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Color Shock: Sandy Skoglund


By Jill Pilaroscia

Sandy Skoglund is a conceptual artist and photographer based in New Jersey. She began creating life-size installations in the early 1970s. By the late 1970s, she became interested in photographically documenting her conceptual ideas.

Color plays a large role in Skoglund’s work. The artist employs contrasting hues within monochromatic scenes to engage the brain's visual process using color psychology and associations to manipulate the viewer's experience.

Germs are Everywhere, 1984
Images courtesy Jill Pilaroscia

Germs are Everywhere © 1984.

She works meticulously on large-scale installations, crafting every detail by hand with a team of assistants. A single piece can often take several months to complete. The resulting surrealistic scenes, dominated by strong color, are sometimes playful, sometimes haunting.

Art critic Marge Goldwater states Skoglund can “transform the mundane into the mysterious."

“Skoglund juxtaposes unlikely images to create tension and the impression of a world gone seriously wrong,” notes an article on Most of her pieces feature an altered landscape or artificial environment where nature and human culture are twisted or exaggerated. They seem designed specifically to make the viewer uncomfortable.

Raining Popcorn

Raining Popcorn © 2001

“Color vibration is always exciting to me,” Skoglund shared with Colour Studio via email. “The adjacent edges of contrasting cool and warm being my favorite strategy. I use this method in order to enhance the visual excitement within the images.” 

She says, “I call my work with color ‘color shock.’”

Radioactive Cats

Radioactive Cats © 1980

Two of her most renowned and evocative works, Radioactive Cats and Revenge of the Goldfish, appeared at the Whitney Biennial Exhibition in 1981. Radioactive Cats features green painted clay cats running amok in a grey kitchen. It is a scene she sculpted over a period of months and subsequently photographed. When asked about her color choice, Skoglund says, “I arrived at the green because the cats have turned radioactive and green would be one of the colors that you might think would reference nuclear properties.” 

In Revenge of the Goldfish, the artist imagined the bedroom as a “watery” place and chose a blue-green aqua that she says “feels like water and sky at the same time.” 

Revenge of the Goldfish

Revenge of the Goldfish © 1981

“The vibration of orange against blue makes the orange more vivid and the blue more vivid than if they were by themselves,” she notes. “I wanted the vibrancy that comes from opposing colors banging up against each other.”

For Skoglund's work entitled Fox Games, she says, “I wanted a true red, and the selection of grey had to do with a grey that would vibrate with the red. I always spend a lot of time on the color, getting the exact value, hue and intensity.”

Fox Games

Fox Games © 1989

In Cocktail Party, the artist used a method she calls “color flooding.” The scene is made up of bright orange cheese doodles, producing an almost neon effect merely through repetition. “Some color is naturally unnatural,” she points out. 

The Cocktail Party

Cocktail Party © 1992

“I did not enhance the bright yellow orange of the entire piece—I simply copied the garish color that was already part of the identity of the subject matter.”  

Whether she is evoking danger, disaster or uncertainty, Skoglund relies on color to surprise, unsettle and trigger emotion.


Jill Pilaroscia

“Life in Color” is co-authored by architectural color consultant Jill Pilaroscia (pictured), BFA, and creative writer Allison Serrell. Pilaroscia’s firm, Colour Studio Inc., is based in San Francisco. A fully accredited member of the International Association of Color Consultants, Pilaroscia writes and lectures widely on the art and science of color.



Tagged categories: Color; Color + Design; Colour Studio Inc.; Consultants; Designers; Aesthetics; Artists; Color selection; Color trends; Design; Interior design

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