Connie Fox And Bill King: Where Living And Art Coexist


Positive vibrations are exactly what a visitor feels driving up to Connie Fox and Bill King’s home in Northwest Woods.

No doubt the wooden structure and surrounding trees help set the scene, but even aluminum sculptures in the backyard—the work of Mr. King, who like Ms. Fox is a highly respected artist—fail to chill a warm sensibility permeating the couple’s exterior environment.

This warmth continues inside their home—in its dark wood floors covered by colorful, Southwest-designed rugs; festive throw pillows; a piano adorned with lots of sheet music. The couple’s art—Ms. Fox’s striking abstract paintings and Mr. King’s idiosyncratic small sculptures—also help to establish a comfortable mood. Curiously, the art does not overwhelm the interior, or even call attention to its special qualities. Nor do Ms. Fox and Mr. King themselves. They are as warm and comfortable as their inanimate possessions.

Unlike their living space, however, the couple’s separate studios are sparse and functional. Mr. King’s, which he refers to as a “Santa Claus workshop,” is a tiny room, filled with small tools and oddly shaped pieces of metal. Ms. Fox’s large studio has windows along one wall and six skylights, while a small table holds paintbrushes and implements like scissors.

The house and studios have a lived-in look that still conveys freshness and spontaneity—which seems suitable, considering that the couple moved in together during the early 1980s and finally were married by the late Peter Matthiessen in his Zen garden some 10 years ago. We get the feeling that everything has changed and nothing has changed.

Before they met, Ms. Fox and Mr. King lived very different lives. She grew up in a small Colorado town, traveling to New Mexico, Los Angeles and Pennsylvania. Along the way, she obtained a B.F.A. at the University of Colorado, attended Los Angeles’s Art Center School, and held a series of odd jobs, including making hand-painted abstract ties and drawing sale items in newspaper ads for an advertising agency. Meeting Elaine de Kooning motivated her move to East Hampton. It’s easy to see why Ms. Fox liked the area’s natural environment, and she had never lived by the water before.

On the other hand, Mr. King’s early days were close to the water near Miami. The story goes that his mother gave him $100 and told him to leave Coconut Grove for his own sake. Mr. King says he ran away with an older woman to New York, where he attended Cooper Union. His many distinctions during this period included traveling to Rome on a Fulbright scholarship.

Mr. King’s art style can’t be characterized succinctly as his wife’s can. His figurative sculptures, which many people think resemble him, have been labeled folk art, comic gesture and caricature.

No matter. Both he and Ms. Fox appreciate each other’s work, style and all. Asked to describe his wife’s paintings, Mr. King answers without hesitation: “She’s a major, true American painter of her time. She brought together all of Abstract Expressionism and made it intelligible.” We get the impression that “true,” meaning authentic, is the salient word.

Speaking of “true,” we ask Ms. Fox what her impression of Mr. King was when they first met, from a personal, not artistic, perspective. Speaking without hesitation as well, she noted that “I had just moved to a new area and was trying to get adjusted. I was totally living by myself and was used to it. I was quite content. I was doing my work.”

Yet life has a way of taking twists and turns. The couple moved in together, not only creating their art, but also having fun playing in Audrey Flack’s band. They also entertained at art openings. At one point, Mr. King said, Jimmy Ernst told a gallery owner to “get them out of here—they are scaring the customers.”

Does this sharing of experiences extend to their art? Do they ask each other for help or opinions? “We both know what each other is doing,” Mr. King answered. “We may ask each other for help in selecting a particular work for an opening. But that’s it.”

What’s it like when two artists live together, especially when they’ve been with each other for three decades?

Ms. Fox answers first: “If you’re married to an artist, you understand why you don’t take weekends off, why artists’ days merge into each other.”

Mr. King has the last word: “We both understand that art is a calling,” he says. “It’s life itself.”

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