Frenemies or Besties - Celebrating Artists Complex Friendship for International Friendship Day

July 30th is International Friendship Day, and to celebrate it properly, we decided to highlight some of the most notorious or hidden friendships amongst artists. Frenemies or besties, that is the question. Let's take a look at some of the most complex relationships in art history, some that ended up with dramas, bloodshed and sparks in creativity!
Featured image: Yayoi Kusama and Donald Judd in Japan, 1978. © Judd Foundation. Courtesy of the Judd Foundation.

Andy Warhol & Jean-Michel Basquiat; Superficial differences, deeper similarities

Was it mentorship or simply a union of the unlikely, the newest kid on the block with the older white male, the alliance of old and new blood? It is more than two hundred works that came to see the light of day from this friendship. While they might not have been the success they were thought to be, they propelled Warhol to higher popularity and allow Basquiat to get a seal of approval and asset himself as a leading artist within his peers. Legend has it that Basquiat pursued Warhol while he was having lunch and sold him two small postcards size painting. But in the latest biography of Warhol by Blake Gopnik, it is written that Warhol first noticed Basquiat while the latter used to sit on the sidewalk and painted t-shirt…

Paul Gaugin & Vincent Van Gogh: The friendship that ended up with bloodshed
Did an argument between two temperamental friends lead one to harm himself? Van Gogh dreamed of establishing an artists’ colony to paint “en plein air” / in the great outdoor. The only one that answered his call was Gaugin, and for a few months, side by side, they painted, leading them to develop a close friendship. It was a good period, till it got bitter, both were no longer in agreement, and they broke their friendship. It is said that it is around that time that Van Gogh instability surfaced, and from there on, it went downhill even quicker leader to the “eargate”, and while most accept the version that Van Gogh self mutilate himself, several wonder if Gaugin didn’t arm his former friend. Gaugin was an accomplished fencer, and in one of Van Gogh letters to Theo, his beloved brother, there is a hint to that theory ” Luckily Gaugin… is not yet armed with machine guns and other dangerous war weapons.”

Man Ray & Salvador Dalí: Above this earth

This excerpt is from Woody Allen’ Midnight in Paris – and was their friendship as depicted, we love to think so. It is a Surrealist bromance that existed between the two artists; strange and odd, they still managed to work alongside each other on few photo projects. We wished we could have been like the little mice and birds from the Disney Cinderella tale and discover what was it really.

Lucian Freud & Francis Bacon: A Bromance ending with a famous triptych
From their first meeting, they became inseparable. For 25 years, they almost saw each other daily. They painted together as well as drinking, gambling, and on occasion, arguing. Their bond was strong. The pair found themselves against the world where abstraction was the leading movement while both focused on figurative. While their work couldn’t be more polarised from each other, their collaboration remains one of the most important ones in the history of post-war British Painting. It all ended when Bacon painted, in 1969, the $142 million painting Three Studies of Lucian Freud. When it was sold, Thomas Galbraith from Paddle 8 said, “The subject matter is very important for the Bacon market given the well-documented camaraderie and rivalry he had with Lucian Freud,”

Yayoi Kusama & Donald Judd: Opposites attract each other
Can one picture two people more different than Yayoi Kusama and Donald Judd? She is a petite Japanese artist; he was tall, white and bushy looking. When people think of Kusama’s work, it is busy and bright, bold. Marfa and the Chinati Foundation visit will leave you with a vision of Judd that is monochromatic, big and heavy, slick, almost plain at the moment and a word he didn’t like – minimalist. Still, one can draw some parallels between both, there is a repetition, a methodical devotion, and most importantly, the work they did was defying genre and categorisation. They live in work close by in the same building for a year, and while this friendship wasn’t always platonic, it endured as they rise to recognition.

Émile Zola & Paul Cézanne: Never boring, to say the least

Their friendship was the last longing one that stood the strains of times and challenges as well as arguments and opposite. One was born poor. The other was from a wealthy family – by the end of the story, the roles had been reversed. They influenced each other work and the course of their personal lives. Their friendship was lively and not always a day at the beach. Both had temperament but is that not the hallmark of a good artist?

Many other friendships could have been explored, Helen Frankenthaler & Grace Hartigan, Camille Pissarro & Paul Cézanne, Yayoi Kusama & Eva Hesse, Jackson Pollock & Willem de Kooning, Marcel Duchamp & Francis Picabia, Henri Matisse & Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondrian & Hannah Hoch or the YBA’s. Tell us what you think on social media! Shall we do another blog post about those?

 

.ART Team
.ART Team
members are global citizens with interests ranging from art history to social justice. If we had an office cat we would have called it Basquiat.