Visual and musical Arts have had their parallels throughout history. In recent history there has been the relations between Jazz and abstract expressionism. Go back a little further and one can see that the inspiration of both was coming from the same place in religion. But we haven’t paid much attention to how similar they can be when it comes to execution, and in no place is this more palpable than when there is a collaboration of two creative minds. Recently I found myself giving this unique concept a closer glance as I spent some time looking at the work of Hans Schmitt-Mazen and Gieves Anderson.
Their most recent exhibition of works at Like the Spice gallery in Brooklyn is appropriately entitled Cross-Reference. It illustrates how fluid and organic their work has become after over 10 years of working together. They were brought together over common interests, sensibilities, and of course, geographic location. Despite their very European sounding names, they are both American lads, having met in college at Middle Tennessee State University, and have since built a relationship over photographs, gestural painting strokes, and of course, libraries.
Early on, much like a young Kurt Cobain and Chris Novaselic meeting in a gagare for their first jam session, their collaboration wasn’t as fluid, but that doesn’t make it any less important or interesting. At first their works were pretty much starting from Hans’ photographs, and Gieves would fill in with paint, what he felt the image needed, and they both happened to like the end result. Over the years this process evolved quite a bit. It is more cyclical. But the strange part is they don’t actually work anywhere near each other. Gieves is in Brooklyn, and Hans has his studio in Tennessee. So maybe early members of Nirvana isn’t the best analogy. Their collaboration is more like that of Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson when they corresponded back and forth about how to organize a government through written letters carried on horseback and boat. Hans and Gieves had it a little easier with e-mail, but it was still quite the process. It makes me wonder how artistic collaboration is going to continue to change, mutate, and progress alongside the progression of technology.
I have looked at a decent amount of collaborative work before, and it rarely holds this kind of rhythm. It often looks more like two different pieces stapled together, instead of one uniform idea. It is like they are no longer two separate creative forces, but one two-headed, four-armed, mythical creature that has come here to create fascinating images for us to meditate upon. Both artists do work individually but say they try to put the shared work first, they simply get restless in the time between when they can get together for a session. I would be interested in seeing an exhibition of their work that they have done individually and collaboratively to really put some thought into what happens in that crossing of their ideas. Perhaps all in due time.