(Photos Courtesy of Adrien Broom)
By Mila Pantovich
There are many different types of artists out there, from photographers and painters to sculptors and filmmakers, and some artists are talented enough that they excel at more than one medium. It's pretty darn amazing though when someone has so much creativity spilling from their minds that they do all of it, and that's exactly what Adrien Broom does.
Whether she's working on her acclaimed Color Project in her Andy Warhol-esque studio space in New Haven, Connecticut (which includes simultaneously shooting a film and creating a book), going on the road with friends Grace Potter and the Nocturnals as their official photographer, or building ornate sets out in the woods, Adrien is always bursting with a creative energy that can only be described as beautifully organic.
With much of Adrien's work exuding a childlike innocence, sometimes in direct opposition with darker themes, it's no surprise at all that her love for artistic expression grew at a very young age. Plus, her parents are both creative types; her mother manages an art gallery, and her father owns a company called H.P. Broom Housewright and refurbishes antique houses (oh yeah, and he's also a landscape and figure painter). Noticing that she was the type of child who arranged food at a restaurant into still-life, Adrien's mother set up a artistic after-school activity for her daughter with an art teacher named Xena. They went through a few different things ("At first we did piano and I...hated that"), before Broom started finding things that she enjoyed.
"She was the zaniest, coolest old woman," recalls Adrien fondly. "She was kind of a jack-of-all-trades artist. She did lots of arts and crafts stuff, she was very hands-on. We would...do some drawing and this and that, and I remember just loving it...and loathing all the other after-school things [laughs]."
Her work, which she describes as a built set that she stages narratives within, straddles the hazy line between childhood and adulthood. Many of her favorite books as a child still resonate with her today, especially in her work, and she cites Maurice Sendak and Jill Barklem (Brambling Hedge in particular) as influences. She describes her art as pulling on the childlike place within her while being very much grounded in her adult perspective. "... I really want the work to be accessible, to children and adults... there'll be different interpretations of the work, no matter who you are, how old you are, and that's kind of the point..."
Much of her work is deeply rooted in fairy tales and mythology, reinterpreting figures like Aphrodite and stories like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You'll notice while looking through her portfolio that she often uses animals, both living and taxidermied, in jarring ways. Sometimes the animals are juxtaposed with people in a way that seems to imply mankind's invasive way of living, and other times she shows a harmonious balance. "I'm actually thinking about taking people out of my photos, and mostly having animals. I love what they symbolize, I love peoples' connection with different kinds of animals, I love that they are social creatures, even though we don't really understand. I love kind of combining our social ways with them. I just like the contrast, the beauty. They're just gorgeous."
One of her favorite places to shoot is Ray of Light, a rescue farm in Connecticut. "They have the most gorgeous animals that they've rescued from different walks of life. Like that picture with the zebra? It's actually a half-zebra-half-donkey... called a 'zonkey,' which is the best name I've ever heard in my life. I think they rescued him from a circus situation. He was kind of a prima-donna, I got like, one shot before he almost destroyed my whole set," she laughs. Though some animals are certainly easier to handle, like the turtles she used in Day Dreams, Adrien definitely doesn't shy away from a challenge -- she actually wants to start using a lot of birds in a future project she's been brainstorming.
With so many ideas, Adrien keeps a notebook in which she jots down whatever comes to mind. "I think the best advice I've ever gotten in my whole life was from a photographer, and he was like, 'Adrien, you've got all this stuff...you need to calm down. The best thing you can do for projects is do one project at a time.' And I think if I didn't do that with the Color Project, I would never get it done. I've put my heart and soul and all my brainwaves into this one project, and I try really hard to not think about other things till I'm done."
She's been working on the Color Project for over a year now and it was partly funded through a Kickstarter campaign (the little girl starring in the project even donated five dollars). An eight-part exploration of color, the imaginative series shows a world of white as seen through the eyes of a child. The little girl first passes through a door into a red world, then orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and lastly rainbow. In looking at these images, it's hard to picture someone physically creating the world without relying on photo editing techniques, but that's exactly what Adrien does in her studio.
Each color takes over a month to create and shoot, starting with planning and material sourcing from her home in Brooklyn and ending with spending a couple weeks in her studio to make it a reality. Once shooting is finished, she goes back home and starts the editing process. "We build for about two weeks, but I plan the rest of the time. So it's a lot of sketching and drawing what the set is going to look like, then finding all the materials," Adrien explains. "A lot of people have been amazing with donating materials and time. So, it's a lot of calling people and saying 'This is the project I'm doing, are you interested in being involved?' There's a lot of planning."
