Saturday, April 11, 2015

"Marriage is a Work of Art"

So what does the average person think of when they think of a married artist? Most of us think of stormy rivalries, deceptions, jealousy, a la Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Or we think of one of the artists (usually the wife) putting away her brushes to raise the kids and do the taxes, so selfless, while her partner works tirelessly on his craft.

I know that when I was in art school back in the olden days, I was terribly allergic to the concept of dating, much less marrying, another artist. I was self-aware enough to know my competitiveness would ultimately thwart the relationship, plus, if you've gone to a classic art school (especially 20+ years back), the odds of getting hooked up with a self-absorbed prig was pretty high. No, a regular Joe was the only option for me, and I did in fact marry 20 years ago to, of all people, a boy from my high school crowd I bumped into while in college and reacquainted myself with. None of my artsy couple friends lasted more than a year or so, much less married.

So, can love and art survive together in wedded bliss? And if so, how?

I've met some lovely couples in the art world, and it apparently seemed that marriage can work, and in many ways, bolster the creative works of both people in the marriage. In talking with many of these couples, it occurred to me that this would make a really interesting exhibit. I invited seven couples and gave each of them free reign to use a wall space however they choose.

A few of these couples are barely out of newlywed status, such as Mark and Sara (nee Betsy) Winters and Justin and Annie Stegg Gerard. A few of them span decades, such as Norman and Tory Taber and Brian and Wendy Froud. But no matter how new or established the relationship, it's abundantly clear that something was worked out between them, and the result is very special.

Take Greg Spalenka and Roxana Villa, for example. This couple married later in life and although Roxana has an art background and can hold her own with illustration, she became enamored of the world of scents and perfume. Sensitive to chemicals, she strove to create all natural, unusual scents first for herself, then to sell as Illuminated Perfumes. Greg and Roxana worked together on her product, with him creating art for her packaging and marketing endeavors. The result is sensuous and reflective of her vision (and his as well). These two enjoy working together despite having very different directions in work (he is a graphic artist and workshop instructor with his Artist as Brand).
 #5 Bois, Banner image for Roxana Illuminated Perfumes, Greg Spalenka
 Vinod Rams and Emily Fiegenschuh tend to work differently on a daily basis, with him working in the video game business and Emily working from home on illustration projects. They met and bonded over drawing, and it's clear that this lively couple enjoy each others company. Although they seem to think their work is totally different, it's pretty easy to see they influence each other heavily in their work. Both enjoy working in gouache (which is a type of opaque watercolor) and one can guess these two probably sit up late at night together eating Emily's delicious brownies (she bakes) and chatting and laughing while painting away at their respective drafting tables.
Children of the Forest, gouache, Emily Fiegenschuh
The Green Man, gouache, Vinod Rams
Norman and Tory Taber have been working together on children's books for ages (see Rufus at Work), and both know how to collaborate together without killing each other. Norm works as an art instructor at SUNY Plattsburgh, and Tory works from home on her illustrations while raising their two daughters. Both of them work in separate studios, and Norm has been developing his assemblage work of found architectural objects as well as antiquated and quirky photography. Tory has stuck to the tradition of illustration, creating art for ballet and theater posters among other things. Despite having very different styles and modes of working, there is a very clear connection between the two, especially in the love of nature, the fairy realms and their children (which feature regularly in both their work).
Are You Still Cold?, Acrylic and gouache, Tory Taber
Cut the Clouds Full, Assemblage, Norman Taber
Omar and Sheila Rayyan have been together a very long time and have worked side by side supporting each other over the years. She's done the "regular job" thing (often artists have to have at least one of the two work a job to make ends meet while they work on their careers) while he's toiled away at his illustrations, creating an impressive body of work in the last few years. Sheila hasn't been too far behind, working in pencil illustrations but also creating lovely stoneware and pyrography pieces (a burning technique to create designs on wood) through her Mother Spoon Studio. They have very different styles of working, but both share a sense of humor in their work and relationship that no doubt keeps the creative fires burning.
Princess' New Pony, Oil, Omar Rayyan
Sun, Stoneware, Sheila Rayyan
Mark and Sara Winters are very recently married, but with Sara's old soul (she's 25 years old) and their clear respect for each other, it's like they've been together much much longer. When they work together at home, they often critique each other's work ("brutally honest" is how Sara puts it) and help each other stick to their deadlines, as both work in the game industry as illustrators. This is a very competitive industry and it's easy to get hung up on how many contracts one pulls in versus the other, but these two can hold their own and more importantly, they see the bigger picture.
Medusa, canvas print of oil painting, Mark Winters
Serra, Digital painting with gold leaf on canvas, Sara Winters
Justin Gerard and Annie Stegg Gerard are another newlywed couple, and easily the darlings in the imaginative realism circuit. Funny, bubbly, attractive and incredibly friendly, it's hard to not like this current Power Couple, as they both have been burning up the publication industry as of late, winning awards and accolades all over the continental US. But they keep it real: Annie just wants to raise chickens in the backyard of their Georgia home, and both love painting together. Iconic and mythic imagery arises from their brushes and pencils: Justin's work has a strong nod to classic illustration, while Annie is clearly following the path of the PreRaphaelite. I have a feeling this relationship has a long, successful road: they simply adore each other.
Limnaee of the Lake, Oil, Annie Stegg Gerard
The Last of His Kind, Oil, Justin Gerard
And finally, we have Brian and Wendy Froud, married 35 years and counting. They met while "The Dark Crystal" was in production (she worked for Jim Henson, he was the concept designer for the movie). Both collaborated for "Labyrinth" (including using their own baby Toby for "baby Toby" in the movie) and she's popped up as his fairy model from time to time over the years. While they both have very clear, defined styles (she's stayed true to her sculptural roots, and he continues to draw and paint the fairy world) they have collaborated together many times, producing several books together. Brian has his head in the clouds and Wendy has her feet planted in the ground, making for a balance that has fueled their relationship all these years.
Kneeling Faery, Watercolor, pencil, color pencil, Brian Froud
Faery Woman, Mixed media polymer clay, Wendy Froud
So okay, you can have it all: a career in the arts and a partner to share it with who understands your passion and drive without it blowing up all over the place. Things don't need to smash, mad screaming doesn't need to occur, and nobody needs to be left behind in the dust. Kids can be raised successfully, families are fed and shod, and you can even have egg laying chickens (if your husband agrees to it). These couples prove that marriage really is a work of art and love can mold and enhance each person to reach his or her greatest potential. I'm definitely sold, and I think anyone visiting this exhibit will surely agree.

"Marriage is a Work of Art" will open April 11th and runs through May 2nd. Online catalog goes live April 12th.

~Julie Baroh, April 2015

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