• 1 of 2: Photography by Julia Lynn. Courtesy of the photographer.

  • 2 of 2: Detail of A Suite of Fragrances for Stephen #4 (Guerlain Jicky) by Carl Palazzolo. The artwork is reprinted in full color on p.206.

On Stephen Mueller

Carl Palazzolo

From the Art Lies Feature: Prepositional Art

The Weekend I met Stephen Mueller in July of 1967 in Boston, he was traveling with a bottle of Guerlain fragrance. I can't be certain whether it was Jicky or Après L'ondée—he used both, and either would have been unexpected for an art student in the mid-sixties. On my desk sat a bottle of Canoe, a masculine scent readily available in most department stores of the period. Stephen picked it up, opened the cap and brought it to his nostrils at the same moment. He inhaled, replaced the cap, and set it on the desk without saying a word. Had we known each other better, Stephen would have told me in no uncertain terms what he thought.

Years later, on our annual trips to the Spoleto Festival in Charlestown, SC, we'd spend the afternoon visiting the fragrance shops that dotted King Street. "Check this out," he'd say, or "look at the price" (which rarely stopped Stephen if the fragrance was "sublime"), and my favorite, "this smells like horse piss." Of course, when Stephen was commenting, none of this was sotto voce. More than once I was amused to witness the horrified look on the shopkeeper's face.

In a shop late in the afternoon after we'd been whiffing our way across town, I came across a fragrance that clearly had "gone bad." It was simply fetid. I don't know if any of the original top notes were discernible and I actually recoiled while smelling it. I called Stephen over and without giving away the game asked him to check it out. With a distracted air he took a breath while looking at something else and immediately snapped his eyes to the label and then at me, then started laughing loudly and uncontrollably. He took a second smell and continued his now infectious laughter until we both had tears in our eyes (it could have been the "fragrance"). We wondered what had gone wrong and what it was supposed to have originally been. It truly smelled fecal and sharply acid. Walking back home he stopped and considered whether he should go back and buy it. When I asked why, he said he'd never smelled anything like it that in a bottle before. And that, I guess, is one definition of a "scent freak."

On the "sublime" side were fragrances Stephen introduced me to that I continue to use. In the darkest corner of my studio, I have an enormous bottle of Caron's Bain de Champagne, as well as the last precious remnants of Caron's Tabac Blonde in its original formula and bottle—both gifts from Stephen. He knew what I'd like and what, according to him, "suited" me. Woodsy, cedar, fern, green, iris root; these were all notes in many of the fragrances to which he introduced me. 

I had my bottle of Tabac Blonde on a table near my easel one morning and started sketching. It became a painting and then part of a series of paintings of scents that reminded me of Stephen and our shared life of art and fragrance. Nearly inseparable to me.