The images are creative and striking, telling the tale of a little girl becoming a young woman through her experiencing of new worlds. Since it's taken so long to shoot, you can actually chart the model's growth throughout the series, which has been one of Adrien's favorite parts. "From the first picture until now, I swear the girl's grown like a foot," she laughs. "And her face is changing, you know, she's turning into a young lady, and actually, I love that, because the whole story is about growing up and discovering yourself and the world. I'm glad that it took this long to put together, so you cannot just emotionally but physically see her change. She was nine when we first started, and I think she's about to turn eleven."
Now that Adrien has finished the green world, she only has purple and rainbow left before this lengthy process is over and done with -- something which will definitely be a little bittersweet. "I love working on them so much, but I'm so excited to see it as a full, finished project, and flip through and see the story unravel, and see [the girl] traveling through it. It's going to be amazing to see the whole thing, but I'm gonna be sad, because I love the project."
Once the photography project is finished, she plans on hunkering down with her film collaborator Joe Manassi (who records video footage on shoot days while she takes photos) to figure out how exactly they want the film and children's book to look and sound. "I'm actually debating, it might be a little backwards in a way," she says. "I'm debating on having absolutely no words in the book, and have some words in the film. But I'm not really sure, it might just be music, but there might be words. I think I need to see the finished product [first]."
Though the Color Project may be ending soon, Adrien definitely doesn't have a lack of things to keep her busy. She recently finished her first commercial gig for Disney and Phillips, an advertisement for night-lights based on Disney characters. "They wanted the advertisement for these night-lights to be a half-child's bedroom, half-dream world. So I built these huge extravagant sets that were exactly that, so it was just like a perfect project for me because it's kind of what I do anyway. It was awesome, it went really well, it was really fun."
She's also been the official photographer for Grace Potter and the Nocturnals since the very beginning -- Matt Burr, the drummer, is one of Adrien's closest friends and has been since they were kids. The moment the music group is brought into conversation, Adrien makes her deep admiration and respect for them immediately obvious. She not only adores their music, but she also gives them credit for helping her gain the confidence needed to break out into the photography world.
Around the same time the band decided to make a go of it, Adrien had resolved to make a career out of photography. She started by helping the band with their press photo needs, oftentimes taking shots of them hanging out in coffee shops, while she was simultaneously working on her own projects. "With them it's kind of fun, because there's no set, it's all kind of documentary. I'm in it and I'm not in control of anything. With my stuff, I'm 100 percent in control of everything, so it's really nice to have that contrast."
"But then it's crazy; they're so insanely talented and so dedicated, they're the hardest workers, they really motivate me a lot. Whenever I'm feeling lazy, I'm like, 'No no no, Matt and Grace have been on the road for four years straight, get your ass out of bed.' There's no excuse," Adrien laughs. "They've blown up, and they're still working really, really hard, but they deserve it. It's awesome. We just put out a book together, which is super cool. They're kicking so much ass."
The book, Inside Looking Out: A Decade On The Road With Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, is something the group of friends had been talking about for years and chronicles 10 years of their lives together. "They're the ones that kind of convinced me to just say 'f**k it' and be a full-time photographer. I was going through a really hard time, personal life stuff, and Matt was like, 'Get off your ass, come on the road with us, get out of the house.' So I did that, that was the first time I really went on tour. It was the first time I was really happy in a long time," Adrien remembers. "It just made me really happy, taking photos. I was like, 'Oh, maybe this should be my life.'"
From then on, Adrien never looked back and it's a good thing too, because the artist has a lot coming up. Most recently she was invited by the Hudson River Museum in New York to contribute to a cool new project that will be taking place in seven museums around the country in 2015. Called the Seven Deadly Sins, each museum will be showcasing a different sin, each rooted in fairytales, and Adrien was invited to do "Envy" for the Hudson River Museum. Though information on the event is sparse, it's one exhibit all of us at JustLuxe are pretty excited to check out.
"It's gonna be half installation. I think I'm doing three rooms with full installation, and then a ton of photographs," she says. "I'm really looking forward to that. [It's] going to be a weird head-place to be in for like a year. It's just like, thinking about envy all day long. [Fairy tales are] very dark, but very fascinating. I'm going to be just living in those old, old texts for a while. I think the show will be really cool."
We've chatted with a lot of artists over the years, from musicians to photographers, but Adrien personifies genuine friendliness. She may be incredibly talented, but she talks about her art in a way that invites you into her life and her process, inspiring us all to pursue what we love.
Keep an eye on the Color Project by following Adrien on her official site and Facebook page where she constantly posts updates and behind-the-scenes photos and videos!