May 1st, 2022
A conversation with the artistic duo, KOLLABS, feels as collaborative as their painting style. Throughout our first Zoom interview with the artists, the two seem to alternate in perfect unison between playfulness and sincerity, laughing and joking together one moment and offering each other heartfelt sentiments the next.
Artist Anke Schofield considers herself more of a photographer, interpreting the world through her strong sense of composition and value scale. Artist Luis Garcia-Nerey considers himself a bit more expressive, creating his paintings in a loose, abstract manner. At a glance, the two might not seem all that alike; however, after nearly 2 decades of close friendship and artistic collaboration, the two harmonize together like musical instruments: both distinct and vibrant in their own way but made all the more exquisite when played together.
So how did these two artists first decide to begin collaborating and how is it that they make their beautiful, mixed media, “music”? We sat down with the artists to find out.
Gallery MAR: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us. We really appreciate it. This is actually our first time interviewing two artists at once! Most of our questions are for the both of you, but this first question is for you each, individually: How did you decide to make a career out of the arts?
Anke Schofield: Well my dad was a photographer. He was a professor at Cornell, but he was also a photographer. It was kind of a hobby for him, so we had a dark room in our house growing up. I kind of learned through him.
Then I had an apprenticeship with another photographer during high school before I eventually went to art school. It just progressed from there, so art has always been in my life. I did my own work after art school and then I met Luis. He and I have been creating art together for… well, I don’t want to admit quite how long because I’m getting older, but it’s been some 20 odd years now.
Luis Garcia-Nerey: You’re still looking great, buddy!
Anke Schofield: You’re looking good, too, Mr. Gray Hair!
Gallery MAR: So art was in the family for you. Was it in the family for you as well, Luis?
Luis Garcia-Nerey: No, for me it was a similar journey, but it wasn’t in the family. I went to art school and then I started painting as a young adult. I soon found my way to Atlanta somehow and that’s when I met Anke. Shortly thereafter, we started working together.
“We’ve been working together for so long together that we know each other’s strengths. I wouldn’t say that it was ever hard, because we always had a fun time doing it, but now, we’re like machines when we get together.”
– Luis Garcia-Nerey
Gallery MAR: How did you two meet?
Luis Garcia-Nerey: When I moved to Atlanta, I lived in a place called the Bass Lofts. It was this old high school that they turned into lofts. I used to paint in the loft while my wife was at work, but every afternoon, I had to pick up everything and clear the room before she got home so we could have space. Anke happened to live in the same lofts. Her boyfriend at the time was a social guy, and we met and started talking. I told him I was an artist and he mentioned that his girlfriend was an artist, too. So he hounded her to meet and talk to me. She probably thought “oh God, I don’t want to meet another artist” —
Anke Schofield: (laughing) That’s true…
Luis Garcia-Nerey: — but we met, and she saw my art setup all in my loft and joked that I needed to pick up all my art supplies before my wife got home. Then she suggested that, instead, I bring them to the studio where she worked. There were all of these other artists there. So I went there and got a spot at that studio, and that’s how we met.
Anke Schofield: That place was cool! It’s legendary in Atlanta. It’s called the Mattress Factory. At the time there were like 20 artists there. You’ve probably group artist studios before that are a little more commercialized, but this one wasn’t anything like that… How would you explain it, Luis?
Luis Garcia-Nerey: It was an old mattress factory from the ’30s or ’40s.
Anke Schofield: Yeah, it was like a rundown mattress factory, so there was a lot of history in that place. It was so cool!
Luis Garcia-Nerey: And we just inhabited it. It wasn’t formal or official or anything. There was no gallery. It was just about a bunch of artists breaking this space up into studios, claiming a spot, and painting in there.
Gallery MAR: What a creative, avant-garde space to start your art career!
Anke Schofield: It really was! We would have shows there. Not commercialized at all, but put on by the artists. We would all do our work there, hang out together, and do monthly shows. Now they’re lofts. Did you know that, Luis?
Luis Garcia-Nerey: Didn’t they knock them down?
Anke Schofield: Yeah, they knocked them down.
Gallery MAR: Before working at them in the mattress factory, did you typically each work in solitude? Was this your first experience working alongside other artists in the same space?
Anke Schofield: For me, yeah.
Luis Garcia-Nerey: For me, too.
