Days go by I'm hypnotized
I'm walking on a wire
I close my eyes and fly out of my mind
Into the fire
Light the sky and hold on tight
The world is burning down
She's out there on her own and she's alright
Sunny came home
Sunny came home
— "Sunny Came Home," Shawn Colvin
Art inspires art, just ask Shawn Colvin, whose brilliant album “A Few Small Repairs” earned her several Grammy Awards in 1998. What started out to be a friendship with artist Julie Speed has now turned into an enduring collaboration of mutual inspiration.
It all started when Colvin visited an art gallery in Austin, Texas, which featured postcards of Speed's works. “I was like, who is this?" Colvin said. "I’m not usually like this, and they said you know she has a studio, and I said do you think I could go over there? It is not difficult to understand why people are drawn to Julie. She is a painting. Complex, fun loving, deadly serious.”
About a year after meeting Speed, Colvin says the making of “A Few Small Repairs” came about through artistic freedom — perhaps the kind that liberates Speed from the confines of the art establishment everyday. It was natural for Colvin to ask Speed to grace the cover of her album with one of her paintings.
“From the writing of the songs to the production, to everything, I just felt independent and in control and not worried about what I was supposed to do and that extended to the artwork," Colvin said. "I realized that Julie’s work said something, I felt it said something about me, I felt it said something about my sensibility, my sense of humor, you know my sense of the world, especially those paintings with the lone woman in the foreground of barren landscapes.”
For Colvin it made sense to choose Speed’s “Setting the World on Fire.”
“It felt so much better to me (the cover) than to have a photograph of myself," Colvin explained. "The coolest thing was after having chosen it, that particular painting, I was in the 11th hour finishing the record. I had to come up with lyrics for one more song. … But the bizarre thing was when I was stuck having to finish, write the lyrics for this one last song that I knew would be catchy, I thought to myself well what better idea than to actually tie this song in with the cover of the record.
“Initially her name was Sally, I don’t know how I got the Sonny part, certain things came and I knew they should stick like ‘the days go by and I am hypnotized,’ okay, that works. It was collaborative, that painting was part of my vision. I didn't have to go entirely inside my own head or my own heart to come up with the story. There was just enough there to take off. That’s why I like her work. ... I feel like I know these people in her paintings.”
Colvin again enlisted Speed to help put together the art for the cover of her last album “Whole New You.” This time, Speed turned to co-conspirator, Australian artist Kate Breakey. A Thanksgiving trip was organized to Breakey’s home and studio at the edge of the Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona.
"There was kind of a row of dead birds on this table top and they all had little tags on their feet, ” Colvin said.
Various bird carcasses were pulled from the freezer to setup a background for Colvin’s portrait to be taken. Breakey is well known for her hand-colored photographs of dead things; birds, plants, insects, which she brings back to life in with her artistry. Breakey ultimately took a portrait of Colvin and then treated it with her signature coloration. Portraiture is what these women, Speed and Breakey do best.