On Being an Art Couple

‘Our experiments were fast and furious’, Ben Nicholson (1920s)

What does it mean to be an art couple? A lot: lots of discussion, lots of art, lots of double forms arising from the fact of being both oneself and a double act/art. We had worked for many years independently on a range of projects and collaborations, when we decided to explore our shared disciplines and passions. We found an ever-increasing set of overlaps and intersections as our ways of working began to unfold to one another. Our work became a dialogue, an ongoing conversation, making our art not only self-reflexive, but also collective-reflexive. This opened up new sensitivities and frustrations as we started to develop forms that were new to both of us. 

A Couple of Boulders, Dubmill Point. Simon
A Couple of Boulders, Dubmill Point. Simon

In October last year (2018) we visited Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde, at the Barbicanwhere we saw a picture of Ben and Winifred Nicholson lying side by side on a moor in Westmoreland. The idea of a moor in WestMOREland resonated with our excursions up on Ilkley Moor in homage to Henry Moore coinciding with an exhibition of some of his work at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds. The way the couple lay there was poignant and intriguing. They weren’t as sexy and outrageous as some of the couples, but there was something about them that resonated with us. Companions in art. Ben was into form and often did monochromes, while Winifred was a colourist; they often did the same subjects from their individual perspectives which intrigued us. Their spirits hung around for quite some time and we developed a deep affinity for them: for us, the quintessential ‘art couple’.

A couple of Stones, Castlerigg. Ursula
A Couple of Stones, Castlerigg. Ursula

There’s a ‘we’ in our art, but that ‘we’ formulates and reformulates itself like the movement of the waves in the Solway Firth, and our individual contributions to our ‘we’ is like two waves in one overall flow. There are things to negotiate: where we walk and when we stop: time and space particularities. There is also the issue of how to communicate to the other while sound recording, or performing an intervention. Deciding when to go along with, add to, ignore or interrupt a process one or the other is engaged in, becomes intuitive—often unspoken manoeuvres.

We realise that not only do we need dialogue around all this, but also that our artworks in themselves become a dialogue between us. We communicate with each other, and then with and through our artworks, like a kind of semaphore. Finally, there is the issue of how our artworks amount to fully fledged assemblages in the end, or in the middle…

Arriving at our overall project—working title Meeting of the Waves—was organic: we were both fascinated by the ups and downs of waves and had combined our interests in a recent collaborative paper, ‘Reflections on repetition and contingency on the edge of the nuclear power industry’, presented at Wavescapes in the Anthropocene in Split, Croatia (December, 2018). Shortly after the conference we moved in together—from Leeds and London—to Maryport in northwest Cumbria. Coincidentally, Maryport turned out to be a perfect mid-point between two respective projects on either side of the Solway we had worked on separately previously. Border, line and sea: an often overlooked natural focal point between Scotland and England, on the Irish Sea!

In this blog we will tell you about excursions, adventures and interventions on the Solway, and beyond.

2 thoughts on “On Being an Art Couple

  1. The idea of there being an Art Couple is interesting in the sense that your art is also a growing dialogue between you both.
    In most cases artists seem to produce Art Single works, although they may have a muse, a benefactor, and support of families and friends, and Art Purchasers.
    From your description, your work is more than simply two artists sharing a life whilst each produces their individual works.
    So an Art Couple seems kind of revolutionary, or perhaps evolutionary.
    But perhaps there are loads of Art Couples out there already..
    Or perhaps where any two people create something together, they are an Art Couple without knowing it.

    1. Hi David, many thanks for your insightful thought-provoking comments. We agree with you about the revolutionary power of couple artwork. Yes, there are many art couples out there such as Gilbert & George, Marina Abramović & Ulay et al, but we believe potentialities are always evolving and we are excited about where this work leads us. Your work sounds interesting too… do you have a website/blog?

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