Top Ten Famous Couple Collaborations

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Rest Energy by Marina Abramović and Ulay, 1980
Rest Energy by Marina Abramović and Ulay, 1980Courtesy of Dogwoof Films

While the countdown to Valentine's Day continues, we present ten of our favourite creative couple collaborations

Striking a balance between work and home life is an important factor in keeping a relationship healthy. No matter how much you adore your significant other, the mere thought of working together is enough to send many couples running for the hills. Nevertheless, there are those who dare to mix business with pleasure and manage to establish compatible relationships on both a personal and professional level. The history of art, music and literature is filled with passionate, unusual, and at times stormy, love affairs between creative spirits. So with Valentine’s Day less than a week away, we decided to celebrate ten famous couples – past and present – who collaborated professionally at some point in their relationship, often with extraordinary results.

1. Marina Abramović and Ulay
It was love at first sight for Marina Abramović and Ulay, whose real name is Frank Uwe Laysiepen. Born on the same day – three years apart – the two performance artists met on the day Abramović moved to Amsterdam in 1976; they produced art together for the next twelve years. Their relationship affected all of their work, which was especially centred on the interaction between female and male bodies. Like a sort of hermaphroditic single entity, the Serbian-German duo collaborated in striking, never-before-seen acts. Their entire body of work was an exploration of togetherness – whether forming doorways with their bare bodies or holding a bow and arrow taught on either side, the arrow angled directly at Abramović's heart. By 1988, however, Abramović and Ulay’s romantic relationship had come to an end. Obviously, theirs was no typical break-up: after a 90-day-long walk along the Great Wall of China, the two met in the middle for a final goodbye. But their most emotionally charged performance came 22 years later, when Abramović and former lover Ulay reunited tearfully across a table at her MoMA retrospective.

2. Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre
These two intellectual souls had too much in common to ever be apart. Both French, writers, philosophers and political activists, de Beauvoir and Sartre met while studying for the ‘aggregation’ – an extremely competitive post-graduate philosophy examination – at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris in the late 1920s. The pioneer of contemporary feminism and the father of Existentialism had no conventional relationship, yet they were together for 50 years. Throughout their famously open love affair, they would even share female lovers. De Beauvoir and Sartre always read each other’s works, although it’s not clear who played the biggest part in the development of Existentialism. They never married, nor had children, but nonetheless remained together and are buried next to each other in the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris.

3. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera
He carried a gun, she carried a flask – it’s safe to say that Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were a great match. Known for their irascible temperaments and troubled relationship, the two Mexican painters first connected in the late 1920s, when Kahlo was still an art student. She first approached the prominent muralist, who was 20 years her senior, hoping to get some advice on her artistic career. Drawn together by their shared communist spirit and a mutual respect and admiration for each other's work, they soon fell in love and married in 1929. Their union was often troubled, but while Rivera tolerated Kahlo’s infidelity and bisexual tendencies, she was furious when she discovered that her husband and younger sister were having an affair. The couple divorced in 1939, just to remarry a year later. Although their second marriage was just as tumultuous as the first, they remained together until Kahlo’s death in 1954.

4. Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin
Inez and Vinoodh met in 1983, while studying fashion design at the Vogue Academy in their hometown of Amsterdam. In the early 1990s, the photographer duo began their professional collaboration with a series of innovative, digitally manipulated images. Seen as controversial and innovative figures in the art world, the pair soon became involved with the fashion industry, their breakthrough editorial piece coming in 1994 for The Face. Since then, the prodigious couple has shot some of the most famous fashion campaigns and magazine covers, including that for AnOther Magazine’s A/W10 Fashion Superstar issue. The couple have a son, Charles (b. 2003), and are still very much together.

5. Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock
The two abstract expressionist painters first crossed paths in New York City in 1941, while preparing to exhibit for the same show. They married four years later and moved to East Hampton to work on their art. The years that followed were Pollock’s most prolific. Despite the famous drip painter’s huge success, Krasner never sank under the weight of her husband’s genius. Two of the best known American artists of the 20th century, this power couple inspired and influenced each other throughout their relationship. But it was not without its fair share of drama – Pollock was an alcoholic and had an extramarital affair. He died prematurely at the age of 44 while driving under the influence of alcohol, with his mistress in the car (although she survived). While she never stopped painting during her life with Pollock, Krasner would go through periods of severe self-criticism, which led her to destroy a lot of her work. On the other hand, grief and emotion following her husband’s death became a great source of inspiration in her later career.

6. Virginia Woolf and Leonard Woolf
Leonard Woolf had wanted to marry Virginia Stephen from the moment he met her, in around 1900, while she was visiting her brother Thoby in Cambridge. But it was only after Woolf returned from his cadet service in Caylon, now Sri Lanka, in 1911 that the two started dating. Virginia only accepted Leonard’s marriage proposal in 1912, on his third attempt. Virginia, who had Sapphic tendencies, loved Leonard deeply, but not erotically or passionately – the Woolfs had a famously sexless marriage. Nevertheless, they had a very happy relationship, during which they supported each other’s work and founded the Hogarth printing press. Leonard nursed his wife through her bipolar disorder and mental breakdowns. In 1941 Virginia Woolf committed suicide, her heartbreaking suicide note read “I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.”

7. Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes
Both poets and writers, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes met at a party in Cambridge in 1956. Like the protagonists of a romantic fairy tale, they instantly fell in love and married four months later. In the early 1960s, however, the Boston-born novelist discovered that her husband was having an affair. But, confirming the notion that the best works come from broken hearts, it was in the aftermath of their separation that Plath produced most of her finest poetry. After a lifelong battle with depression, Plath took her own life in 1963, leaving her two children behind. Following this tragedy, Hughes edited several volumes of her work. In 1998, shortly before his own passing, he published Birthday Letters, a collection of poems, which are thought to be the most overt response to his former wife’s suicide, as well as a reflection on their marriage as a whole.

8. Joan Baez and Bob Dylan
The two singer-songwriters first met in 1961, both young emerging artists in the New York's Greenwich Village folk scene. At that point, Baez had already released her first album and was a star on the rise. Dylan was initially interested in Baez’s younger sister, however he and Baez, often seen together, began to attract media scrutiny as a couple and their relationship developed under the spotlight. By 1963, Baez had three albums out. That same year, she invited Dylan to play on stage alongside her at the Newport Folk Festival, setting the precedent for many more duets in the years to come. In the mid-1960s their romance started to disintegrate, although they continued to collaborate on music and film projects. While the allusions to his lover in Dylan's music are not very clear, Baez wrote at least three songs that were explicitly about their relationship, including To Bobby. In his 1967 documentary Don’t Look Back, D. A. Pennebaker documents Baez and Dylan’s vicious breakup two years before.

9. Gilbert Proesch and George Passmore
Anglo-Italian artist duo Gilbert & George first met in 1967 at the Saint Martin's School of Art, where they both studied sculpture. Known for their unique and elegant appearance, as well as for their bright, photo-based art, Gilbert and George live and work together in Spitalfields, as they have done for the past 40 years. Their artsy neighbourhood inspired their most recent work, entitled Scapegoating, which drew on the world the two artists see every day around them in east London. Having spent most of their adult lives together, the pair finally married in 2008.

10. June Carter and Johnny Cash
Singer-songwriter Johnny Cash first bumped into June Carter backstage at a concert in the summer of 1956, just a couple of months after Cash’s all-time hit I Walk The Line had been released. Carter had become a fan of Cash’s music during her recent tour with Elvis Presley – legend has it that Elvis played Cry! Cry! Cry! on jukeboxes throughout the tour. While they were both still married to other people, June joined Johnny on the road in the early 1960s, when the two began to perform as a duo and subsequently started to fall for each other. Following their divorces and twelve years after their first encounter, Johnny Cash popped the question on stage in what must have been the most tearful and romantic declaration of love the world has ever witnessed. A week after they were Mr and Mrs Cash, and they remained together until their deaths in 2003. They now keep resting side by side.