Anke Schofield: But it was strange, because people would still stay to themselves for the most part. You would see each other in the morning and say hello, but working was mostly private. Every once in a while, people would pop in and ask you what you were working on. Then we would get together and do big group shows.
Luis Garcia-Nerey: Yeah but it was also the kind of place where you also had no heat and air.
Anke Schofield: Oh, we were hot and cold constantly.
Luis Garcia-Nerey: We had these big propane tanks, and we would put a nozzle on them and jam them up all the way in our studios just to stay warm.
Gallery MAR: I feel like those are the best artist origin stories, though. It makes you all the more grateful for where you are now! So what inspired this idea for collaboration? Of all the other artists there in that communal space, what inspired you two to start working together?
Luis Garcia-Nerey: Well first, we became very good friends. We were young and having fun and drinking and having dinners and going out —
Anke Schofield: …and playing dominoes!
Luis Garcia-Nerey: –– yes, and playing dominoes, so we became friends. We were friends for a while before we ever started painting together… Years even!
Anke Schofield: Luis had already moved to Miami by that point. There was a woman who owned a gallery that had us do a double show there. She suggested that we do a collaboration, and we thought, “okay, why not?” I think we started with paper pieces, right? It was so long ago…
Luis Garcia-Nerey: Yeah, we got together one night in the studio and started throwing stuff together, and it was fun. We were having a lot of fun with it. There was no pressure, so it was just fun for us. When the show opened, we did really well with the paintings that we made. So we decided, “hey this might be a good idea.” We did a grouping of paintings and started showing them around, and the rest is history.
Gallery MAR: That’s so fascinating that you decided to collaborate after you moved away. I assumed it was while you were both living in Atlanta! So you’ve always traveled to each other’s studios to collaborate then. Could you walk us through a little bit about how you collaborate long-distance?
Luis Garcia-Nerey: Sure! So Anke and I are buddies. Even if we’re not talking about work, we talk to each other pretty much every day. The way that we collaborate is just like that. Since we live in separate cities, we are big planners. If Gallery MAR needs fresh art, or if we have a show coming up, we get on the phone and start talking about sizes and themes and what kind of work we want to create. We start bouncing ideas off of one another, and we start sketching. Anke will send me some of her drawings, and I will send her some of mine, and we will add to each other’s. We organize all of it before we ever visit whoever is visiting each other’s town. We organize it all so that when we get together, we just jump to work.
“We’ve come to a point where we really trust each other and that’s so important with what we do.”
– Luis Garcia-Nerey
Gallery MAR: So for you two, the artistic, collaborative process starts long before you ever enter the studio?
Anke Schofield: Definitely, because we often don’t have a lot of time when we’re together. It really helps us to plan ahead. The images for our work are always already produced beforehand. We pretty much know what we’re doing on each panel before we start. Once we start, we can change things in the moment, but the main idea and the color scheme is already in place before either of us get into the studio. Then we swap the work back-and-forth while we’re working.
Gallery MAR: How do you feel like you two work together in the studio?
Luis Garcia-Nerey: We’ve been working together for so long together that we know each other’s strengths. I wouldn’t say that it was ever hard, because we always had a fun time doing it, but now, we’re like machines when we get together. We know what we need to do, we know what each piece needs, and we know how long we can spend in the studio. We’re that close, basically.
Anke Schofield: Plus, neither one of us slacks off. I couldn’t imagine working with someone who wasn’t as on top of it. I think artists can sometimes have too much freedom. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want. Because of that, a lot of artists aren’t able to do what we do. They just don’t get things done, but we’re both so scheduled. I think that’s a strength in both of us. When we get together, we get so much done.
Gallery MAR: That’s incredibly impressive. I know that a lot of people — especially artists — would have difficulty getting along for that long, let alone working together so closely for as long as you two have.
Anke Schofield: Yeah, he’s like my other brother. I think it’s easier because we’re friends. We can stay honest with each other. There are times when Luis doesn’t like what I paint, and there are times when I don’t like what he does. We’ll just scratch over it or paint on top of it, and nobody‘s feelings get hurt, because we’re in it as a team. We both want it to look a certain way, and we both know what works and what doesn’t.
Gallery MAR: Speaking of that teamwork, what do you love or appreciate the most about each other’s contributions to the work?
Anke Schofield: Luis is an incredible abstract painter, and he just gets textures and colors so well. I’m a little bit more flat in my work, because I use more photos, but we are such a team, and it’s so harmonized now that it’s hard to say, because we both contribute so much.
