Many of us have fantasized about having a famous artist as a romantic partner: the passion, the fame, the status, and, of course, the chance to be immortalized as a masterpiece of art. When Rose implores Jack to “draw me like one of your French girls” she’s trying to become a piece of history just as much as she’s trying to get laid.
Yes, having a famous artist as a romantic part is the dream… but, depending on the artist, that dream could swiftly become a nightmare.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, and to ignite (or extinguish) some of those artist-muse fantasies, let’s take a look at some famous artists who would make the best (and worst) boyfriends.
The One That Buys You a Castle
We all know the name Salvador Dali; the surrealist artist best known for his wild paintings, eccentric ways, and twirly mustache. But did you know the man could melt hearts just as well as he melted clocks?
In 1929, Dali met an already-married Helena Deluvina Diakonoff, known affectionately as Gala. Gala was ten years older than Dali, and quickly became his muse and obsession. With a voracious sexual appetite, Gala often entertained younger lovers and had multiple affairs, which was cool with Dali because he liked to watch, was sexually inexperienced, and was reportedly afraid of lady parts anyway (so he’d probably be better at the “Netflix” part of “Netflix and chill”).
Dali would even sign some of his painting with both of their names because as he said, “(i)t is mostly with your blood, Gala, that I paint my pictures.” Gala acted as both agent and support staff to Dali, reading to him as he painted, getting better deals for him, and even chauffeuring him around.
In 1968, Dali bought Gala a castle that he could only visit with written permission from her, so she could take her boy-toys to bone-town in peace and quiet without disturbances from her pesky husband.
Unfortunately, by all accounts, their love story took a bit of a nasty turn. Toward the end of Dali’s career, he developed a palsy that made it impossible for him to paint. He took out his frustration on Gala, beating her so badly he injured her hip and ribs. After Gala died of the flu in 1982, Dali lived out the rest of his days as a cranky invalid whose bed caught on fire and burned 18% of his body. Accident or Gala’s revenge? You decide.
The One That’s Your Teacher
Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo are the Beyonce and Jay Z of the art world. All they needed in this life of sin was each other and some paint.
Born Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez, and known as Diego Rivera (because you would pass out trying to say his full name more than once), this prominent Mexican painter is probably better know for being half of Fri-Ego (a couple’s name we just made up) than his work. Diego wasn’t afraid of his lady’s success and often admitted that Kahlo was the more talented artist. The two met while Kahlo was Rivera’s art student, and (ick) only twelve years old. But it’s cool, it wasn’t until Kahlo was 18 and Rivera first saw her work that he began to fall for the young artist as much for her talent and spirit, as her beauty.
The two were wed when Kahlo was 22 and Rivera was 42, but age was never an issue in their relationship.
What was an issue, apparently, was all the side pieces. On both sides. (Cue Lemonade). Both Kahlo and Rivera had several extramarital affairs, Kahlo with both men and women, and Rivera with Kahlo’s own younger sister, Cristina. That familial transgression was the humping that broke the camel’s back, and the two soon divorced.
However, as we know from Bey and Jay, transgressions with Beckys (and Cristinas) can sometimes be forgiven, and Kahlo and Diego remarried and stayed together until Kahlo’s death in 1954. Although their relationship was rocky, Kahlo and Rivera seemed to love each other just as much as they deeply respected and admired one another. In Kahlo’s own words, “You deserve a lover who listens when you sing, who supports you when you feel shame and respects your freedom; who flies with you and isn’t afraid to fall. You deserve a lover who takes away the lies and brings you hope, coffee, and poetry.”
Add in “and tacos” to that last part and that’s as close to a perfect relationship as you can get.
The One That Photographs Your Soul
Peter Hujar was an American photographer best known for capturing his subjects vulnerability and individuality, whether they were a naked lover on a bed, or a naked cow in a field. He was the kind of tall, handsome, quiet man, with a tragically romantic troubled past, everyone around him fell in love with. He was able to take anyone or anything and make it shine in front of a camera. Think Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing but it’s photography, and everyone is Baby, and there are no corners.
