Artist Couples

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Lovers who live and work together - that is common in New York City where many people meet through work. Such relationships have unique bonds as well as conflicts. With artists who live and work in the same space and who create side by side on the same projects, the joys and stresses are magnified. On the eve of Valentine's Day - Judith Kampfner looks at two such couples who blur the line between personal and professional.

Peter: One night Lisa read to me about Adam and Eve from Milton's Paradise Lost when we went to bed.

Kampfner: There's no dream or thought which isn't considered potential for an artwork for Peter and Lisa Cunningham. And there's never a time when they are together when it's off limits to talk about work.

Kampfner: He's a photographer and she's a singer and composer. They work on thirty-minute shows made up of around 400 images set to music. They call what they produce still film .

Lisa: I was interested in the psychological underpinnings
Peter: I was interested that they dropped to our earth from Paradise

Kampfner: So that meeting in the bedroom resulted in research for a new show - they have a large archive or images from travels

Kampfner: This afternoon they are having a meeting about how to change the music part way through a series of images of fences, which are projected onto three walls

Kampfner: Peter's themes are usually political. Lisa's music provides the emotional support

Tape Lisa
In one section you should sprinkle the Auschwitz fences. In with the others - there is too much holocaust. Peter: can you come up with a way to keep that melody The Truth goes Marching On but can you deconstruct it?

Kampfner: The problem is resolved and Lisa pushes back a rolling mobile wall that divides their apartment. It creates a dark room for Peter. Lisa puts on her headphones at the computer at the window next to the stove. You try to avoid fights in this tight space.

Lisa: When you fight over work it's a bottomless pit - I have to go through his space to get to the door.

Kampfner: The work on the still films is a subtle collaboration. Peter takes the lead since
he acts as director. But his ideas often come from Lisa's music.
These songs from an album she made fifteen years got his attention

Peter: I fell in love with Lisa first as a singer, she was assigned by Warner Bros to have her publicity pictures taken by me. When I work with her music I can feel who she is

Kampfner: She didn't have much respect for the art of photography at first. She's a fan now but tough.

Peter: When she criticizes the work I do I get very hurt. I still haven't got over something she said nine years ago

Kampfner: But they go on making their films, he takes snapshots of anything and everything in the apartment. They drag bedding and sleep in different corners of the space if they get creatively stuck, they jog around and do creative dancing. Is this romantic garret life?

Lisa: We have no heat, we have mice, we have moths. But it doesn't suck

Kampfner: Peter and Lisa Cunninghams are in the west village. Tim and Frantiska Gilman in Red Hook who are younger - have also been living and working together for over a decade. All four say that working with a spouse has pushed their art to a new level. But where the Cunninghams are extra cautious about establishing a working atmosphere of graciousness, the Gilmans thrive on constant confrontation.

Tim: I would say Frantiska I have this idea' and she'd say that's stupid why don't you do it this way'.

Kampfner: Tim says he comes from a repressed New England family and Frantiska who is Czech and has artist parents taught him not let anything go unsaid. Their work is about creative tension and ambiguity and differences. They make installations, (this music- two voices playing off echoes- will be part of a new one,) they often feature the idea of pairs and doubling.

Frantiska: Tim is obsessed by coupling.

Kampfner: They also paint large canvases and do sculptures

Tim: We motivate each other to work hard. This is a 7' by 5' painting that we would start on Saturday morning and work through to Monday without sleeping or stopping - trying to break both our inclinations to fix imperfections.

Kampfner: they work on a painting at the same time. Two chairs place on different sides of the canvas - music playing - and it's hard to find music they both like. This tape is a working favorite because it illustrates a simplicity and directness they are trying to achieve.

Tim: I'll just get the wrapping off - it's called Us - my hand holding her face

Kampfner: They map out the color before they start and premix the paint. There's a photographic clarity to this painting of Frantiska's head. It has a vivid purple background. Her skin is greeny olive and Tim's hand is pale with sharp blue veins.

Judith: Your wedding ring mirrors the hoop in her ear.

Tim: That's accidental but it's a nice formal element

Kampfner: This is romantic picture. Well her look is ambiguous it could look as if she confronts the person who is grabbing her face - there's an undertone of violence.

Kampfner: If I hadn't met the couple - this picture could appear menacing - there is ambiguity. But there is a total unity of style. You cannot tell who painted what. Their aim is to achieve neutrality combines their styles and personalities. The sum of their work is larger than the two individuals

Tim: One thing we say quite a bit is that's almost removed from our own identity - it's a third persona that's us together.

Frantiska: I think that's equalizing it - we talk about it as if we are creating another person and it's not my work or Tim's - it's like somebody else.

Kampfner: Their work is maturing and they have achieved equal success in Europe and American. Frantiska taught Tim Czech, he taught her English but when it comes to art, they learn together.

Frantiska: You have the possibility of the most intimate and creative time together.

For WNYC - I'm Judith Kampfner