Luis Garcia-Nerey: I think Anke is great at yelling at me.
Anke Schofield: (laughing) Well I’m German, so I’m bossy-boots and efficient.
Luis Garcia-Nerey: No, no, I’m joking, she’s a very, very, very talented person. She’s so good with composition and at knowing what looks good and what doesn’t look good. We’ve come to a point where we really trust each other and that’s so important with what we do. We have different styles. Anke is more photo-based and I am more painterly and abstract, but we gel that with KOLLABS.
Gallery MAR: It seems like you two have very similar personalities too, is that accurate?
Anke Schofield: Oh god yeah, we’re both jokesters and we don’t take too many things very seriously, but when we have to, we will. When we are in the studio, there’s music on, and we’re laughing and joking. We take life on the lighter side, I guess you could say, but at the same time, we’re serious about our work and our business.
“When you’re working with a gallery that you respect and know what to expect, it feels good to be painting for them […] when we do work for Gallery MAR, we’re fired up about it.”
– Anke Schofield
Gallery MAR: It does sound like you take your art seriously. It must be nice to have that balance of fun and organization. That’s probably why you’re both so successful! How do you find that balance?
Anke Schofield: Well we have to be organized because we live in two different states. We get emails from our art galleries and have to coordinate who responds. We often take turns.
Gallery MAR: Do you feel like that end of the business has grown more difficult with Anke’s recent move to Colorado, now that the geographical distance between you two is greater?
Anke Schofield: I don’t think so.
Luis Garcia-Nerey: I don’t think so, either, and I’m the one out of the two of us who is most terrified of change.
Anke Schofield: Yes, Luis was all worried when I moved.
Luis Garcia-Nerey: Yeah, I was scared, but you know what? It’s the same. It’s just a slightly longer plane ride.
Gallery MAR: It seems like a lot of the work that you create has that colliding of worlds between the man-made and the natural worlds. Could you talk a little bit about that theme throughout your work? How did you land on that, what inspired it, and where is it taking you?
Luis Garcia-Nerey: We’re both animal lovers, as you can tell with our work. In the beginning we started working with animals in our work just for fun, and then we started thinking about how interesting it would be to put these animals in human experiences. We wondered how deep of a meaning that could have — not only to us, but to the people who are looking at the piece. We are both inspired by nature, so we want to bring nature inside of the human experience.
Anke Schofield: And design! We’re both inspired by vintage rather than by modern design and that comes into play with our work, too. If you go to Luis’s house, and then you go to my house, our decor is kind of similar. I think it helps that our styles of art and styles of living are about the same, wouldn’t you say?
Luis Garcia-Nerey: Absolutely, agreed 100%.
Gallery MAR: I imagine your shared aesthetic really helps your work styles feel more harmonious. What else do you feel are your greatest artistic influences or inspirations?
Anke Schofield: I’m inspired by everything, and I travel a lot, so that’s a big influence on my work. I don’t have a top five favorite artists list or anything, but Luis and I both used to go to art fairs and we were both always drawn to the same work.
Luis probably has a more specific answer for you though, he’s always been more analytical and better with words. If we ever have to write anything, he writes it. I call him Shakespeare. I’m not like that at all, I’m like a kid in a candy store, going, “I like that, I like that, I like that,” but Luis can be a little more specific about why. That’s true, right?
Luis Garcia-Nerey: A little! I do write on behalf of KOLLABS. That question is challenging to answer though because, at first, I used to think about specific artists that influenced me and that kind of thing, but it’s become bigger than that. We inspire one another. Our families and friends and travels inspire us. Now we do it on our own, and I just love it. It’s a lot of fun to do something you love with someone who’s your best buddy.
Anke Schofield: We’re best buddies, but we’re also always working when we’re together. People are always telling us that we need to take a day off, but whenever I go down to Miami — you’re gonna laugh at this — but when he picks me up from the airport, I’ll ask him, “Can you please just drive me by the beach so that I can see the water?” We just don’t take breaks from the work. I’m in the mountains of Colorado now, and I’m like, “We should really start taking a day off to go in the mountains,” but we just don’t. Once one of us lands in each other’s city, it’s on. We’ll maybe stop for a coffee, but will go straight to the studio.
