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Inseparable Kinship

It’s a cold afternoon in Brunswick on the kind of grey day that only Melburnians truly know. In a busy cafe on Sydney Road, where trams and traffic filters by, Bobby Clark’s buoyant, Scottish accent cuts through the dull noise.

“We met at fashion school and I was like, he better not be gay,” she says with a snort, turning to her husband Steve. “I told my friends I was going to marry him, and that’s what I did.”
“I knew nothing about any of that,” Steve adds, with a shake of the head.
 

Bobby and Steve Clark have been living in Melbourne for six years. After moving back and forth they’ve settled on the north side of town, and both have found popularity in art and design circles around the country. Steve, under the Den Holm moniker, is known for making limestone sculptures, tables and planters on private commissions for architects, furniture stores and designers. This week, he finished a piece for Warrior One Yoga, designed by the Melbourne studio Golden, which has been featured in several design magazines, such as Dezeen. Next week he’s finishing a table for one of the fancy rooms at Rae’s on Wategos, all the while making the next round of planters and tables to be sold in his online store.

At the same time, Bobby has been building a reputation as one of the city’s flourishing artists. Creativity and personality burst out of her, present in everything she does. Her minimal forms show a deep understanding of colour and composition. When they go on sale online, they sell out almost immediately. After showing in a group exhibition for The Design Files in Melbourne a few years back, she was asked to collaborate with the American musician Solange Knowles, painting the artwork for An Ode To, a collaborative performance piece at Solomon R. in the Guggenheim Museum, New York.

 

Since moving to Melbourne and starting new lives together, Bobby and Steve have garnered more than 50,000 followers on their respective Instagram pages, which – after starting with nothing in Australia – means they’ve been able to quit their day jobs and focus on the work they’d always dreamed of doing.

Originally settling in Melbourne as a stonemason, Steve now rents a large studio space, subletting small wings to other creatives and leaving the rest for himself and his team at Den Holm. His rise to prominence is wholly meritorious – the result of timely work that is both refined and completely idiosyncratic, combining his passion for art with the craft he’s refined over two decades. A Den Holm piece is the kind of piece that makes a home. Something to build a room around.

 

Intermittently, Bobby visits the studio and takes photographs of Steve’s work, capturing beautiful soft light beaming in through the windows and the striking sculptures and piles of rubble inside. She does much of the work for the visual side of Den Holm (she has a wonderful eye, taking photographs for the website and Instagram. Just last year, Bobby and Steve exhibited together in the space and it’s become something of a hub for local artists. “I’ve also taken on the warehouse next door as well,” says Steve. “It’s grown arms and legs mate, and we’ll need to move out of there soon.”

 

When I meet them this morning what charms me immediately is the spark with which they interact. It’s clear they’ve made an inseparable kinship, no doubt developed escaping to the other side of the world together, leaving their old lives behind. They’ve made a home in Thornbury and built a life in Melbourne. They are like all great couples – pushing and pulling, combative and competitive, reassuring and encouraging. They finish each other’s sentences. They laugh. They are most definitely in love.

As to how they met and came to live in Australia: Steve was working as a stonemason in the small Scottish town (population of 600) where he grew up. Stir crazy and scared of winding up like the guys he was working with – 65 years olds, who’d been going to work doing the same thing for 50 years – he packed up and moved to Glasgow.

“I had a fuck up for one year when I could drink every night in Glasgow,” says Steve, fiddling around with his coffee cup on the table. He sounds just like you imagine a Scottish lad from the country – one of the boys. Calm and collected with piercing blue eyes and rugged hands, wearing jeans covered in white dust. You can tell, with a look, that there’s a wild steak buried down inside. “So I decided I’d go and visit my mate in Canada at the time and I got even worse. It got really bad – I was homeless and living in shelters, man. But that made me come back fully ready a year later – I was like, let’s get into it.”

 

Once home, Steve resumed a love for embroidery that he’d discovered as a teenager, while he and his school mates were going to raves across Europe. At raves in Ibiza, people were wearing crazy outfits, the kind you might see at Burning Man today. “I found out people were making them by hand,” he says. “So I said ‘fuck it – lads, I’ll give it a go!” Before long, he was making festival outfits for all of the boys – sewing, stitching, knitting, piecing things together.

When he landed back in Scotland, trying to get back on the rails but with nothing to do, he decided he’d study embroidery at art school in Glasgow, where, on his first day, he met a girl named Bobby. “I’d made a mistake a few years earlier of dating someone from school,” says Steve, taking another sip of coffee. “So I didn’t want to date anyone in the course.”
“But I persuaded him,” Bobby cuts in with a cute smile.

 

Bobby’s route into art was a little more conventional. She’s from a family of artists. Her grandfather was a beloved painter in her home town – so she naturally found herself pursuing an artistic career (“but everyone told me I’d make no money, so fashion and textiles was my way of doing both”). She enrolled in Fashion and Textiles and fell in love with photography. After finishing school in Glasgow, Bobby and Steve applied to different honours degrees in different cities. They’re competitive and driven people, and both thought that it was best to chase their dreams in their respective careers. Besides, Bobby never liked the idea of London – and London was exactly where Steve needed to be. As fate would have it, they both got excepted for their honours degrees in Manchester, and their wonderful love story continued.

Once you hear about Bobby or Steve the first time, they are forever popping up. The kind of people an interior designer finds online and tells all of their friends about. In a quiet Melbourne cafe you might notice Bobby’s bubbly accent and (hilariously foul mouth) over the dull noise, but she very much belongs in the city. She has a very full Melbourne life, selling her artwork at selected retailers around town (like Pop & Scott, where she worked and picked up her painting again on landing in Melbourne). She teaches interior design to second year students in the city, jamming an additional four days of work into a successful art career. And recently (according to Steve) she’s started talking like someone from Melbourne.

“It’s fucking horrendous if I’m honest,” she says with tremendous verve, in reference to her morning commute into the city. “And the rent is like insane at the moment. It’s like 2k per month for a little tiny studio with no sunlight, and dust everywhere.”

‘Bob, it’s not as expensive as that,” says Steve, turning back to me on the other side of the table. “Bob just likes to exaggerate things a bit sometimes.”