Everyone knows that long-term relationships require tremendous amounts of work and time. When I think about the notion of working with my husband on a day-to-day basis I surmise we might kill each other on day two. The simple fact is: mixing business and pleasure is difficult. But for some, it’s the only way to live.
Imagine this situation: two artists in an intimate relationship, sharing a home, eating breakfast lunch and dinner together, working in the same studio, and even simultaneously painting on the same canvases. Maike Abetz and Oliver Drescher have been living like this for 20 years, yet still look like honeymooners in their own world.
This may be because, inside their Berlin apartment, they have very much created an alternate reality.
Black and white mod patterns decorate the walls; there are piles of books — from Homer’s Odyssey, various art monographs, to books written by the psychedelic psychologist Timothy Leary. Vinyl records lean up against the wall in an aesthetic formation. In the living room there is a wall mural where an oversized hand reaches for a bunny. Abetz and Drescher are the proverbial Alice – lost in Wonderland, where imagination is their weapon of choice against reality.
Their creative process relies on maintaining an insular life. There’s no Internet in the house, but, instead, lots of wine.
Even though I know it is an obvious question considering their extensive record collection, I asked them about music and its relationship to their work. They told me that sometimes when working on a painting, they will listen to an album on repeat for the entire duration, which sometimes lasted more than a year. For this they use a CD player, but otherwise “the record player is the only way to really listen to music.” I begin to think about the trance and the psychological effect this repetition must have on them.
Drescher explained to me how the music helps segment business hours from personal time.
“At the end of the work day, when we start to DJ with different types of music on the record player, we have a two person party that turns into an orgy,” he said.
At that precise moment Maike enters the room and asks me if I want another glass. How could I say no?
The two are big on experimentation, be it blasting rock and roll, taking drugs, or using the liberating effects of alcohol. Drescher says, “I can’t deny, I was born to blow my mind.”
We drink more champagne. I started to feel the magical effect of their bubbly and wondered if I was actually drinking their Kool-Aid. While I would normally take out my iPhone to document the occasion, I suppressed the urge, letting myself “simply be.”
From there I went down the rabbit hole. We began talking about religion and philosophy. Drescher told me, “Jimi Hendrix is God. We are all God.”
I asked them about their process. I want to be able to understand exactly how two people can work on one painting together. Is there a discernible difference between the brush stroke of Abetz and that of Drescher? They evaded my question and giggled, uncomfortably evading eye contact.
As an outsider, they were not going to tell me exactly where one ended and the other began, but maybe it’s because they don’t see the difference themselves – the hand of one is the hand of the other.
Undeterred, I asked them if they ever fought and I was relieved when they said they disagree over details in their paintings. But they were quick to say they almost always agree on the big picture.
“We cannot avoid having arguments but they can be productive and creative,” Drescher said.
This might just be the key to maintaining fulfilling, long-lasting relationships. They see everything as a possibility and an opportunity for growth. They are patient with one another, but at the same time they bicker over esoteric issues, such as their taste in art and music. These ongoing discussions are entertaining and engaging for them.
Maike can be passionate about her opinion but Oliver gives her space to go off on rants, which he eagerly listens to with a smile. I see how important it is to have a sense of humor. They take deep breaths and make each other laugh to tears.
They told me it’s been this way since 1994, when they met. They were both studying at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf.
Drescher remembered the exact moment he saw Abetz, “It was love at first sight.” That same night Abetz and Drescher went home together and never looked back.
As a couple, they seamlessly create large-scale paintings that offer glimpses into the past, future, and our most vivid dreams. They reference books, record album covers, and real objects. All of their reference images are analog, something that is strikingly unique in this digital age. They do not have smart phones and only use the computer when it is necessary. Perhaps this is the secret of their successful relationship — they don’t have distracting information popping up and beeping throughout their day like the rest of us.
Walking back out onto the city streets as I leave their home, part of me wanted to create my own little love shack. While I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready to go into business with my partner, I could do with more wine and turning my phone off every once in a while.
Stephanie von Behr is a native New Yorker who moved to Berlin three years ago to start a family with her German husband. She has been working in the international art world for over 10 years and currently works as part of the Magic Beans gallery team.
Abetz & Drescher are represented by Magic Beans Gallery.