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Partners in Sublime

Updated: Jun 10

Painting with Light, 1949

Pablo Picasso and Kjun Mili


I teach classes in the Creative Workshop at the Memorial Art Gallery at The University of Rochester. Over the first half dozen classes I’ve taught, I’ve made an astute observation. Students grapple with basic design metrics like color and composition, as well as, assigned subject matter. I know “assigned subject matter” sounds like assigning an algebra problem, but that’s not the case. It’s more like designating a common theme like self-portraits, dreamscapes, or social commentary, etc. These are primary themes for the individual students to figure out how they want to proceed, however, my epiphany is it becomes more challenging when you add a second component of collaboration.


It may be a surprise; an artist’s inspiration tends to live and die in their own head. They feel like they’re on a deserted island not many can reach, and those that do reach the Island of Artistic Inspiration, often get lost in the jungle of creative articulation. What happens when you are assigned to work with another artist to do a piece, or a series of pieces, around a central theme? What challenges do you think you would have? Consider you are paired with someone and assigned the theme of social injustice. You may have a completely different view than your collaborator but you must find a way to creatively convey your opposing viewpoints in a cohesive manner. Mix in you have a completely different style of artwork. You may lean towards the long-standing adage, “if you want something done right, do it yourself,” but I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity because no artist can exist without the influence of other artists.


Collaboration is far more challenging for visual artists like painters and sculptors than other forms of creative expressionists like musicians, dancers, and actors. Musicians typically work with bands. Recording artists sometimes feature another recording artist, sometimes from another musical genre. Of course, actors work with other actors on sets, and dancers generally dance in pairs or teams.  Painters and sculptors typically work alone to express their inspiration, so having to be inclusive of someone else’s vision and style is difficult and likely compromising.


Getting back to student artists, after they wrap their brains around the subject matter and basic design principles, then share those thoughts with another student through a series of compromises, they have hopefully accomplished an articulate and cohesive work of art. Now, time to navigate the pink elephant in the room, credit and subsequent ownership of the project. I can’t have adults fighting over who gets to take a piece home. So, creating a project with a series of pieces gives everyone a chance to have a piece that’s representative of their creative endeavors.


Many well recognized artists throughout history have been part of successful collaborations. Many artists have married, which ultimately influenced each other’s work. Let’s touch upon some of the more famous examples of such unions.

Yellow House, 1888

Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gaugiun

Oil on canvas

The Bedroom, 1888

Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin

Oil on canvas

One of the most widely known collabs is Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. They lived together for 9 weeks in Arles, France in 1888.  During that brief period, they created two paintings together: The Yellow House and The Bedroom. Then, as Van Gogh continued to paint his interpretations in Southern France with wild abandon, he directly influenced how Gauguin would paint the Tahitian subject matter that he is famous for.  As I mentioned in a prior post, Van Gogh lacked the money to travel with Gauguin from Southern France to Tahiti. Instead, he was institutionalized in Saint Remy and painted the most recognizable painting in the modern world, Starry Night.

Painting with Light, 1949

Pablo Picasso and Gjun Milli

Pablo Picasso, another well renowned artist all over the world, collaborated with American photographer, Gjun Mili, in 1949.  Together they created a series of photographs entitled Painting with Light. Mili used a method of stop action photography to record Picasso waving a light wand through the air. The trails of light created contours captured on film resembling Picasso’s earlier abstract drawings. The photographs include Picasso as he waives the wand hence the title, Painting with Light. Mili would later work with Dave Brubeck to create a series of work combining jazz with stop action photography.

Marcel Duchamp ( Female alter ego Rrose Sevany) Man Ray, circa 1938

Silver gelatin print

During the DADA movement in the 1920’s and 30’s, Man Ray, a prominent multi media artist, partnered with Marcel Duchamp and created Duchamp’s female alter ego, Rrose Sévany.


Madonna on Nude, 1985

Andy Warhol and Keith Haring

Mixed media silkscreen

Andy Mouse, 1986

Andy Warhol and Keith Haring

Mixed media on silkscreen

Marilyn Monroe, 1987

Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, 1987

Mixed media on silkscreen

In the 1980’s in New York City, there were several famous collaborations, mostly centered around Andy Warhol and the Pop movement. Artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring brought a raw and graffiti style of art from the streets to high-end galleries like the Gogosian Gallery in Manhattan.

Warhol saw the developing trend and joined forces with both Basquiat and Haring for a good portion of the decade.

Spoon and Cherry (Minneapolis Minnesota), 1988

Claes Oldenburg and Cooje Van Bruggen

Steel Fabrication

Cupid's Bow, 2002

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen

 Fabricated Steel

Sculptors Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen worked together on several large-scale sculptures for large municipalities all over the world.


Some collaborations were large in scope while others had many collaborators. Take these examples: the OMM (One Million Masterpiece) had 32,731 participants in 174 countries; husband and wife duo, Christo and Jeanne Claude, designed instillation wrapping entire islands or world landmarks, such as, the Arc de Triomphe.

Wrapped Islands (Biscayne Islands, 1983)

Christo and Jeanne Claude

Largescale Instillation

The Arch de Triomphe (Paris), 2021

Christo and Jeanne Claude

Largescale Installation

Frida and Diego, 1931

Oil an canvas

Partnerships on a much more profound level, such as husband and wife or at least romantically inclined, influence each other’s art and were the fuel for fruitful bodies of work. Some of those relationships included Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keefe and Alfred Stieglitz, and Max Ernst and Dorthea Tanning. Unlike the other couples, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenburg, worked with the same medium as painters, sharing a studio and creative endeavors.

Self Portrait, 1918

Georgia O'Keefe and Alfred Stieglitz


Max Ernst and Dorthea Tanning photo, 1947

Bed, 1955

Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns

Mixed Media

Panels (Bergdorf Goodman Department Store) 1955

Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns

Mixed media

Relation in Space, 1977

Marina Abramovic and Ulay

Performance Art

I’m sure there were many more collaborations, probably too many to mention. However, the pursuit of creative expression is a solitary venture. I’d go as far as to say that most artist work is created within a vacuum. Artists absorb inspiration and ideas from all that is around them then present to the world a culmination of those ideas. I’m a sci-fi guy, so perhaps a better analogy is, the process is like a galactic worm hole; a huge blackhole that sucks in all matter around it in one universe, then spits it out in a completely different universe.

 So many times, the anthem of most artists is that people just don’t understand their art. Or they may get the understanding and discussions that they so desperately seek only after the fact, when the art is completed. Think of the possibilities of having input during the process. Someone who truly empathizes with what the creative process entails. To come full circle, teaching students to share ideas with one another as a team to create art stretches their idea of what art can be. Again, it’s little more natural for musicians and actors than painters.  Collaboration becomes a tool in the toolbox with composition, color, texture, and perspective. In the end, who knows, friendships may form. Who doesn’t need another friend in their life? Particularly one who can help you build a raft off the Island of Artistic Inspiration.

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3 opmerkingen

I was lucky enough to be in Paris when they were doing the arc instilation it was spectacular. I've never collaborated on a piece besides with musicians and my children lol. I would have liked to paint with John singer Sargent his draftmanship is beautiful and watercolors so expressive.

Reageren op

Good choice. I guess if you pinned me down, I would say

1. Frieda Kahlo

2. Karol Appel

3. Carman Lomas Garza

4. Frederick Hunderwasser

There are so many more, though!

But right now, I collaborate with Me, Myself, and I, lol!


If you could collaborate with a famous artist, who would it be?

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