Friends in Art and Beyond - 10 Unexpected Artist Friendships
Like everyone else, I have need of relationships of friendship or affection or trusting companionship, and am not like a street pump or lamp-post, whether of stone or iron…
Art history’s black sheep Vincent van Gogh wrote this in a letter to his brother Theo in August of 1879. Not an easy person to know and be around, the leading Post-Impressionist painter sought friends for the majority of his life, finding very little success.
It’s fascinating how the realization that artists are just normal individuals can totally shatter the fourth wall between us and artworks. Like most ordinary people, our favorite artists sought out companionship and, today, we will be taking a look at the particular cases where unexpected prominent artists found friends in each other.
These surprising friendships were, in most cases, turbulent roller-coasters of attraction and rejection.
Likely united by a common desire to create, the friendships between artists heavily affected their works and influenced their styles. Whether they remained friends or drifted apart over time, there’s no denying that the relationships listed in this article were crucial moments of art history.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the most unexpected artist friendships and see which of these relationships stood the test of time.
Featured images: Warhol and Basquiat Boxing, via auctionaftersale.com; Photo of Duchamp and Dali playing chess, Copyright Deschames & Deschames sarl 2016. All images used for illustrative purposes only.
Salvador Dalī and Marcel Duchamp
The two avant-garde giants are seen as opposites in almost every respect. Duchamp hated traditional art and was more inclined towards readymade and conceptual art while Dalí was seen as the defender of painting.
Duchamp hated fame and refused to make a living as a professional artist while Dalí made a spectacle of being an artist and enjoyed every second of it.
Yet, despite these differences, the two were good friends and they shared many aesthetic, philosophical and personal traits that brought them together. And they loved the game of chess, a pretty much mandatory characteristic for any friend of Marcel.
Featured image: Photo of Duchamp and Dali, image Copyright Deschames & Deschames sarl 2016
Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat
Victor Bockris wrote it best in his book about Andy’s life:
It was like some crazy art-world marriage, and they were the odd couple. The relationship was symbiotic. Jean-Michel thought he needed Andy’s fame, and Andy thought he needed Jean-Michel’s new blood. Jean-Michel gave Andy a rebellious image again.
As a result of this relationship, more than two-hundred works came to existence, launching Warhol into even higher Pop art stardom and allowing Jean-Michel Basquiat to establish himself as a leading artist of his generation.
Unfortunately, many of their works were not met with positive criticism, a circumstance that strained their artistic relationship a bit.
Nonetheless, the pairing of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat remains as one of the most sincere art friendships of the late 20th century.
Featured image: Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat at The Factory at 860 Broadway, 1982, photo by Christopher Makos
Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon
Coming together at a time when abstraction was the definite norm of the art world, these two friends kept the figurative tradition alive.
However, it should be noted that their approaches to the human figure couldn’t have been more different, but this never stood in the way of their friendship.
To this day, the relationship between these two giants of post-war British painting remains as one of the strongest collaborative bonds of modern art.
This pairing eventually came to an end in 1969 after Bacon painted the now-famous triptych Three Studies of Lucian Freud.
Featured image: Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, 1974, photo by Harry Diamond
Camille Pissarro and Paul Cézanne
Soon after their initial conversation, a close bond of friendship and collaboration developed between the two artists. What helped establish a common ground was the same rejection of tradition and academic training both of these painters based their works on.
For more than twenty years, Cézanne and Pissarro worked and experimented together, forming a leading pair within the Impressionist group.
They often worked side by side in the same studio, exchanging what they called telepathic vibes.
Featured image: Cezanne and Pissarro with friends in Pontoise 1870s, via impressionist-art.com
Yayoi Kusama and Eva Hesse
During the later years of their career, both of these leading artists were labelled by the art community as post-minimalists that used process oriented methods to create works.
Their friendly bond was further straightened by the fact Kusama and Hesse were heavily inspired by each other, something both of them stated on more than a few occasions.
The two artists created a variety of paintings and installations in shared studio spaces, making pieces that would go down in history as leading works of their generation.
Featured image: Yayoi Kusama reclining on Accumulation No. 2 (1962), 1962, via seattleartmuseum.org / Eva Hesse in her studio, via pinterest.com
Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin
Despite the fact Vincent was a notoriously difficult person, the two became good friends almost instantly. Gauguin quickly invited van Gogh to stay with him in his house in Arles, France, in hopes of fulfilling his dream of having his own artist’s collective.
Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin learned a lot from each other in terms of art making concepts and practices, spending countless days developing new techniques and palettes.
Things took an unfortunate turn for the worse, however, as van Gogh’s stubborn nature proved to be non-compatible with Gauguin’s pride, a personality collision that led to the infamous ear-cutting incident.
Despite these quarrels and Gauguin’s following departure, the two painters of Post-Impressionism remained friends and frequently exchanged letters until van Gogh’s death.
Featured image: Portraits of van Gogh and Gauguin, via wp.com
Norman Rockwell and Grandma Moses
Anna Mary Robertson Moses, known better by her aforementioned nickname of Grandma Moses, began painting in earnest at the age of 78. She lived across from the Saturday Evening Post illustrator Normal Rockwell and, as soon as the old lady started to paint her folk compositions, the two created a special bond that helped propel both of their bodies of works to new heights.
Featured image: Photo of Norman Rockwell and Grandma Moses, circa 1949. Photographer unknown. Norman Rockwell Museum Digital Collections. ©NRELC
Helen Frankenthaler and Grace Hartigan
Coming together in a heavily man-dominated scene of New York City, these two painters helped define the early pillars of what we now know to be feminism in art.
Unlike many other examples from art history and even some entries on this list, the relationship between Grace Hartigan and Helen Frankenthaler was far from a frail bond that would get separated from time to time. Instead, their friendship is one of the most resilient relationships modern art has in its arsenal.
Featured image: Grace Hartigan and Helen Frankenthaler, via huffingtonpost.com
Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning
Every so often, a painter has to destroy painting. Cézanne did it, Picasso did it with Cubism. Then Pollock did it. He busted our idea of a picture all to hell. Then there could be new paintings again.
Willem de Kooning once said this about his fellow painter, Jackson Pollock. Pollock, however, was a little bit more critical of his rival and friend, often criticizing Willem’s treatment of the painterly figure.
Despite their differences in opinion, there’s no denying that Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock pushed each other beyond the limit of what they could achieve if they worked separately.
Both leading artists of their time, these two painters had an inseparable bond that could not be severed by any artistic or personal grudge – not even Ruth Kligman, the only survivor of Jackson Pollock’s deadly car crash in 1956, could make a big enough wedge between them to sever the creative ties that binned them.
Featured image: Jackson Pollock, via biography.com / Willem de Kooning, via sartle.com
Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse
As different as the north pole is from the south pole
This interesting paradox does a lot of justice to the fact the two painters in question were fierce competitors, but it also hides the fact Matisse and Picasso held each other in an extremely high regard.
Since that moment, there seems to have been a magnetic pull between them as the two began to meet regularly and subject each other’s work to intense scrutiny, constantly shifting the roles of the leader and follower, hero and antihero.
Featured image: Pablo Picasso in Cannes, September 11, 1956, via vanityfair.com / Photo of Henri Matisse, via businessdestinations.com