The work of iconic Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera is on display this summer at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. They’re part of an exhibit called Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Masterpieces of Modern Mexico.
Kahlo and Rivera are known not only for their paintings, but for their tempestuous marriage, which sometimes influenced their art.
Inspired by Kahlo and Rivera, we are profiling some of Kansas City’s creative couples on air and online. From ballerinas to sculptors to musicians, we want to find out how two artists make a life together, and how their relationship influences their work.
Héctor Casanova Cinderhouse and Renée Cinderhouse
Renée, a sculptor, and Héctor, an illustrator and painter, first met in the mid-1990's while attending Bennington College in Vermont.
They'd lost touch for several years, until Renée moved to Kansas City, Mo. to finish her degree at the Kansas City Art Institute.
"My college advisor mentioned that they had just recently had some old Bennington grads finish their degree the prior summer. And I said, "Oh, really, who might that be?" And one of them was Héctor," she recalls. "And so we met again, three years later in the middle of the country, without having any idea that either of us were here."
On Green Door Gallery:
In 2000, a group of artists, including Héctor and Renée, opened Green Door Gallery in the West Bottoms. In the 6,000 square foot studio, the artists intended to, as Renée puts it, "showcase work that was truly groundbreaking in vision and scope."
Located on the second floor of an old post office, the gallery's monthly openings ranged from comic book art to performance art to installations incorporating industrial materials and found objects.
Héctor: It just felt like such a waste to have so much space and not do something that was going to a greater good. So, we decided to get all our resources together, [and] open a gallery. And not making [it] a for-profit gallery. Mostly, [we were] aware of how many amazing artists are in this city that weren’t getting the kind of exposure that they deserved.
Renée: We definitely geared our shows to the kind of art that would not fit in a mainstream environment. The most exciting shows we mounted had huge installation elements to them where our gallery was completely taken over, turned into a forest, with 6-foot bird nests on the floor or installations with business desks stacked on top of piles of stuffed dummy dead bodies. And so, out of that our tagline was born: "Green Door Gallery, your safe venue for unsafe art."
The Green Door Gallery closed in 2007. The couple now considers their home in the historic Northeast as a gallery in progress. Their own artwork, and the artwork of friends, hangs throughout the house.
On marriage as the next step, and a new last name:
On the day KCUR stopped by to take a portrait of the artists, Renée asked Héctor where she should stand, and he replied, "You should be on my heart side." The couple became engaged in 2002 on a trip to Spain but they waited to marry, in part because they hadn't yet agreed on a new official last name.
Héctor: In 2008, we realized that on September 9, 2009 we would have been together for 9 years 9 months and nine days. So that’s when we decided, you know what, if we are ever actually going to go through with this whole marriage thing, if it’s not that day then let’s just not even talk about it anymore. So, that’s how we ended up getting married on a Wednesday.
Renée: As we continued to have our relationship grow closer...we got married and took on the name Cinderhouse. For me that was a huge step and change because part of me taking on a married name meant that I was drawing a line in my own personal artistic career and changing my name as an artist.
On sharing a creative life:
Collaboration and competition are words Renée and Héctor use to characterize their relationship as an artistic couple. A shared creative vision helps the artists push themselves and each other.
Renée: Our talents offset each other really well. Just that he’s good at the things I’m not, and I’d like to think vice versa. That we end up creating sort of this “Super Wonder Twin Power” of artist capability, really allowing each of us to achieve greater artistic heights than either of us would have alone.
Héctor: We have a really fascinating dynamic. And I love how she is the only person that I can only truly just think out loud with. And an uncanny amount of the time she finishes my thoughts or she kind of bounces them off in the same general direction that I’m going but with a new twist. And I love that dance in our dialogue.
On art as a "political act" in Mexico, and Frida and Diego:
One wall of their home is adorned with objects that the couple found together, mostly on trips to Mexico. Héctor, whose mother is also an artist, was born and raised in Mexico City.
Héctor: In Mexico, being an artist is by definition signing up for a tremendous responsibility in which you are able to communicate through your art visually to the people. You have a responsibility to the people who are voiceless. And so, art, just by definition, is a very political act in Mexico. And that something I grew up very strongly believing since I was a kid. So that’s one of the things that I think have defined me just in the way that I feel and approach art from an early age.
Renée: I would imagine if Frida and Diego were anything like us, even at their worst, even when they pushed each other away, that really what it came down to is they really couldn’t live without each other because there is no one else like that one person. And you cherish that above all else.
Editor's note: KCUR intern Kaitlin Brennan recorded the interview with the artists; KCUR's Laura Spencer, with assistance from KCUR's Julie Denesha, wrote the story.
The Kansas City Creative Couples Series will air every week on KC Currents through August 18.