Photos and texts: © John Sevigny

  • Happyland, my fourth major project, has something to do with darkness; something to do with color and light; something to do with poverty; something to do with survival; something to do with hope and something to do with doom. These 15 photographs, part of a group of almost three times as many photos, were taken in Guatemala, San Salvador and Nicaragua during the first half of 2012. They reflect the small, and sometimes not so small decorative measures we take, particularly in difficult places, to make our lives less tragic. But it is only a painting of the surface. Rippling beneath these bold colors is the bad smell of poverty, addiction, starvation, and desperation that haunt and curse the people who live and work where they were taken, primarily brothels and bars in three countries that have not yet recovered from an era of brutal genocides, revolutions and wars of oppression.
  • In terms of style and influence, I drew upon the French Nabi painters, the Fauvres, and my own sense of tropical color, formed growing up in South Florida, a region of green lizards, brown-black avocado trees, pink sunsets and daytime storms as dark as nights with no moon. I find it beautifully decadent, corrosively colorful and containing a contrast of hope and hoplessness that describes the contradictions of the human condition and the world in which we live.
  • The title of the project was taken from a reference to a real Panamanian brothel in Roque Dalton's classic piece, "Poem of Love". It is not meant to be ironic, but rather, as a direct reference to our attempts to paint up the tragic with colors of joy.