Born in Hong Kong, raised in Tokyo, the child of British ex-patriots with eyes beyond the horizon, Kaye Freeman is an international artist in the truest sense. Cybele Rowe is a sculptor, originally from Australia and now residing in Yucca Valley, after a stint in New York City. Together, they are The Love Armada.
In their 30 year relationship, the art partners have travelled from Australia through Japan, New York, and Dubai before arriving in California with their utopian yet antediluvian paintings, drawings, and sculptures. In their latest exhibition New Anatomy, the creative pair captures the tension and energy found beneath the cranes and reflected sunlight enveloping the dense streets of downtown Los Angeles.
For something that began as an experiment, The Love Armada has become an artistic force to be reckoned with. We caught up with Freeman and Rowe to find out more about their collaborative process...
How did your creative partnership begin?
Kaye: Cybele and I met in Sydney when we were 18 years old. I was dancing with an underground contemporary group and Cybele had just returned from NYC where she had been on an Australian Arts Scholarship.
She was working out of a ceramics studio behind the garden where I lived. We got to talking over the fence and hit it off right away. A few years later she moved to NY and we fell out of touch. About 25 years later we caught up on Facebook and rekindled our friendship.
We began talking more and more about the possibilities of a collaboration and in 2014 when I travelled to Mexico for a friend's funeral I was able to stay with her in California where we embarked on our first project, a Love Bomb for The Love Armada.
Cybele: When I asked Kaye if she wanted to have a crack at painting one of my forms that were hanging around in the 'nude' so to speak, she said 'sure, I'll paint that one' as she pointed to the biggest work I had ever made, sitting in my studio. I thought we were on to something, as she has no fear, like me, in art.
You obviously work well together – how have you made this possible?
Kaye: Because we both have such extensive experience working in the arts it has become innate in both of us. We create without thinking, it's pure intention. Collaboration is stimulating and challenging for both of us, we can lead and be led in so many new and unexpected directions. We have a huge respect for each other's work and trust each other implicitly.
Cybele: When I make a form it has 35 years of building knowledge upon that form. When Kaye works upon that form with her colour magic, right there, that’s another 35 years. An artist's building lifespan is usually around 70 years if they are lucky. We realised that together the 70 years plus of experience makes for some potent work.
"It's that respect where the artwork becomes more important than the artist"
You’ve got quite the varied and creative backgrounds. Is this why you don’t stick to one medium?
Kaye: As an older artist at 54, practising in a variety of disciplines, everything I have worked with so far has led me to this point. Be it dancing or painting film sets, the essence of what I’m doing has always been the same, it's just that with maturity I'm in command of my medium and not the other way around.
Cybele: I am not afraid to use the word craft. If I need to use basketry as a medium I will work out how the Australian women make their fishing traps. Mediums and craftsmanship of the mediums are the skills that enable me to have a varied toolbox so that I can find the medium to suit the message. Both Kaye and I are maniacs when it comes to learning new things.
Do you have a particular process?
Kaye: It's better if I am raw with where I’m going. Rules and patterns become a hindrance. Releasing the deepest essence of what I’m expressing only happens when I am brutally honest. I work every day and doing that...it's kind of like a dragnetting of my psyche. It's usually not until a series of work is complete that I can begin to see the cohesion like here in 'New Anatomy'. I think deep, I ponder and plan, niggle away at concepts and philosophies but once I sense the energy of where I'm going, things can move pretty quickly.
Cybele: Yep, like Kaye said. I also think that we learn so much that the process of unlearning is where the lessons become ones' own truth in the work.
What is it about the utopian genre that you love so much?
Kaye: We both wanted to create something for the world, something positive that everyone could relate to with The Love Armada. Organic forms that we all recognise, bright colours associated with ritual and celebrations. Cynicism and darkness have their place but it's easy to get stuck there. We wanted to flip the paradigm and choose happiness and light. Maybe that sounds naive but I find it pretty profound, simple and optimistic.
Cybele: I take very seriously the idea that I am on this planet to love and be loved. The fact that the expression is in abstract sculpture is only that.
You’re also inspired by LA – what is it about the City of Angels that sparks your creativity?
Kaye: LA is extremes, there's the depths of human degradation but also the height of compassion and love. Downtown LA is being reborn. The history of Los Angeles starts with Native Americans overlapped by wave after wave of cultural invasions culminating in one of the most diverse places on earth. It is a place driven by creativity. The energy is palpable and incredible. It makes me feel like a bloody behemoth.
Do you think it's important where you're based?
Kaye: Yes. It's incredibly important. My work reflects my state of being today, now, this very second. Living in LA means access to so many brilliant art galleries and close proximity to other artists of so many different backgrounds and genres. I need that.
You’ve travelled extensively. Where has been the most memorable and why?
Kaye: If I had to choose, Japan. It's my spiritual home. It taught me all about subtle and complex colour theory. Mexico is memorable too, for its churches and Our Lady of Guadalupe and the family rituals of the Day of the Dead. I love ceremony, it's theatre for the soul. As a child, I made up new religions so I could make altars to go with them. I really love Malaysia too. The food is incredible and the landscape so gentle. The power of Joshua Tree National Park in California kind of blew my mind away.
You have a new show, New Anatomy. Tell us more
Kaye: I developed scoliosis at an early age, which didn't prevent me from training in classical ballet and dancing professionally. But I did have to wear a full metal body brace for a number years. The politics of the female body has been dissected by every academic alive, but for me, I want to tell my own story of my relationship with my physical body and how it fits in the world and the landscape surrounding me.
I want to take the human form in all its glorious brokenness and give it back to the viewer as a scarred and deformed thing of utter beauty. My fascination with the physical came not only from my own history but seeing, as a child, the Japanese soldiers, World War II veterans, begging on the streets with their limbs missing. As a little girl, I saw survivors of Hiroshima, wounded, horrific wounds. It made a huge impression on me, which started me thinking about what it really means to occupy a physical human body.
Is there anything that's currently bugging you? How will you fix it?
Kaye: The only thing bugging me really is my six herniated vertebrae in my neck and dislocated rib. I've been going to a physical therapist once a week who is helping me and I think it's working. Other than that everything is pretty awesome and I have no complaints.
What's next for you both?
Kaye: I'm looking at cleaning up my studio. The next body of work is already simmering. Maybe some smaller versions of my last big tryptic DTLA as the Garden of Earthly Delights. I'm thinking of actual textures like fur and glitter. I might travel around the US a little and see some new terrain, see what inspires me next. I'm hoping to have a painting and drawing show in the spring.
Cybele: I'm on the next series of large lightweight concrete forms. Also for The Love Armada I am working on a series of large hanging forms. We also have a show coming up in the Joshua Tree Desert Art Walk in October, and then next year we're looking at doing a Love Armada show. We have been working on smaller works; Eternal Netsuke recently, which have been super fun and have taken the work in a whole new direction.