The Trials of 2020 Tested Relationships Worldwide. Here’s How They Strengthened the Bonds of Three Artist Couples
Read part one of our two-part Valentine's Day series.
What happens when two artists spend every day of a year living together, working together, maybe raising children together—and they can hardly leave the house? You might expect tensions to be running high (and you’re not wrong! See: homeschooling), but the past year of quarantine has also proved transformative to a few artist couples.
With Valentine’s Day coming up, we spoke to Shara Hughes and Austin Eddy, Becky Suss and Micah Danges, and Idris Khan and Annie Morris—three romantic partners who also happen to be artists—to find out how the past year has strengthened their relationships. Read on to see who shared newfound pleasures, mixed fire-escape cocktails, and even spent time refurbishing an impulsively acquired rustic cottage in the countryside.
Becky Suss and Micah Danges
Painter Becky Suss and photographer Micah Danges live and work in Fishtown, Philadelphia. For years, they have each been balancing their burgeoning art careers while raising a young son, Sid. The pair shared how their lives transformed this past year, how they balanced childcare with studio time, and why weekends away from the studio became a priority.
In normal times, you’re both based in Philadelphia. Did you stay put or did you wind up leaving the city during the past year?
Both. Because we lost our childcare due to the pandemic we had to juggle a few things and spent much of the year bouncing between our home, our studio (which also in Philadelphia), and Becky’s parent’s house in the suburbs.
What were the upsides of the past year for your family?
The best thing for us was the time we got to spend with each other and our 2-year-old, Sid. When the pandemic hit we were trading days working and taking care of him and trying to still spend weekends together. More recently we both got to see so much more of him and it was amazing. As a family unit, we are definitely stronger, despite the challenges.
As parents of a young child, how did you manage to adjust to the loss of childcare? What were your biggest obstacles?
Finding time to work was our largest obstacle. Before, we had childcare for 40-plus hours a week, so adjusting to that absence was a huge challenge. We are so fortunate that we can both work remotely. Becky already worked alone in the studio we share every day and Micah also works at a university and was able to primarily work out of our studio.
Our challenge was having no childcare. At the beginning of the pandemic, we would always joke that if we didn’t have a kid we would be making so much art because we couldn’t do anything else. Eventually, we decided to basically quarantine all the time so that Becky’s mom could safely watch Sid, so that helped, and Becky ended up painting at her parents’ suburban home to cut down on the daily commute of dropping him off.
Wow, so where was Becky painting in her parents’ house?
She literally turned their living room into her studio and painted a very large painting there this fall and winter. In the end, we’ve figured it out. We both often remind each other that this is temporary and we are very lucky.
What’s one ritual you maintained together to get through the past year?
We made sure that every weekend we always spent one day together as a family, usually outside going on walks or hikes. In the past, we often worked through the entire weekend, trading days with Sid and it was important to us to allow ourselves one day a week to just be together. One downside of working remotely can mean that you just never stop working, that there is no distinction between workspace and home space, we wanted to be sure that we didn’t do that.
Where are you now and what are you working on?
We are still in Philadelphia and Becky is still painting at her parents’ house. We both just wrapped up work for a forthcoming group show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art that we happen to be in together. In the summer, Micah has a solo show at Marginal Utility Gallery here in Philadelphia and Becky is finishing up some commissioned pieces, something she doesn’t normally do but that worked out well this year and will also be included in a group show at The School | Jack Shainman Gallery in Kinderhook, New York, this summer.
What are you hoping for in 2021?
Like everyone else we hope for safer and happier times where we can be with the friends and family that we miss so much. We are also very much looking forward to the positive change that we hope will come with the Biden-Harris administration. And, obviously, we hope to get the vaccine as soon as it’s our turn.
Annie Morris and Idris Khan
In normal times, London-based artist duo Idris Khan and Annie Morris and their two children, Maude and Jago, live in a four-story 1760s Georgian terrace home. But when the home suddenly turned into a school, studio, and office, the family headed out to the country. Over the past year, Morris and Khan found themselves navigating the conundrum of making art while raising school-aged children, and following the ever-changing rhythms of school closings and re-openings.
In normal times, your family lives in London. Where did you spend 2020?
Seems like all over the place! With the announcement of the first lockdown in March we decided to leave London with the kids and head to the English countryside. Luckily in the summer, we got to our studio in France, and then when school started again we went back and forth from London to Petworth in West Sussex.
You have two school-aged children. What hurdles did that present? How did you get through it?
