Is portraiture an underrated way to get intimate?
It’s easy to fall in love with someone when you have plenty of time to take in all their mannerisms and quirks. This is why, for millennia, the relationships between many an artist and their subjects have extended beyond the stretches of their canvas. Painting—or sculpting, or drawing—someone is an inherently intimate act, so when you’re stuck indoors, it might just be the perfect date night activity.
We’ve long seen how love and art intertwine—recently, in the French film Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a strong bond between two women, Marianne and Héloïse, develops as the former is commissioned to secretly paint the other’s wedding portrait. Over 20 years ago, Kate Winslet sprawled out in Titanic and uttered what would become one of the most iconic movie lines ever: “Paint me like one of your French girls.”
But this phenomenon is certainly not just relegated to the screen—artist couples through history have fueled their passion for their work into each other, and each other into their work, and proved that, hey: Infusing some creativity into your relationship might just be a brilliant idea. Pour the libations of your choice and pick your medium—pencil, watercolors, oil pastels, or even crayons can work—and take turns being the muse, until you both finish your masterpieces. And draw some inspiration from these real-life couples while you’re at it:
Marina Abramović and Ulay For over a decade—the 1970s through the ’80s—these performance artists put on boundary-pushing exhibitions, but it’s their breakup and eventual reunion that stand out above it all. In 1988, they walked over 1500 miles on the Great Wall of China towards each other, met in the middle and said their farewells—until Ulay sat before Abramović at her MoMA retrospective, The Artist Is Present in 2010 in a now-viral clip.
Gala and Salvador Dalí After Gala, a mysterious Russian woman deeply involved in Surrealist circles, met young Salvador Dalí in 1929, both their lives changed forever: Gala quickly became one of the artist’s greatest muses and advocates, as she acted as his business manager. In 1969, he bestowed a very special—and lavish—gift: a castle called Púbol, which is now a museum.
Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence These artists met in Harlem in the 1930s when they both started working on a Works Progress Administration mural project, and they eventually married in 1941. Through the rest of their lives, they supported each other in their painting careers, which often both focused on depictions of African American culture, and even eventually started their own foundation to support artists just getting their start.
Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg Though they may not have been credited for it in their time, this couple is deeply responsible for the development of pop art in mid-century America, both by replicating or incorporating everyday objects into their work, to beg that ever-relevant question: “What really is art?” Their relationship created an ongoing conversation in everything they created—which is what makes viewing it all together feel special, like paging through love letters.