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Kansas City Creative Couples: Honig & Southerland

The work of iconic Mexican artists FridaKahlo 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.

Peregrine Honig and Mark Southerland

Ask artist Peregrine Honig if unhappiness in a relationship will lead to great art. Her answer: “Hell no.” 

Her husband Mark Southerland mentions a quote from the French writer Gustave Flaubert that was part of their marriage vows: “Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

Peregrine and Mark are at the center of the Crossroads art scene, as a couple and individually.

Peregrine is a painter and print-maker. She's nationally known for her delicate and disturbing watercolors of prepubescent girls. She also curates the work of other artists, and owns the lingerie shop, Birdie’s, on 18th Street.

Markplays experimental jazz and makes playful horn sculptures. Recently, he’s created fantastic environments for his performances which involve costumes, dance, sculptural installations, food—even live animals, on occasion.

Together, they bring people together for happenings like Mardi Gras and the 18th Street Fashion Show. And they’re always collaborating with each other and other local and national artists on installations and performances.

“Our art world, whatever it is, is nearly fully integrated into our husband and wifery,” Southerland says.

On being regular and orderly in their domestic life:

Mark and Peregrine often begin their days at a coffee shop to collect their thoughts, and go over their responsibilities for the day, both mundane and creative.

Mark: We want our lives to have some routine… We like to give each other the consistency and comfort of each other. Because there’s plenty about whatever goes on in your mind or whatever goes on in your mind that’s explosive and crazy, so you really want to be more there for each other.

Peregrine: We’re really trying to move away from time and space. So, when you come back into time and space with each other, it’s like, here’s time and here’s space to do your daily things, to not be hungry, to get a good night’s sleep.  I don’t think that art is necessarily vice-driven or anger-driven. I’ve always admitted that I make my best work when I’m well-fed and well-funded.

On their complementary skills:

Mark: A lot of times, I’m the pragmatic person. I’m the person who has to schedule things into the future. Conversely, I’ll ask Peregrine, ‘Hey, will  you think about this for me, how I can possibly achieve this?’  Or, what would be the way to get this person on board for this. She’s sort of a super-connector. She connects people in a really interesting way. I’m viewed usually as a more conceptual artist, but a lot of that starts with Peregrine helping me with thinking like that. I consider it a fun luxury to think like that, whereas I think Peregrine is thinking like that all the time.

On influencing each other’s work:

Mark says Peregrine has helped him talk about what he was doing in creating a visual experience for his music.

Peregrine: You had undermined the way that you were like, ‘Oh, it’s wacky jazz’… Instead of explaining what you were doing in your work, you were using these big, silly words because you didn’t have the language for what you were doing. Words are magic, and they determine what you do. 

A formative moment in his work came in 2008, when Peregrine curated an installation in their loft by the artists Carolyn Hopkins and Stewart Losee. 

Peregrine: All of the elements of the interior had turned into these leaping deer and rabbits and squirrels, and then Stewart basically made a huge outdoor backdrop, and … some kind of hyper-dimensional sun object that was on a timer so it would just get blindingly bright.

Mark: And I loved waking up in our little lofted bedroom, stepping out, and seeing this beautiful and fantastic installation. I would come down and turn on the super-sun and brush my teeth in the super-sun. 

Mark got permission to do a performance inside the installation.

Mark: I was already doing Wee Snuff, where I was performing in crazy costumes on tiny instruments. But all of a sudden I’m like, ‘Oh, I can not only change this little world, I can transform even bigger worlds around me.  I can do even more things to impact the music and visuals of what I’m doing. Let’s change everything about everything.’

Mark now makes these musical tableaus, collaborating with many performers, musicians, and artists, including Peregrine, of course. He’s currently working on a piece called No More Nomads about the end of nomadic cultures around the world.  

On keeping certain things separate:

Peregrine: Your relationship with your art … it can almost feel like it’s a separate coupling that you have with your creative self.  So, when you get to spend more time with your creative self than I get to spend with my creative self, [I] can get jealous.

Mark: We sort of meet up in that human realm and sculptural realm and then we diverge into these other worlds that we can comment on but we barely understand the mechanics of. I still find how she goes about, and what she finally comes to on paper to be really mysterious and beautiful, and a big part of her.  

The Kansas City Creative Couples Series will air every week on KC Currents through August 18. 

Sylvia Maria Gross is storytelling editor at KCUR 89.3. Reach her on Twitter @pubradiosly.
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