Once Were Warriors
“We started working together when we were in second year at art school,” says Louise Chappell, one half of the art and design duo Good Wives and Warriors. But it wasn’t until they graduated that they started taking their collaborative venture more seriously, and even then there were a couple of false starts. They abandoned their original collective name after a change in direction. “We officially started in 2007, making works under a different name, before realising that wasn’t what we wanted to do at all.”
Chappell shared a studio with collaborative partner Becky Bolton for three years at SWG3 in Glasgow where they also exhibited their work. It was during this time, Chappell explains, that they would always try and get a mention in The Skinny. She lets out a wee triumphant laugh now the shoe’s on the other foot.
Having featured in our Showcase in 2008 and then designed a cover in 2010, we approached Good Wives and Warriors earlier this year asking them to take part in our new project with Culturelabel. Quality, limited edition prints of their work, along with the work of 6 other great artists featured in our Showcase section over the past four years, will be available to buy from December through www.culturelabel.com.
“There’s going to be four prints that come from our recent drawings, which have all been based on mandalas.” From the Sanskrit word meaning ‘disc’, mandalas are circular depictions of the universe in Hindu and Buddhist symbolism. These often symmetrical and ordered presentations use figurative and architectural motifs, such as gateways and gods.
Perhaps less interested in representing the universe and its divine hierarchy, Good Wives and Warriors’ mandalas instead reflect the convictions of our own age. Drawing on biological and celestial structures, they imply a kind of enclosed neatness, like the Buddhist images of old, and a chaotic excess more attuned to our present age. Tight, geometric shapes are surrounded by floral profusion; precise patters are inhabited by dark, organic forms.
The prints form part of a body of work they’re making for two coming shows in London and Berlin where they will create their now signature, large-scale wall drawings. But the exhibitions come at a busy time. Already they find themselves in their London studio until midnight working on design commissions alongside their gallery practice.
In recent years, they’ve produced design commissions for Absolute Vodka and Adidas, as well as illustrations for magazines (such as The Skinny). Do they discriminate between the two branches of their practice or do they see the two working in a kind of holistic whole, say, like a mandala?
“It comes down to context – as in where the drawing is being shown – and intent,” Louise explains. “So, if we’re making work for ourselves, for an exhibition that is going to be shown in a gallery space or an artist’s publication, then that’s a fine art piece to us. It’s entirely our own concept and has no financial or commercial value, as such. If it’s for a client, if there’s a brief or we’re working to someone else’s specifications, and it’s going into a commercial setting, such as an illustration for a magazine or an illustration that gets used on a bit of packaging, then that’s design.”
Spanning both fine art and design is an achievement few artists can accomplish. But Good Wives and Warriors pull it off with aplomb. Now also making sculpture, they are ever expanding their practice, producing colourful Buckminster Fuller domes that are, to an extent, the modernist equivalent to the mandala. In many ways utopian, their work imagines a harmonious unity that is perhaps not so far fetched. Even their duality implies a kind of equilibrium. For every good wife there is a warrior.