Artists in Love: Coco Capitán and Frances Wilks

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FrancesPhotography by Coco Capitán

Alongside exclusive imagery of their new paintings, we speak with the creative couple about how to live and work together without merging into one person entirely

Leafing through the pages of history on the interdependence of art and romance, one finds far too many examples to list. From Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Man Ray and Lee Miller to Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, the list of soulmates in both creative endeavours and affairs of the heart is seemingly endless. A romantic synergy, it seems, can give way to an unparalleled level of artistic productivity.

For Coco Capitán, the photographer and artist behind a recent typographic collaboration with Gucci, and Frances Wilks, an alumnus of Camberwell College of Art working across graphic design and painting, the effect is no different. The pair met a year and a half ago purely by chance, but their individual practices have been in a constant dialogue ever since. We sat down with the couple in their home in Dalston to discuss the wonder of their partnership, both creative and personal.

On how they conduct research…
Frances Wilks: “My background is in graphic design. But I was thinking about wanting to paint and how I could get started. One day, I was browsing in Oxfam down the road and found a huge book on 1980s cars. I bought it, took it home and found so much inspiration looking at all the images – they were so colourful, graphic and intense. I found myself just wanting to paint everything in this book! So that’s what I did.”

Coco Capitán: “It’s funny, because I was looking at a few exhibitions by myself last week and a few bookstores and realised how much time I take researching for Frances! I find myself buying a pile of Ferrari books and think ‘oh my god! I need to get them – she’s going to need them!’ It’s very interesting how much you end up researching more for your partner.”

On helping one another…
CC: “I think I do whatever I can to help Frances and she does whatever she can to help me. We were thinking of the possibility of maybe having a show that would be ‘Frances in conversation with Coco’ – to show how we influence each other. We travel together most of the time, so in a way a lot of our research content is the same, but we take it in completely different directions.”

On brutal honesty…
CC: “I like to have such frank discussions. I know what I want to do and Frances knows very much what she wants to do. And actually when you are in a relationship, you are so direct with each other – it’s a different dynamic than in a strictly work-based relationship that is way more respectful and polite.”

On not losing your identity…
FW: “I think it’s very healthy to have a slight separation and not lose your identity in a couple. That is something that almost scares me when I see artists working together just the two of them as well.”

CC: “I like the idea of complementing each other, rather than becoming one person. Frances is Frances and has her own voice and I myself am my own voice. Of course we help each other – for example, I started painting because of Frances. I thought, ‘I really need to stop doing so much photography! I really want to do other things!’ And so she encouraged me. She just said, ‘okay let’s do it!’ And I had my reservations, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be any good. But she totally supported me.”

On spending time apart…
CC: “I like travelling, it’s great as a source of inspiration. But I like it most when I have at least one day where Frances can come with me and we can go to a party or exhibition together. When it’s non-stop work it feels like you’re permanently interrupted.”

FW: “Sometimes it’s nice to have some space to think and sort your ideas out. But then after that initial period is over, it’s like damn… I really miss her!”