a proper book of all my favorite artists’ preserved homes in about 2014. The first photo shoot I did expressly for the book was Barbara Hepworth’s studio in 2015 and I completed the last shoot of Isamu Noguchi’s home in December 2019. I wrote the text after that and finished it in spring 2021.
You’ve published other books previously. Was there anything different in the way you approached ‘Still Lives’?
Well, Still Lives is one of those books I knew was going to be difficult to make so I thought long and hard before making up my mind to officially make it. I knew my desire was there, and that I had been unconsciously making it for years, but through making my other books, I had learned a thing or two about the legal side of things. Dealing with people one on one is always my preference. Still Lives is all artists homes that have been preserved, so essentially, I would never meet the artists themselves. I made an effort to deal with spaces where I could talk and interact one on one with the artists heirs, but I knew it was more likely I would be dealing with the artists estates and foundations. I did not relish that potential bureaucracy in that and the copyright issues I anticipated also seemed like a potential headache and would probably be costly. In the end though, my desire won out. I knew it was worth the effort and hoops I may have to jump through. I always discover so much that has been overlooked when I shoot. I love the little things and quiet corners that get overlooked, and it is always a joy to share those with my readers. All that other stuff fades in the end anyhow.
The book features just 15 artist homes and studios. How did you edit down the number of artist studios you featured in the book?
Well, I am always looking for a very particular type of home or studio to photograph and feature in my books. I am looking for soul spaces. Homes that still hold the essence of the artists, even after they have departed. They aren’t so easy to find. The scouting process took quite some time. I visited far more homes than I photographed. In the end there were about 18 that I had in the running and then I edited down to the ones that I felt spoke to each other in some way to create a nice diverse mix for the book.
Which ones did not make the cut? Why?
I wouldn’t say it didn’t make the cut, but there is one chapter that was complete and ready to go but ended up not fitting due to page count. I’m calling it “The Lost Chapter” and I’ll be featuring it in its entirety on the Still Lives Portal, an online accompaniment to the book that I am launching in early October. And the other artists’ spaces will probably end up there too.
If you had to pick one interior from this book that resonated with you the most, which would it be, and why?
Oh dear…I always dread this question. I have to fall in love with each artist and their space to even include them in one of my books. It is an emotional connection for me with each one, so I really do love them all.
I will say, the last studio I shot for the book was Joan Mirò’s in Mallorca and that really was a magical experience. I knew Mirò’s work, but not that much about his process. His innate understanding of his creative process, and the discipline with which he worked was such an inspiration to me. It continues to inspire me to this day.
Tell me about the title, ‘Still Lives’
It is a beautiful play on words. It evokes the artist, the lives lived within the spaces, and it also touches on the truth that an artist’s spirit still lives through the art they created.
Are many of these spaces accessible to the public?
Yes! I am happy to say quite a few of them are and I hope my book inspires people to go and visit these artists’ spaces themselves. I have included all the information to visit at the end of the book.
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