On Artistic Collaborations and Friendship


15 March 2011

From Jenni Quilter‘s essay in the exhibition catalogue for “Tibor de Nagy Gallery Painters and Poets,” which closed earlier this month:

“[The publisher] didn’t just find some painter and some poet who would work together.  She asked two men who really knew each other’s work and life backwards, which means to include all the absurdity and civilization a lively mind sees in friendship and art.”

Larry Rivers on “Stones,” a collaboration (12 lithographs) between Rivers and Frank O’Hara

I’m intrigued by these examples of collaboration; there is a feeling of a different time, when artists mingled more freely, perhaps more deeply, and collaborations sprung from these intimacies.

“…the accumulation of time spent with a friend – the discussions about art, parties, movies visited, theater productions, visits to the opera, beaches swum at, vacations gone on, heartbreaks listened to, ecstasies encouraged, bitchiness and generosity, slow fades and sudden infatuations – these experiences might be the shared ground from which an imagined world could be created.”

Drawing to James Schuyler‘s poem “Sunday”

I’ve been thinking lately about the comeback of the stable nuclear family to the lives of artists.  The artists and writers I know are all very committed to their families – to material and emotional stability.  I am no exception.  This can only be a good thing.  Except, I wonder, maybe, for art, the creation of which is always on some level at odds with life.  Stability requires schedules, boundaries, a certain measure of containment.

“Friendships are amorphous creatures, prone to sprouting new limbs and self-amputating others, easily misidentified and disconcerting in the sudden strength and satiations of appetite.  Their development is messy, and it’s this fluidity that allows projects to be easily proposed.”

Pyrography: Poem and Portrait of John Ashbery II

The back-to-family zeitgeist  has perhaps improved upon the messiness of artistic lives from a previous generation.  For example, I’ve been reading Javier Marias‘s Written Lives, which (according to the back cover) chronicles “the fairly disastrous” stories of twenty great world authors – Faulkner, Joyce, Turgenev, Malcolm Lowry, Rimbaud, Oscar Wilde, etc alia.  Disastrous, indeed. And yet, I wonder if in gaining health and stability, we aren’t losing some fluidity.

In Bed

In the end, we do and make and live as we can, as best we can.  Rivers, O’Hara, Ashbery, Mitchell, Grace Hartigan, Koch, Schuyler, Fairfield Porter, Jane Freilicher – these artists collaborated because they could, because the energy and chemistry was there, because they wanted to work, because why not, what did they have to lose.  You just can’t force that kind of thing.


2 Responses to “On Artistic Collaborations and Friendship”

  1. Miriam Sagan Says:

    Thank you–I’m fascinated by collaboration–what it really means–more than the sum of parts.

  2. What wonderful examples of collaborations. Thank you!

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