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Art + Love

Joseph and Sarah Belknap. You and me and me and you, 2011. Mixed Media. (Photo Courtesy of Sarah and Joseph Belknap)

Though the image of the lone artist toiling away in their studio is widespread, there are of course artists who work in pairs. Whether that means inspiring each other, sharing knowledge, or collaborating on projects, artist couples prove that two heads are better than one. For Valentine’s Day, we spoke with three of them,  curious to learn how their relationships influences their practice.

Sarah and Joseph Belknap

Sarah Belknap: Before we started making work together, we made some pretty horrendous and/or amazing art. With our two forces combined, roadkill collecting was halted, work stopped being quite so serious, and I started making art again.

Joseph’s undergraduate work was disturbing. He went to a small Christian Liberal Arts college in Ohio and pretty much lost it. His final show consisted of collected roadkill twisted in iconic religious poses. The little dead animals were not made into taxidermy, but rather were coated in epoxy resin causing them to turn into mush inside of a thin plastic shell.

Within the first month of meeting, Joseph covered me head to toe in plaster and shot a video of me breaking it off my body. He was 24 at the time and not the seasoned mold maker he is now. He thought that if we re-hydrated the plaster, it would come out of my hair. It didn’t. Instead we sat for six hours with pliers and cracked the plaster out of my hair piece by piece. I had white bits of it in my scalp for weeks.

My undergraduate work was all about death and illness. My father was very sick at the time. and I had had lung surgery when I was 19. I became obsessed with making work surrounding my illness and my dad’s illness. I bought taxidermy mannequins and needle felted the animal forms with tumors coming out of them, had Joseph’s brother make molds out of dead fish so I could pour gutted plastic replicas and fill their insides with latex. I carried a bag of tripe from New York’s Chinatown on the bus home to Philly because I just had to make something with a honeycombed cow stomach.

And then I graduated and we moved back to Chicago and Joseph started school and shortly after that my father died. I realized I had been making work for three years about coping with my father’s passing and that once he had, I didn’t know how to make art anymore.

Joseph encouraged me to apply to graduate school because we were worried that I would stop making work. He was having a rough time like everyone does their first year of graduate school so we made a pact that if I was accepted, we would work for one year together and see what happened.

So we got married in August of 2008 and started our year of collaboration together. It changed everything for us. Our practice now is an amalgamation of both of our ridiculous ideas. Currently we are combining glaciers with playground equipment and making a series of strap on satellite dishes. We are having fun.

Rory Coyne and Lauren Levato

RoryCoyne_Studio  001Rory Coyne and Lauren Levato : A mutual friend introduced us at one of Rory’s open studio parties, and we chatted briefly. Three days later we had an unexpected and overwhelming first date, and even though both of us were on the “I’m not looking for anything…blah, blah” path, we were both goners.  The past seven months that we’ve been together is evidence of that: we’ve taken a two week art based road trip with our dog Nuada in tow, moved in together, and on New Year’s Eve got engaged.

In our artistic practices we work very well together.  We understand each other’s studio time, whereas sometimes being with a non-artist or even an artist of a different stripe can cause rifts in relationship communication.  We push each other to get to the studio too, often putting the other’s studio time before relationship time.  Sometimes we combine the two by sharing studio days.  We have a lot of similarities in our practices but also have our own idiosyncratic ways of working and we respect the differences in our approaches.  So it’s like we speak the same language but have different dialects – that also aids in the understanding and the cooperation between us.

For instance, Rory’s doing a lot of support stuff now (you know, making sure we are fed and things get cleaned) as Lauren prepares for her solo show in June. Then we’ll switch when he’s finalizing his solo in September; we also scheduled the shows opposite one another for that reason, so we can help the other one.  We share and talk ideas all the time, working out compositions and concepts together. Because we have many of the same influences and concerns, we have talked about some two person thematic museum shows, but we put them off as we are both pretty busy in our individual studios at the moment.  However, our biggest planned collaboration at the moment is our upcoming wedding — and not for the color scheme.  We are actually planning an exhibition around the nuptials, planned for July 2013.

Krista Franklin and Stephen Flemister

Krista Franklin: Being in a relationship with a fellow visual artist has helped me to grow creatively. To be clear, it’s not always an easy process, but I have learned a great deal from Stephen. While my creative practice and process are mostly intuitive and experiential, his is much more practical and systematic. I’m learning (albeit with a touch of resistance) how to be more organized about my art production as well as picking up some technical skills that I never learned as a self-taught artist. I have a great deal of respect for Stephen’s vision and artistic skill. I marvel at the way he’s fearless about his production of work, and how he turns an idea that I might think is crazy into a brilliant art object. He keeps me on my artistic toes.

There are also a lot of conversations that go on with us around art and art making, ideas, concepts, so-called trends in the art world that fascinate us or perplex us or piss us off. Some of these conversations aren’t so friendly or loving, but we survive them, continue to love and respect each other, and I believe that both of us grow in the process of those dialogues. At the risk of sounding corny or cliché, I believe that we inspire each other to stay motivated around cultivating a creative life both individually and as a couple.

Stephen is also at the forefront of helping me install shows. I despise installing work, and he has a great deal of experience in that field. I get very difficult around installations and he walks me through it and does a lot of that work for me right now. My goal is to learn from him in order to be able to be more independent in that process, but we’ll see how that goes.

It’s hard for me to imagine how my creative practice would have been different if we hadn’t met. It could have gone a lot of different directions. I’m not sure if I would be pursuing my graduate studies at Columbia College’s Center for Book & Paper Arts right now if I hadn’t met Stephen. He created an environment for me that enabled me to be able to do that without a lot of anxiety and stress. I would most certainly still be producing work, but I’m not sure if that work would be as diverse or large in scale as it is now. I would probably still be making collages on my bed and sleeping with books and scraps of paper. My art may not be as expansive as it is now if we hadn’t been introduced. I’ve been able to be more artistically adventurous being in a relationship with Stephen.

Stephen Flemister: Krista has her own spin, upbringing, and style on her production of work, and of course, I’ve grown with mine. I love her work and when we began speaking about each other’s processes and development of work, I remember it getting pretty personal. I remember a few nights where we were in each other’s faces and neither of us were taking punches. I love her for that. Not that I like conflict, but I love to learn ideas other than mine. Also, it’s kind of difficult to drive on an empty tank to treat yourself to a good lecture, and on the ride home be elated during the discussion of what transpired, at the same time, loving one another and the shared experience.

There are approaches that I witness with Krista that I love and have not quite found yet in my own process, and there are things that appear to be mostly native with me that I wish to share with Krista as her closest supporter. All in all, I find that we choose what we wish at the moments we find a use for them.

Personally, I think I’d have continued [my practice] as an introvert (not to say that’s my preference) [if I hadn’t met Krista]. The impact of literature on the arts may not have been as much of an interest without her. I mean, I’ve always read, and I’m well aware of the progression from writers, but I’ve had so much admiration for the visual arts that most of my conversations consisted of more “medium” verses “imagination” or “narrative.”

Interviews conducted with the Belknaps, Coyne and Levato, and Franklin and Flemister by Nikki Caldwell, Jenny Lam, and Tempestt Hazel, respectively.

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1 Response to " Art + Love "

  1. Just wanted to add my relationship to these pairings – Arthur Wright and Candace Hunter. He? one of the damn best painters I’ve ever known, me? collagist/activist. Our best collective work? Raising a wonderful 11 year old conceptual artist!

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