Stuart A Staples & Suzanne Osborne, artists: 'Paula Rego was the only person to ever tell me not to censor myself'


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The musician Stuart A Staples (the lead singer of Tindersticks) and his artist wife Suzanne Osborne moved from London to La Souterraine, France, in 2003. They were travelling to holiday by car in Biarritz and came upon the house in the heart of the Limousin valley. Staples recalls, "I came in and made a beeline for the barn which at the time had no upper floor but just a ladder into the hayloft. "It was filled with cobwebs and straw – I knew it was right."

Osborne was born in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, in 1963 and Staples was born in Nottingham in 1965. The two have four children, two of whom now live with them in the spacious house that came along with the barns in the back.

Tindersticks, Staples band, were named from a box of matches they found on a beach in Greece replacing the band Asphalt Ribbons that he had formed in his native Nottingham.

Osborne's studio contains the ephemera of their lives together, family photographs, toys and stuffed animals. A disturbingly seductive blonde doll knitted for her by her mother is perched next to a taxidermy stuffed fox, both subjects of a recent painting.

One of her visiting tutors at the Slade was Paula Rego. "She was the only person to ever tell me not to censor myself, that I could do anything in my work, because it's the only area that I'm truly liberated to explore things that are unacceptable in other ways."

Staples says his parents finally accepted music as his career choice when they saw him in the Albert Hall from the Royal Box just before the band broke up for the first time. "Being a songwriter is not easy," he says. "There is a kind of a feeling that when an idea comes – when you accept it, you're gonna be responsible for something. And you have to accept that responsibility. And I don't kind of go, 'Wow, great!' I kind of go, 'Oh shit!'"

Now reformed the band comes together in France to hang out in the commodious hay loft that has been transformed into a comfortable space dominated by a large mixing deck. Staples said the last album was the first made entirely on this deck.

Staples and Osborne may have separate studios but they are always both each other's advocates and critics. Their recent project Singing Skies evolved when Osborne embarked on a conceptual project of painting a small picture of the sky every day for a year.

Staples says, "There's always a collaborative element between us, putting the sleeves together." What is their favourite I ask? Osborne responds, "We still have the Polaroid that Stuart took of me when I was pregnant with our second child, and that ended up being a record cover." It is her nude – just a torso. "Then I went into the local library and was like, 'Ooh, there's a picture of me naked in Lewisham Library!'"

Suzanne Osborne and Stuart A Staples: Singing Skies, Nottingham Contemporary (0115 948 9750) 4 to 7 June