Seventeen years ago, Will Huxley knew partner Garrett as the handsome “Heathcliff character” working at his local Video Busters.
“I’d seen him in the video store,” Will remembers. “I was trying to go in there and hire really artistic, important films – make an impression, right? Garrett was my first real relationship. I came out, and Garrett was my first male lover, so it was very special.”
On their first date, the artistic duo bonded over a shared love of Kate Bush, John Waters, Grace Jones, Prince and David Bowie – queer icons who are still essential to their connection, Will says. “Even just last week I said to Garrett, ‘If I didn’t like Kate Bush, would you still be with me?’ And he said, ‘No.’
“I was quite shocked. Even after 17 years, he might leave me if I said I hated Kate Bush.”
The couple worked independently as artists after their meet-cute – Will as a photographer and filmmaker, Garrett in photography and costuming – and it took six years for them to team up on a project: a “seven-metre glam-rock fantasy” mural at Melbourne’s Bakehouse Studios.
“Electricity happened,” Will says. “And we brought our skills together. Garrett taught me costume stuff, and I’ve shared photography and filmmaking, and we just fed off each other. When there’s two of you, no one says no. You encourage each other and keep pushing to do more ridiculous things.”
Now creating visual and performance art as The Huxleys, the pair are braver together, Garrett says. “Like, we set a speaker on fire, didn’t we? I probably wouldn’t have done that by myself.” Or “like painting yourself naked and gold, and like when we made our inflatable vagina”, Will adds.
The couple live together, create together and perform together. They also sew together in their Clifton Hill studio, above a local boutique in Melbourne’s inner north. Garrett calls their work “an intimate journey”, and it’s one that’s strengthened their bond. “I feel like us making art together over the years has brought us closer together,” Will says. “Some people say to me, ‘How do you work and live and create together?’ And somehow it makes me love him more.”
Though Garrett and Will admit their stresses as a couple are different to most people’s – a lost sequinned glove, a mid-performance eyelash drama, a tumble off stage in high heels – they’ve somehow always made it work.
Behind the glitter and the inflatable disco balls and the giant homoerotic prawn costumes, there’s a lot of hard graft, Will says. “There’s a great Dolly Parton line I’ve always loved – [she says] it takes a lot of money to look cheap. And she’s another hero of ours. But we do work really hard to look this ridiculous. We hope that it makes people laugh and brings them some joy. But we do work hard.
“It can be quite stressful. It’s also quite painful, a lot of looks that we do. So we suffer for our glamour.”
Chatting in their creative studio, surrounded by glitter and spandex and at least one disembodied Womble head, the couple return time and again to this idea of complementing – even completing – each other. Sharing, matching, filling in the gaps.
“I’m more introverted and Will’s more extroverted performance-wise,” Garrett says. “I feel like Will’s helped me a lot with that side over the years … It’s like some weird joke that I ended up a performance artist.”
“We bring out things in each other,” Will agrees. “I mean, I didn’t see this for myself. I didn’t imagine. I dreamed about it, but I didn’t think this would be my life.”
Despite their glam public personas, Will and Garrett say they’re far from “party animals” in their off hours. Instead, their idea of a good time, Will says, is to “have a cup of tea and watch The Golden Girls”.
Home life is shared with two “very needy, very cute, very emotional” staffies called Edward and Vivienne, and involves at least one viewing of Rose, Dorothy, Blanche and Sophia’s shenanigans every night. They’ll often set up “mini film festivals”, Will says, and run through the works of directors such as Pedro Almodóvar, John Hughes and David Lynch. Then, he adds, there’s “Midler Mania, where we watch all the Bette Midler films”.
This is their time to unwind and get comfortable – Garrett in a bright red tracksuit, Will in a hot pink version he describes as “very Richard Simmons-y”. The TV and trackies have become a nightly ritual, Garrett explains. “You just turn off and have that little bit of space for yourself,” he says.
“We’ve recently had to make some boundaries, because our work takes over,” Will adds. “We’re always working [so] when we get home, after a certain time, we’re not allowed to talk about performances or work or artwork, just so we can try and unwind.”
Garrett and Will’s latest project, Bloodlines, is a multidisciplinary homage to some of their most treasured “queer saints” lost to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the ’80s and ’90s. Icons like Leigh Bowery, Peter Tully, Sylvester, Malcolm Cole, Cookie Mueller and Tina Chow are celebrated through artworks, disco music and an enormous quilt – a nod to the AIDS quilts of the era that the pair are inviting people to contribute to with stitched memorials to their own friends and heroes.
While audiences will get to admire Bloodlines at Carriageworks as part of Sydney Festival, Will and Garrett’s more intimate project – their 17-year relationship – is just as powerful.
“A big part of our work is about celebrating our relationship, our love as queer people,” Will says. “Putting that message out there of joy and magic and beauty. After struggling with our sexuality for all those years, we’re making up for lost time. It’s a really important message for us and we put that into everything we do. Because there are still places in the world where being gay is criminalised. So, we’ll never stop putting that into our work. It’s very important.”
Read more in our Creative Couples series.
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