Homeschooling crushed us. Fractions are hard, but at least we learned about [the Celtic queen] Boudicca and the Anglo Saxons. My printer and I now have a very turbulent relationship.We felt so hopeless in lockdown that we spent days searching real-estate websites and bought a tiny dilapidated cottage in need of major renovation in West Sussex. We had Immediate buyer’s remorse, blaming the pandemic, Boris Johnson, and our new dog Pencil (who the first lockdown also pushed us to buy).
Wow! That’s a lot happening. Did you manage to make some work too?
Weirdly it became quite a productive year. Annie made these amazing drawings for an online show at Tim Taylor as well as a new bronze edition, and I had more time to work on new ideas for my show at Victoria Miro.
What’s one ritual you maintained together to get through the year?
Walking to the studio and making spaghetti arrabiata.
Are you back in London now? What are you each working on?
Yes, we are in the studio in London. Annie is working on her first museum presentation at the Yorkshire Sculpture park opening in July and making a massive 5.5-meter bronze as well as a solo show with Tim Taylor, London, in September.
Idris is finishing some new watercolor collage works for a show at Victoria Miro Gallery opening (hopefully) in April called “The Seasons Turn.” inspired by Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. The works use fragments of the violin concerti’s scores as a springboard for his own visual evocation of a calendar year. Forced to slow down during the period of lockdown, the works reflect his own increased awareness of the changing rhythms and colors of the seasons and try to show my emotions amid the turbulence of the past year.
What do you hope for this year?
To be able to have fun, see friends, go to exhibitions, have exhibitions, and for lockdowns to be over!
Shara Hughes and Austin Eddy
For the past few years, Brooklyn-based artists Shara Hughes and Austin Eddy have been feverishly working forward exhibitions, traveling to art fairs, attending openings, and generally working a mile-a-minute. This past year has offered the couple a chance to embrace their daily domestic rituals and reflect more deeply on art’s relationship to living.
Where did you spend 2020?
We spent the majority of the year in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, walking the two blocks between our house and the studio. We also spent a good amount of time taking short trips upstate for a little relief and a change of scenery.
In what ways do you think the experiences of the past year strengthened your relationship?
I think the slower pace of life really allowed us to connect more on a daily basis. The discussions revolved less around where we were going that evening or who we needed to see or a rundown of the calendar. Instead, we allowed the change of pace to focus more on how we were feeling and to talk about future plans. There has been less discussion about art world noise and more about art and life in general.
What were the obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?
Austin Eddy: I think the hardest thing we had to overcome was the sadness and anxiety of it all. It has been quite isolating to not see people you know and be so cut off from your family when you live far from them. I think early on Shara taught me about Brené Brown’s idea of FFT (Fast Fourier transform) and giving yourself a mental break allowing yourself not to have everything figured out. In a way, that common understanding and sharing of the weight of this whole thing was a good start for me to start processing the daily events of 2020.
Shara Hughes: The morning hug is a good reassurance that things in our bubble are going to be ok that day and to just focus on one thing at a time. We have learned to share and depend on each other more lovingly as a unit.
What are the rituals that helped you get through the year?
In the beginning, our ritual was washing everything that entered the house obsessively—one person would handle the contaminated items and wash them and the other was the clean-handed handler. We have since eased up on that. When we were all asked to self-isolate and stay home, it was pretty tough because we are so used to leaving the house every day, either for social reasons or just to go to work.
During that period to help “normalize” we set up drawing studios at the house to work and would “meet” in the evenings for cocktails on the fire escape. We made vintage rum drinks when the weather turned for the better and spent a lot of time outside.
Are you both still in Brooklyn? What are you working on?
Yes, we are currently still in Brooklyn—that is one thing that has not changed. Austin is currently working on finishing up a new group of work for his first show in LA, which will be opening at The Pit around the end of March.
Shara is still anxiously awaiting her first big solo museum show in France, at Le Consortium, to officially open. It has been installed since October 2020, but France has not allowed museums to open yet. She’s also preparing for her next solo show with Eva Presenhuber in Zurich, as well as an upcoming solo show at the Garden Museum in London. Both open in the spring of 2021 (fingers crossed).
What are you hoping for in 2021?
It would be very exciting to be able to go to the bar, sit inside before going to an opening, meet with your friends, and all laugh and cheers together without a mask, or some underlying stress of feeling like “this is the day I get sick.” We also hope that 2021 brings a greater sense of compassion and inclusion. Oh, and we would still love to get those beach bods that have been years in the making.
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