Heritage paint colours are big news not just for the inside of homes, but also for the exterior. Whether you live in a Georgian rectory or a post-war prefab, you can find authentic paint colours in keeping with your home’s history to paint the outside with. In some areas – including the conservation area in which I live – the council even prescribes the colours you’re allowed to paint your own front door, just to keep the neighbourhood tasteful.
I love historic colours, but I can also see that how you chose to paint the outside of your home can be a thorny issue. Humans have both a strong desire to conform, and a tendency to rebel, and rules about painting one’s own house will bring up all kinds of issues around ownership, community and social pressure. These are some of the issues being explored in the artwork of Mel Ziegler and his late partner Kate Ericson in their piece Camouflaged History. Made in 1991, Camouflaged History was made in Charleston, South Carolina, one of the first US cities to establish historic preservation laws. The local Board of Architectural Review commissioned a historic color chart for exterior paints for town residents to use during renovations.
Recognising that for some poorer residents this was unachievable, thus excluding them further, Ziegler and Ericson found a house on the edge of the preservation district and agreed with the owner to paint it. The couple commissioned the local military (the town has strong military ties and presence) to design a camouflage using all 72 of the historically-approved colours.
“Kate and I were always looking for the details that were left out and how we could then use those details to make our work,” Mel Ziegler explains of the couple’s work practice. In fact Ziegler had form, having already created a piece called Red House in 1979, for which he had persauded a local homeowner to let him paint his house bright red, strongly flouting the social conventions of the area. As it turned out, however, the local community in Charleston recognised the wit and socially inclusive intent of Camouflaged History, petitioning for the house to be kept in its 72 colours for as long as possible. After complaints from a neighbouring district it was eventually painted back to safe, tasteful white. All that remains are photographs, plans and a mock-up, much of it part of the retrospective at Galerie Perrotin, New York, until 22 August.