Photography by Rob Howard
Jeff, artist: When we met, I was 26, in grad school in London, and Rune was a year older. We were both hopeless romantics. We weren’t very good with thinking practically about things.
A year later, he asked me to marry him. When I left the U.S. in ’96, I don’t remember there being any conversation about things like marriage. We weren’t thinking about it. It was never something I desired or craved. It didn’t really make sense to me. When Rune asked me, I said I’d do it for the visa because getting married in Norway allowed me to stay in Europe.
Later we visited D.C., near where my parents live, and we went to a punk rock store and saw these matching rings. They looked like bubblegum rings, silver with two hearts with an arrow through it. After we left, Rune said, “Did you see those rings? Should I get them?” I kind of dryly said, “Sure, go ahead.” And those were our first engagement rings. We keep them on this little plug-in light we found in a flea market in Madrid. We took the icon of the saints out, and we put in a picture of us kissing.
Jeff & Rune with their bull terrier, Stein-Olaf
Now we’ve been together 15 years, and I understand why a lot of relationships don’t work. When people get married, there’s no way to know what that means. I think you figure it out over a really long period of time. After we were married five years, I told him, “If you asked me now, I would say, ‘Yes,’ and I would know what I was saying yes to.”
Since we moved to Hudson, N.Y., and we have our studio space, it’s amazing how things have changed. We’ve minimized the distractions—there’s less pressure to go out and see people. Ellsworth Kelly lives up here. Maybe we’ll be like that: We can kind of disappear and reappear whenever we want.
Jeff Gibson's artwork in progress at his studio in Hudson, NY
Rune, artist: I doodle Jeff’s face a lot. He has really great eyebrows. They’re big and bushy, good, tough eyebrows. We spend a radical amount of time together compared to other people. We enjoy each other’s company a lot, but I never thought I’d be with anybody.
I asked him to marry me because I was romantically inclined, but it was practical, too. It’s weird to think that we were really early. We were the first gay male couple to marry on the small island off the west coast of Norway where I’m from. But when we moved to America, nothing was recognized, and my immigration lawyer said, “Leave Jeff out of it.” It’s what we had to do for me to get a visa.
Rune Olsen's sculpture from a recent exhibit
Coming of age in the ’90s, I thought, How do I maneuver this? Jeff being Native American—that was a part of his dialogue. I’m Norwegian; I’m foreign. But because I’m white, I look like everybody else and people just think I have an odd accent and am from Minnesota. What do we call ourselves? Are we partners, or husbands? We still haven’t figured it out. We have a million pet names for each other, but our friends just call us “the boys.”
With two artists living together, there’s support and jealousy. I think we influence each other—in the way we talk about art, the way we think about it—but our visual language is pretty radically different. Both of us want the best for each other, but I feel that jealousy is a relatively good emotion. If you don’t care, it would be horrible, but jealousy indicates that there are a lot of feelings. And I like that—a lot of feeling.