How long have you been together?
As of 2018, 47 years (married 44).
How does being a couple affect your work?
It probably smooths out the work, over time, usually for the better and perhaps occasionally for the worse. In a close, empathic couple relationship, some of the extremes that an artist acting solo might exhibit tend to be avoided. We act, to some extent, as each other’s conscience. On the other hand, our range of interests and expertise are larger than all but the most extraordinary individual’s, and we can feed ideas and information to each other in a very beneficial way.
Did you meet through your work?
No. We met through a mutual friend as undergraduates at Brooklyn College. Virginia was an art major and Blaise was a physics major. However, he was becoming disillusioned with science and, since he was already interested in photography, decided to become an art major. Both of us then went to U.C. San Diego for our MFA degrees, studying under collaborative role models like Newton and Helen Harrison, and David and Eleanor Antin.
Do you share a studio?
Yes, we have for most of our careers. We haven’t always done so, but that has been based on the circumstances of jobs and/or real estate rather than upon our personal preferences. Certain areas of the studio are more “hers” and other are more “his.”
Do you show and discuss your work all through the process?
Or only when finished?
Most often, all through the process; occasionally only when finished. But
we almost always discuss it together. We try to help each other by, as
much as possible, imagining each other’s work from the viewpoint of
an unfamiliar observer.
Do you problem solve together?
Yes. In fact, it’s something we greatly enjoy.
Do you ever collaborate on individual pieces?
Yes, we do, both in terms of specific artworks and written articles, and in terms of thematic exhibitions. Examples would be the mail art project, This is Not a Flag (1990); the Philadelphia Fringe Festival’s The Three Towers (1999); and the installation, The Mind, as part of “Conversations at the Table” at the Fabric Workshop & Museum (2006). We might literally appear in each other’s work, such as Virginia’s being in Blaise’s photographs, or casts and prints of Blaise’s body in pieces like Male Body (1976); Homeless Woman Kills Wall Street Financier (1987); or The South African People Shall Rise (1989). From 1991 to 1994, we co-authored a monthly feature on art and society for the Witness magazine out of Detroit; catalogue essays such as “All Manner of Things: the Art of Barbara Strasen” for George Billis Gallery (2011); numerous articles for Philadelphia artblog (2008 to 2015); and recent piece for Leonardo magazine (2015). Our collaborative shows have included “Extended Stories” at the College of Wooster Museum (1982); “Couples” at the Islip Art Museum (2008); “Sheltered” at Lafayette College (2005); “Contempo-Italianate” at Loyola Marymount (1998); “Reprocessed Legacies” at Rowan University (1998); “American Pie: Myth Representation” at the Abington Art Center (1992); “Market Strategies” at Shepherd College (1992); “Cultural Exchange” at Swords into Plowshares Gallery (1992); “Tangibles and Metaphors” at Maria Feliz Gallery (1992); and “The Demise of Opulence and the Death of Art” at the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit (1983).
Do you think that your spouse’s work influences your own?
Definitely. Although we work very differently and are interested in different subjects, we influence each other’s vision and way of thinking.
Do you think there are similarities in your spouse’s work?
Yes. In terms of process, there are many ways photography is like sculptural casting: there is a negative (or at least there used to be!), and many positives can be taken from it. In terms of form, Blaise tends to work in a series and Virginia tends to use multiple images as well; at times we both have used text in combination with image or form. We are both interested in making art that functions within a high-level artistic discourse but that is accessible to non specialists.
Are there conflicts being married to another visual artist?
Perhaps if we were both working in the same media, or if one of our careers had taken off while the other’s hadn’t, there would be conflicts. However, we are seldom in direct competition with each other and neither of us has achieved enough artworld fame for jealousy to be a factor. As it is, because we face similar problems and share similar experiences, it has probably made us more empathetic as a couple.
What questions do you think should be asked that are relevant
to a show about couples?
The ones that have been asked are quite good. One could get a bit pushier and ask, “Have you ever remade your partner’s work (at least to some extent?)” Or “Have you ever given a really bad piece of advice?”
Our answer to both of these would have to be yes.