Erlend and Pamela Tait are about to have their first major exhibition together, ‘Duologue’ at the RGI Kelly Gallery, Glasgow. The exhibition will showcase their collaborative process, including joint works and individual pieces that share a common theme and style.

Somnambule, acrylic on watercolour paper, 35 x 26.5cm

In the past, working collaboratively was something we would discuss enthusiastically, but other projects always kept us from developing the idea further. Then in 2011 we were invited to take part in the Couples edition of the Feminality Art Show in Los Angeles. This was an exhibition where artist couples would submit one piece of artwork each and one collaboration, and gave us a very good reason to spend time experimenting with collaboration.

At first we tried working it out through discussion, which got us nowhere fast. So, because we both love drawing, we decided to just put colour pencil to paper and see what happened. The whole exercise was surprisingly easy and completely rewarding. We each began by drawing a head, or laying out a composition on separate pieces of paper. When that initial drawing reached a point where a major decision needed to be made, or if one was just ‘stuck’, it was passed over.

Falling, acrylic on watercolour paper, 28 x 26cm

This is the point where trust, or maybe faith, becomes an essential ingredient to the process. We both trust each other implicitly, and have a mutual respect for the other’s skills and ideas, so the one handing over is excited to see what happens next, and the one receiving is eager to be given a new piece where the sometimes difficult starting point is already done.

The drawings were passed back and forth, maybe five or six times, until we were both satisfied with the final outcome. The nature of this process meant we had a few drawings going at the same time, but our first completed collaboration was ‘Double-edged sword’ which we sent to the Hive Gallery for the Feminality Art Show.

Priestess, pencil and pen on paper, 45 x 30cm

Not every piece we start works out, and some of the other drawings were never completed. However, ‘Priestess’, which was one of these earlier collaborations, was received well and we were asked to make a variation of it for an American t-shirt company.

We’ve both exhibited at the Royal Glasgow Institute’s Annual Exhibition, and in 2012 Lynne Mackenzie, curator at the RGI Kelly Gallery, invited us to have an exhibition. This was the perfect opportunity for us to concentrate on and develop our collaborative working process.

Luna, acrylic on watercolour paper, 35.5 x 27cm

After discussing ideas, themes and the expected outcome of the work, we decided to make this an exhibition of paintings (we first met while studying Drawing & Painting at Gray’s School of Art). We agreed that acrylic paint on watercolour paper was a good meeting place for our techniques, and not too far removed from our collaborative drawing format.

We thought about the structure of the show and decided to split the work roughly into three: one third collaboration, and one third each of individual works, all sharing some common element.

The starting point for a piece might be an idea in a sketchbook, or a photo in a magazine, or a thought at that point just before sleep. Most of our faces are drawn from photos, either found or taken ourselves. Patterns and compositions usually have symbolic significance.

In the case of ‘Somnambule’, we had watched ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’ (a German Expressionist film from 1920) and loved the character of the Somnambulist. That was over a year ago and, like many ideas, has taken a while to come to the surface. The execution was very similar to that of ‘Double-edged sword’, although we passed it back and forth fewer times. This is perhaps the case when we have a clearer idea of how we want the piece to look.

Double-edged sword, pencil and pen on paper, 35 x 30cm

It’s not about who painted what, as we both paint by building up layer upon layer. There are sometimes sections that won’t need changing, but it really is about working together to make the whole image, the piece going back and forth until we were both happy with the final results. The problem of us both having conflicting intentions hasn’t arisen yet. We enjoy seeing what the other will do. When we have a clear idea from the start of how a piece should look, then we don’t collaborate. Maybe ‘handing it over so you can fix this’ is a more accurate description!

Many of the individual works in the show still have a collaborative element – Pamela wanted to make a piece about the moon goddess, ‘Luna’, and in response Erlend made ‘Endymion’, her lover.

Endymion, acrylic on watercolour paper, 35.5 x 27cm

Although we photograph all our work on completion, we don’t have any photos documenting the process of a collaborative piece (sorry). The whole thing is too fragile, and we’re too immersed in it, and it’s almost like saying ‘this one’s going to work when it’s finished’, but we know it might not.

‘Duologue’ will be at the RGI Kelly Gallery, Glasgow from the 9th – 25th May 2013.