Artists Lauren Levato Coyne and Rory Coyne kind of kill me. A couple whose art informs each other’s? Who are mutually supportive and push one another to achieve? Plus they both cook? Sign me up. The duo spoke with Our Town about Symbiosis, an exhibition of new work based on the mutually beneficial nature of their relationship and their shared studio practice, as well as a nod toward the animals that influence their work.
Our Town Two artists, one marriage. Discuss.
Lauren Levato Coyne It seems like it should be a recipe for disaster and, in fact, when we first started dating we did say "oh this could end in flames" but pretty quickly we realized we are kind of seamless. We have insane chemistry and we're a couple of bananas, plus we both really like each other's art.
Rory Coyne Best relationship I have ever had with any person, and for Lauren as well, otherwise we wouldn't have married each other. Lauren had dedicated herself to being alone actually, but I messed that all up for her. I was always warned by professors and such not to date and especially not to marry another artist, but clearly they were wrong. I win!
OT How does your work impact one another’s?
L We like to say we speak the same language just a different dialect. Plus it's like a think tank around here - our home is our studio so we are immersed in it all the time. We will be out for dinner or something and jump from a totally unrelated topic into the current drawing or next painting sketch to flush out ideas, color, etc. He's directly influenced my work with color, but I think that has a lot to do with my level of happiness versus two years ago when I was dedicated to black and white. He's also a walking encyclopedia of painters and tattooers, so I've learned some things in that regard too.
R Since we have been together I have become a better painter. I work more without worrying if I'm ignoring Lauren, and that type of guilt it something artists usually have to deal with from their partners. We completely understand the necessity of being in the studio doing work, and that sometimes studio work takes precedence. We both have similar artistic influences and inspirations, so we basically speak the same language (she's just a bit more eloquent). This allows for great conversations about our work, which in turn makes for better and more interesting work. Besides I want to impress her, so I work harder in all ways.
Lauren Levato Coyne
OT Is there any truth to the stereotype of ‘an artist’s temperament?’
L You mean do we do drugs and fight all the time? Depressed mopes? Existential freak outs? No on all three. We are generally awake between 5 and 6 a.m., running for him, Pilates for me, we always have breakfast and coffee together. Then we work until 11 or so almost every night. Food is basically our hobby, so we eat well. We hang with the dogs. We are happy, and our work is better because of that. Unhappy drama does not equal good work. I've been unhappy, and I hated the work I was doing then.
OT You’re both influenced by animals. How do those influences differ and how are they similar?
L We both do much different research for our work, though we both enjoy the starting points the other comes from. He's more interested in epic tales and Joseph Campbell and I'm into Victorian and Russian fairy tales. Plus we have different interactions with animals. For instance the fox in the belly in "Self Portrait as Thief in the Night," one of my drawings from last year, is a direct reference to seeing a red fox for the very first time on the day our nephew died. And that fiery furred critter and I seem to have some things in common.
R We have different histories for each animal, so even if we use the same kind we have a different meaning for them. Of course as our history intertwines more deeply the more similar our animals become. Swans appear in the work we are doing now but my swan is Zeus in his form as a rapist and Lauren's swan is cancer.
OT What interests you about symbiosis?
L Cicadas eat trees, transform, have sex, get hijacked by wasps whose sole purpose is killing cicadas and laying their eggs in them for the next generation of parasites to emerge and continue the cycle. Conversely the hummingbird moth pollinates a specific type of flower, bees cross pollinate, there's a moth that drinks the tears of sleeping birds! Symbiotic relationships are tragic, poetic, disturbing, and fascinating - mutualism and parasitism being the two most engaging.
R Our life is very symbiotic in the mutualistic sense, and that's where the title came from. We make sure the other is doing well and that needs are met, or we pick up where the other left off. I do dishes, she does laundry. I make breakfast, she makes lunch, and dinner we do together (unless the other is completely wrapped in work). We make relationship decisions based on what the art needs.
OT Lauren, one of your themes is the body as a site for revelation. How does that manifest in your work?
L The body is this crazy place that is doing its own set of things while you are just trying to grocery shop. I'm fascinated by this and slightly terrified. The body is like space or the ocean, this huge vast environment that you can't see into and it's gorgeous and perfect until a meteor or tsunami or cancer gets hurled at you. I spent a long time afraid of what my body was going to do next but compared to what my family's bodies have done my body is pretty boring. Fine with me! But the tsunami will come, it comes for everyone. That sounds dire but it's actually pretty poetic. I want to explore that fear and the weird manifestations with a sense of wonder. Everything is wonder-ful to me, I'm like a 5 year old seeing an elephant for the first time whenever I just go out for a walk around the block. Ants! Bees! Dead stuff! My right ovary and left eye twitched at the same time! It's all happening at once and what does it mean? Nothing, until it does. So add all that to my interest in old medicine, things like maternal impression, spontaneous generation, snake oil cures, folk remedies, plus fairy tales where transformation of the self is essential and you have a recipe for, well, my work I guess.
R I revel in her body all the time.
OT Rory, how would you explain the contemporary allegorical realist movement? What about it compels you?
R There is a whole new generation of artists who are story tellers of grand tales that reality just can't capture. So we are seeing more and more artists embracing the allegorical and mythological. It clearly isn't something new, but it's made contemporary by the simple fact that the narrators are of this time. They are expressing their views on politics, relationships, pop culture, etc. How does it compel me? Well, I can either create another standard "paint by numbers" kind of nude figure oooooor I can create demi gods marked with tattoos and oozing with symbolism. I tend to go for the latter.
L Rory paints with his shirt off and that's all the allegory I need.
OT Have either of you experienced dry periods?
L Shut up or you might cause one! Yeah I had a little freak out after my last solo show and the Wunderkammer fundraiser that happened basically at the same exact time and it wiped me out in every way. I've had enough dry spells to know that it will pass and I usually get out of it by reading new books, drawing random stuff just to keep in practice and not get depressed. They don't last very long, maybe a month. Feels like a damn lifetime though.
R I think lulls is a better look at what we go through, and it usually happens after we finish a show or major project. It's not that we don't know what to do, but when you are constantly creating and working without a break, the crash comes by the time the deadline has passed and the work is delivered. I think most people call this exhaustion.
OT What are you working on next?
L I have a show at The Museum of International Surgical Science here in Chicago, "The Age of Spontaneous Generation" which opens in early December. I'm also working on a cover for poet Rebecca Cook's new book and some teaching and lectures in November. After I finish that I will be going down the rabbit hole and really burying myself for some shows and other things to be announced in 2014.
R Well, Lauren's answer makes me sound like a lazy bum, but I have nothing planned in terms of shows or lectures. I'm just going to get cozy in that rabbit hole she mentioned and just work my fingers to the bone in creating work.
The artist's reception for Symbiosis will be held Oct. 12 from 7-10 p.m. The show continues through November 12th at Century Guild.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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