How We Met: Olivier Garbay & Sarah Lucas
'For a few years it was impossible for either of us to be with anybody else'
Sunday 15 February 2009
Sarah Lucas, 47, is an artist who graduated from Goldsmiths College, London, in 1987 and came to prominence in the 1990s as a leading member of the Young British Artists. She has since exhibited globally. She lives in Suffolk
Olivier talks so fast and so French, I sort of understand what he says, but I couldn't prove it. I first ran into him at an art opening. We had some mutual friends and I was inviting a lot of people for Christmas that year, so I asked him without much deliberation. The moment he arrived we discovered all these things we had in common, such as our love for Purcell and King Arthur legends. As the evening wore on and the dancing kicked in, I realised Olly's an incredible dancer. He dances a bit like he talks: fast and, well, fascinating. The next day we went for a long country walk and had a couple of pints of Guinness and chatted non-stop.
From then on it was like a classic love affair, if you think of love as an energy field. For a few years it was impossible for either one of us to be with anybody else. It wasn't about physical intimacy – though in the early days I think we had a bath together – it was just all-consuming and exciting. I don't know if it would have been easier if he was straight. It's a strange, swampy, grey area. I felt there was something very important for me about our relationship. On some hard-to-articulate level it was very liberating. I suddenly realised quite profoundly that what I'd always been looking for was a companion and a collaborator.
Even just going to a party, you could turn up anywhere with him and he would be stylish, elegant, well-mannered; everything you ever wished a bloke would do, he did. It took a lot of self-reliance to stop being too emotionally dependent on one another. Being friends was a kind of growing up.
We can be silent together if we've got some work to get on with. He's very good at taking photos and writing down notes and recording things. I feel like the books we've made together are an incredible document of the period that was our life. Our latest, The Mug, incorporates all our misunderstandings and flights of fancy, and how we developed a language we could both understand.
Olivier is up for anything; together we're a couple of Don Quixotes. "We go" – that has been our motto.
Olivier Garbay, 44, is a poet from south-west France who studied in Paris and moved to Britain in 1994. His work also includes drawings, woodcuts, videos, jewellery, photographs and installations. He lives in London
Together, we're like children. We get over-excited about things. My lack of language in English makes quite a lot of fun for us, with all the mistakes and associations. Sometimes we're talking about William Blake or troubadours, as we're both quite romantic and obsessed with King Arthur's legends. Other time maybe we just want to talk about how knobby men are.
Before I knew Sarah, I knew of and really liked her work, but I had no idea what she'd be as a person. But I saw her at gallery openings in London around 1998 and had a sense of her terrific personality, then she invited me for Christmas in about 2004. It was there at her house in Suffolk that I discovered her tenderness and charm.
We both like natural things; we both share a love of food. We learned to live on nettles – making soup and tea. Sarah doesn't mind the sting at all. She goes pee on them on purpose, in fact, as she likes the sting on her behind!
We are like children, quite isolated in our visions of the world – that's why the relationship works, because she reassures me I am not completely an idiot.
We attract a crowd of people around us when we go out. We like running around, touching things and moving things around to make a sculpture. Then this develops another idea and we record the moment and I take a picture. These records are important to us because it's what we believe about living life in the now.
For Sarah's show in New York in 2005, God is Dad, she made sculptures of bricks and tights and buckets – and she wanted to make an atmospheric book for it that looked like a prayer book so I wrote the text and took the pictures. I was so in love with her at that point.
At points she referred to us as an item, which was a problem for me because my friends asked if we were screwing or not, which was a little embarrassing as I have never hidden the fact I'm homosexual. It's very complicated, as we were never able to make love to the people we loved – each other – which was very cruel in a way. We decided, hey, sex doesn't matter, I want to spend my time with you, of course.
We went to Bordeaux together with my mother. They get on very well, it's sweet to see them together. Our best time together, maybe, was in the south-west of France. There is a picture of the moment in our book The Mug called "Once Upon A Time". We were friends, we were happy, I had just heard I was going to read my new book of poems The Cloud at Sadie Coles' gallery – and I had just met Sarah's new boyfriend, a lovely guy. It was the best moment and also the worst because I realised I was as close as I would ever be with her because she have found someone else. I'm still in love with her – I'm a Gascon from south-west France, after all, so it's forever.
'The Mug' is published by Other Criteria at £75. It is out on 19 February
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