Creative Relationships are, like, totally ‘a thing’

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery has announced The Long Look (25 May – 27 October) – an exhibition of work resulting from the collaboration between painter Audrey Grant and photographer and printmaker Norman McBeath. Billed as a show that reveals a unique creative exchange between the two artists who go beyond convention, its backstory relates to McBeath being asked by Grant to sit for a charcoal portrait (and photograph Grant’s drawings at the end of each sitting). McBeath agreed but the process widened. Grant’s hands, the sitter’s chair, the charcoal, all became his subjects (just as he was Grant’s). McBeath’s photographs will be on display alongside Grant’s portraits in what is claimed to be a ‘fascinating and revelatory exhibition’.

Norman McBeath ,  Audrey’s Hands  (detail), 2017, (Scottish NPG, © McBeath & Grant).

Norman McBeath, Audrey’s Hands (detail), 2017, (Scottish NPG, © McBeath & Grant).

Last year’s Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde, at London’s Barbican Art Gallery, put creative couples back on the art historical map. Focussing on intimate relationships, from the obsessional, conventional, mythic, platonic, fleeting, and life-long, it also revealed the way in which creative couples work together, often transgressing the constraints of their time. The exhibition also challenged the idea that the history of art is a singular line of solitary male geniuses. Among those featured were: Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Gustav Klimt and Emilie Flöge, Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel, Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West, and Sonia and Robert Delaunay.

Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde , Barbican Art Gallery, with Diego Rivera’s  Les vases communicants , 1938, left, and Frida Kahlo’s,  Little Deer , 1946, right. © John Phillips, Getty Images.

Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde, Barbican Art Gallery, with Diego Rivera’s Les vases communicants, 1938, left, and Frida Kahlo’s, Little Deer, 1946, right. © John Phillips, Getty Images.

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Publisher Thames & Hudson, meanwhile, reissued Whitney Chadwick and Isabel De Courtivron’s multi-biographical study titled Significant Others, which investigates the nature of artistic companionship, identity, and social stereotypes; a book that explores the creative talent and personal context of artists often considered as independent. Combining biography with evaluation of each partner’s work, it redefines conventional presumptions about eighteen artists whose literary and artistic renown has been compounded by the fame or notoriety of their relationships.

While some ‘big names’ may well have featured in the history of twentieth century art due to their collaborative work, they are by no means alone. Creative couplings are not uncommon still, and they take many forms. In the Scottish Highlands, the names Pamela and Erlend Tait spring to mind in this regard. While mutual support for another’s creative endeavours is one thing in a relationship, working on the same piece of work is quite another. As The Herald’s arts writer Jan Patience has previously commented of the Taits’ joint endeavours, “it is rare to find a husband and wife team collaborating effectively when it comes to making art but Pamela and Erlend Tait have always bucked that particular trend.” When ART NORTH contacted the artists about the process of their collaboration, they commented, “we both trust each other implicitly, and have a mutual respect for each other’s skills and ideas, so it’s exciting to see what happens next when we hand work back and forth, maybe five or six times.”

Erlend & Pamela Tait ,  Refractor , Oil, etched copper plate, intaglio ink, escutcheon pins on linen panel, 2019.

Erlend & Pamela Tait, Refractor, Oil, etched copper plate, intaglio ink, escutcheon pins on linen panel, 2019.

“It’s not about who painted what, as we both work up layer upon layer,” the artists continued, “It really is about working together until we are both happy with the final results.” As a word of warning, though, they also stress the wise workflow arrangement, and some would say, ‘relationship savvy’ collaborateur-collaboratrice dictum about which they are ever-mindful: “When we have a clear idea from the start about how a piece should look, then we don’t collaborate.” More than a few avant-garde greats who remain known for their turbulent relationships may have found some benefit in observing that rule, for sure.

Pamela & Erlend Tait’s latest collaborations will be on show at The Meffan Museum & Art Gallery, Forfar, May 2019.

The Long Look (a collaboration between the painter Audrey Grant and the photographer and printmaker Norman McBeath) is on show at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 25 May 2019 - 27 Oct 2019