Although we don't too often think about it, it's not as uncommon as we might expect for artists to marry each other. It happens in every other field, why not art? It is a little more unusual for them both to be equally well-known. Usually the male of the species has tended to overshadow the female in such cases, though there ARE exceptions. Georgia O'Keefe, for instance, was muchmore well-known than her husband, artist-photographer, Alfred Stieglitz. And time has a way of evening things out too. By now, Frieda Kahlo is probably as well known as her husband, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. But that certainly has never been the case insofar as Lee Krasner is concerned, though outshining Jackson Pollock would be a difficult feat for ANY artists. And though Elaine de Kooning was good, Willem was better. Today, a couple from that same generation DO work on a pretty much even footing insofar as fame and fortune is concerned in the art world--Nancy Spero and Leon Golub.
They got married in 1951, and in the early years, these two fifties, radical, beatniks lived and worked together out of a garage in an alley in Chicago. They are alike in many ways. They tend to dress in dark colors, simply, one might even say they dress alike in an asexual sort of way. They think and talk a lot alike, very deferential to one another and their thoughts and opinions. But there the similarities end. Nancy's works is delicate, narrative, not unlike Egyptian hieroglyphics. It's elegant, sensitive, and as thoroughly feminine as it is feminist. (She's all but banned male figures from her work.) Her husband's paintings, on the other hand, could most kindly be called "brutish"-- dealing with anger, violence, rape, torture, and war. His works are large, overpowering, well-passed masculine to the macho extreme. Both started from the same source, Abstract Expressionism, and both fled the movement toward figurative painting in an instant once the art world began to appreciate such work.
But the road wasn't easy. In the 1960s they departed the New York art scene after Golub's show at the Museum of Modern Art was severely denounced by critics unready to sound the death knell of Abstract Expressionism. They spent a decade in Europe, where both picked up an appreciation for the art of ancient cultures, which today is one of the few things that link their work, though Golub's work leans toward Roman and Etruscan art while hers has a much more Phoenician and Egyptian context. Both have found inspiration in Greek sculpture. She works with collage, ink, and relief prints on paper while Golub paints using acrylics or does large-scale drawings on paper. Though they've shared a Greenwich Village studio for years, their success came separately. Only recently have they begun showing together internationally in exhibits held in Hiroshima and Paris. As one can see in his brutal, 1981 "Interrogation III" and her cartoonish, 1990 "Myth," their work is vastly different, opposites in fact. Yet in many ways, they are opposite sides of the same coin.