Hujar thrived in the “island of misfit toys” that defined New York’s East Village in the 70s and 80s. It was there at a gay bar that Hujar met David Wojnarowicz, a much younger artist and creator, with his own tragic backstory, who quickly became Hujar’s lover, muse, and BFF.
According to Wojnarowicz, Hujar “was like the parent I never had, like the brother I never had.”
And, like all good relationships, each person pushed the other to be better. After meeting Wojnarowicz, Hujar’s life and work were reinvigorated with a new spirit and passion inspired by him. Fans of Huja’s work would often comment that Wojnarowicz was not that impressive to look at but Hujar made him seem interesting and more dynamic in his photographs than in person. Backhanded compliment much?
In a morbidly romantic end to their love story, Wojnarowicz was at Hujar’s bedside as he died of AIDS-related illnesses, capturing his last moments on film in a macabre tribute to Hujar’s life, work, and the devastating impact of the AIDs epidemic. After his death, Wojnarowicz became an even bigger activist for gay rights at a time when representation and action were needed most.
The One That Has Many Other Ones
Pablo Picasso is widely known as one of the most influential and prolific artists of the 20th century, co-founding the Cubist movement, inventing collage and constructed sculpture, and inspiring countless art and artist in his time and beyond. And when he wasn’t using his artist tools, he was using his artist “tool” to get it on with some of the most beautiful, talented, and captivating women around.
Throughout Picasso’s life he married twice: once to a Russian ballerina who left him because of his constant affairs but never divorced him because Picasso didn’t want to give up half his stuff (cool, bro), and once to a woman 52 years his junior who became the subject of over 70 paintings, and shot herself in the castle they shared 13 years after his death.
Before and after (and during) these marriages, Picasso dated and mated almost every model who sat for him. His many paintings are as much a chronicle of his art life, as they are the artist’s little black book. Imagine going to your boyfriend’s art show and seeing nothing but old Instagram pictures of all his exes on the walls. It’s like that.
The One That (Might) Murder You
Carl Andre is an American minimalist artist best known for his grid sculptures, clean lines, and art you can step on without getting in trouble with museum guards.
Andre, a former military man and blue-collar railroad worker, often took raw, found objects made of metal, wood, and brick and created installations that weren’t so much “made” as they were “placed” by Andre in museums. When Andre, a stoic, methodical and regimented man met a wild, passionate and unpredictable Cuban artist named Ana Mendieta, it was fire and ice in its truest form.
The couple fought, drank, and partied so hard they would make Kurt and Courtney look like Mormon sister wives. Mendieta’s art explored themes of feminism, violence, and nature, often using her own body as a canvas and materials like dirt, blood, and animal corpses as her tools. Even though the two artists’ work was vastly different, they both employed found objects. Except to Andre a found object was a piece of scrap metal, and to Ana it was a freshly decapitated chicken. Opposites attract right?
In 1983 their volatile relationship took a deadly turn when Mendieta “fell” out of the 34th story window of an apartment she and Andre shared. In a 911 call Andre stated she somehow “went out the window.” He claimed to not have been in the room when it happened, but neighbors heard shouting “no, no, no, no” moments before, and Andre had fresh scratches on his forearms and nose. At Andre’s trial, the art world was split. Andre’s side claimed he would never do such a thing and Mendieta’s supporters stated she was planning her first public art installation and would never have jumped with a promising career upswing fast approaching.
Andre was acquitted in 1988 of all charges, but still faces opposition from protesters at every exhibition. We’ll never know what happened on that fateful night, but we do know that Andre still lives in that apartment, claiming he would never move because he “loves the view”…
Maybe We Should Swipe Left On Artists From Now On…
Whether you love em,’ hate em,’ or hate to love em,’ these guys broke some hearts and made some arts. Maybe we should stick to less volatile men like rock stars and politicians, amirite?