The Art Galleries at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth recently opened a show of the intellectually charged work of a British artist couple who create art together. Reporter Joan Davidow says the exhibition Biggs and Collings: Suspicious Utopias gives us clues about how this British pair works together ….
- Biggs & Collings: Suspicious Utopias runs through May 11 at The Art Galleries at TCU.
He paints. She points. She draws. He uses the brush. She selects the colors. He paints in striated lines. Emma Biggs and Matthew Collings paint together and they’re married.
They began creating paintings together 15 years ago. But both have maintained distinctly separate and different art careers. They both have international reputations. She is a refined mosaics artist creating works for heads of state. He, a biting art critic whose contemporary art history book, This Is Modern Art presents a smart, sassy look at today’s art and the absurdity and seriousness of the art world.
But together, Emma Biggs and Matthew Collings create elegant geometric abstractions in subtle, jewel-like colors that radiate from the surface. Within parallel columns, rows of quadrilateral shapes create sparkling bands of color. Because he paints pin stripes, the paintings resemble swatches of moire taffeta. In columns bathed in grey, the colors bounce back and forth, in and out. Because she knows the dynamics of color and what happens when forms butt against each other, something delightful happens.
TCU gallery director Cristina Rees has studied Matthew Collings’ feisty criticism since the late 1990s. Rees was intrigued knowing he made art and that he did so with his partner. So she invited the pair and presents their paintings on two walls in the gallery.
Opposite the paintings appears a huge, handsomely laid-out text critique of Collings’ work by Merlin Carpenter, mercilessly slashed and edited by Collings as his rebuttal. The art, the critique and rebuttal all reward and serve as teaching tools in the university setting. Rees says “The text which cross-references with the paintings is incredibly key. It teaches one how to look at the paintings.”
The Biggs-Collings geometric abstraction emulates a less practiced art movement of the mid 70s known as Pattern and Decoration, or P&D. Artists, such as Philip Taaffe and Robert Kushner, adhered to design and ornamentation.
What interests me is that the predominantly solitary nature of artmaking becomes a dual effort. Other British artist couples come to mind, such as Gilbert & George’s large-scale photographic images, and the Chapman brothers’ figurative sculptures.
Three area arts venues presented Collings’ lectures, which showed a rare community approach to art education: He talked at Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas and The Modern in Fort Worth, and the couple together spoke casually with artists at the TCU gallery.
It’s expensive for a university gallery to bring in talent from abroad. But it expands our horizons as a viewing and learning audience. Committed to showing international artists, TCU will open in the fall with two Berlin-based filmmakers.
As for Biggs-Collings work, one colleague found the paintings too decorative and repetitive; the large-scale, expanded text merely a museum label; and the multiple talks overdone. In contrast, Rees sees their paintings creating controversy for not being shocking and believes the painting and color can be taken seriously. What pleases me is the communal effort and the unexpected, intellectual, in-your-face approach to art criticism.