Although it happens, most artists are not married to artists. Someday, I'd like to submit a questionnaire to those artists NOT married to other artists and ask them, "If they had it to do over again, (all else being equal) would the LIKE being married to another artist?" Of course the next question would be, "Why or why NOT?" The responses would, I'm sure, be interesting. Bruce Nauman and Susan Rothenberg have had it both ways. Since 1989 they've been married to other artists (each other). But both came from divorces from non-artist spouses. They prefer the present arrangement to their former relationships. They feed off one another. Their work is almost diametrically opposite. She paints. He does everything BUT paint. He creates outlandish sculptural installations, often involving videotaped elements. She creates painted, horse-like figures. He raises the real thing. They live on a ranch outside Galisteo, New Mexico. He looks like the rancher he is. She looks like the woman next in line at the supermarket.
Both artists came to prominence in the 70s, Nauman in the forefront of every new art movement that came along, often, in fact, instigating some of them. Rothenberg, on the other hand, was first cast as a New Image painter, whatever that is. Even Rothenberg isn't sure. A decade later she was labeled a Neo-Expressionist--only a slightly better defined term. Influenced by Guston and DeKooning, she is, nonetheless a figurative painter, her work strong, but not confrontational (at least not as compared to her husband's). She is outspoken, critical, first and foremost, SELF-critical. If she doesn't like an artist's work she quickly tells you so and why. If she doesn't like her own work, she talks it out with her husband who often helps her solve the problem. Her 1996-97 painting, "Impending Doom," with it's heads peering down at a (dead?) body lying face up in the center of the paintings, is typical of this process and her recent work. Her horses are from her first marriage, rampaging, but minimalist, portraits of her psyche at the time. Even now she paints psychological self-portraits.
Bruce Nauman is a thoughtful, quiet, hardworking sort, nothing like you'd expect, given his loud, violent, podium-pounding, sculptural installations of screaming clowns, homicidal couples, linked with neon signs, bearing inane, often obscene phrases. His work is claustrophobic and disturbing, bordering on the psychopathic. One of his works, dating from 1988, entitled "Carousel (Stainless Steel Version)" is made up of rotating taxidermy casts of horses and dogs, chasing one another. A more recent work, from 1990, entitled "Ten Heads Circle/Up and Down" consists of cast heads mounted in pairs, joined at the top of the head (the upper one upside down), suspended from the ceiling with wire--ideal for the foyer maybe, but certainly not for the living room. His more recent work is in the form of grating, repetitious, rhythmic, music videos harkening back to the sounds of John Cage, Phillip Glass, Lamont Young, and Steve Reich with a touch of Andy Warhol to occupy the screen. Rothenberg points out, with regard to her husband's recent work, that sometimes, "painting" does not involve paint.