“We don’t wanna spell it out for viewers. We want to leave a little mystery […] and if people resonate with it, we want them to have their own story about it.”
– Anke Schofield
Gallery MAR: These studio sessions… are we talking hours, days, weeks?…
Anke Schofield: Weeks!
Luis Garcia-Nerey: It’s always weeks, but sometimes we’ll have to start work one week and come back and finish it on a returning trip. When that happens, we leave it as far as we can take it and then we go back and finish it on another trip.
Anke Schofield: Shows are usually two trips, but it depends on how much work we have to do. For instance, Luis is coming out in May, and we’re going to be doing a lot of work for Gallery MAR, of course, because you all are incredible. So there are new inventory trips and then there are show trips. It’s kind of always ongoing.
Gallery MAR: Speaking of Gallery MAR, do you remember how you first started showing with us?
Anke Schofield: Yes! We were at a show in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and we went out to dinner with someone from a gallery there.
Luis Garcia-Nerey: She told us that she had a friend who owned a gallery that she wanted us to meet, and it was Maren. We went out to dinner with her and her husband, Matt. We got along and they were so cool. They asked us if we were interested, and we were like, “Yeah! Let’s do it.” Since then, it’s been just a total package-experience — a good vibe all around. Anke and I have been talking a lot about it and how important it is to have a great gallery.
Anke Schofield: Yeah, Luis and I have been having some pretty heavy talks lately about how important it is that galleries communicate. We know some galleries that just don’t communicate well with their artists, and it is so frustrating. You guys at Gallery MAR are always on point: answering emails, always responding, keeping us in the loop with everything. I don’t even know how to say it, but it’s just so important to have a good relationship with your gallery, and we don’t take that lightly. Plus, we love the work that Maren chooses, we’re thankful for all the sales, and the staff is incredible. It’s just such a good working relationship.
Luis Garcia-Nerey: When you don’t have that great relationship with your gallery, it’s so frustrating.
Anke Schofield: Yes, and then when you go in the studio, and you’re frustrated because somebody’s not answering… well, you don’t want to work in a bad mood. When you’re working with a gallery that you respect and know what to expect, it feels good to be painting for them.
Gallery MAR: What a great point that I never really thought about before: this idea that you’re making better work when you’re in a better mood, which can be informed by your relationship with your art gallery.
Anke Schofield: Yeah, because we’re happy! We’re always thinking, “Gallery MAR is doing great, we want to give them great work.” Of course, we never give anybody bad work, but when we do work for Gallery MAR, we’re fired up about it.
Gallery MAR: That’s so wonderful to hear! Thank you for the kind words. We’re so glad to hear that you love working with us as much as we love working with you both. Now, I know that some artists don’t really like to think about the other end of the experience while they’re creating, but if you could, what message or feeling do you hope that your work conveys to viewers?
Anke Schofield: Oh boy, that’s a deep one… Shakespeare?
Luis Garcia-Nerey: I want people to own our pieces because they love them and want to live with them, and it makes them happy. I want people to feel something inside and want to live with that feeling. It’s incredible when that happens.
Anke Schofield: Yes! And we don’t wanna spell it out for viewers. We want to leave a little mystery, like why are these bears on this couch, and why are they looking at each other like this? Or why are they on a vintage stereo? We want to leave a little bit of mystery up to the viewers, and if they resonate with it, we want them to have their own story about it. We will start the story, but we want them to have their own, because at the end of it all, like Luis said, we don’t live with our paintings, they do.
We create so many works that it’s so nice to see where they land. A lot of times we don’t know where a work ends up or what kind of environment a piece lives in. A lot of galleries forget to show the artist that end of it, but Maren doesn’t. We get in situ images of where our works end up from Gallery MAR all the time, and honestly, it inspires us.
Gallery MAR: Speaking of inspiration, what are you currently most excited about in the studio?
Anke Schofield: Well, we’re getting ready to do some new stuff when Luis comes here in May. We’ve had a couple conversations about picking it up a notch, because you always have to push.
Luis Garcia-Nerey: We really want to push, push, push!
Anke Schofield: For me, the most exciting thing is what’s to come. What are the new pieces going to be? We have some ideas floating around, and we’re looking forward to doing some really cool new things, but neither one of us knows exactly what it’s going to be quite yet.
Luis Garcia-Nerey: But that’s what we’re most excited about: the unknown.
Written and interviewed by Veronica Vale