Bobby Johns and Steve Shuck live in a funky, inviting bungalow in Hyde Park (theirs is the house with the large teepee in the backyard). They live in the house with their dogs Claude, Sophie and Doctor Grandpa, a Chihuahua-Italian Greyhound mix who has the temperament of a short, wet devil. The mounted deer head perched at their front door does not have a name.
Bobby is the general manager of the Hotel San Jose, and he and Steve co-own Mercury Design Studio in the Second Street District; Steve is also the CEO of STAG, the men’s clothing store on South Congress. The couple, along with three of their friends (Joel Mozersky, Ted Allen and Don Weir), are partners in STAG.
They met nine years ago at a divey rock & roll bar in San Francisco that has “graffiti on the walls and smells like Parmesan,” according to Bobby. “I just thought I was meeting someone nice,” he recalls, until they kissed. They exchanged phone numbers and Steve said goodbye. Then, he gave Bobby a kiss that made his toes curl. “It really did,” Bobby recalls. “I thought, ‘That was magic.’”
“I get that a lot,” Steve says.
Their history in retail (Bobby worked at Whole Foods before managing the San Jose), and the talent for diplomacy that industry demands — the ability to “keep the waters calm,” as Steve puts it — has carried over into their relationship. “We laugh all the time at each other,” Steve says. “And we both put each other first. Respect and humor are what allow us to sail through.” Bobby says he and Steve never yell at one another. “It speaks volumes to me that Steve and I have never raised our voices to each other in nine years. Any difficult situation to navigate through has always been done with respect.”
How is it possible for two people who see each other constantly to not get tired of one another? Ally Curtis says she and Josh Power are “like a Venn diagram,” her talents different from, but complementary to, his. They live in a small house in Rosedale where they run alysondesign.com, their graphic design firm with clientele including Opal Divine's, Habitat for Humanity, Cedar Door and Westminster Manor. Josh says one of the reasons he and Ally are still in love is because “we’re really interested in a lot of different, creative things. I guess in this town everyone is, really.” In other words, they do creative work at their business during the day and leave all the interesting non-work topics to talk about at night.
Before marrying last September, they lived together for nine years. Before moving in together, though, they got to know one another over a screenplay that never nabbed a production deal but nonetheless forged their relationship. Josh, who was a musician at the time, says he felt “like a total outsider” in Austin in the mid-90s. (“Feeling like an outsider was what the 90s were all about,” Ally recalls.) He and a friend wrote a screenplay, a dark comedy they called Smelly People, to combat movies like Reality Bites and Singles, bland studio product that supposedly defined Generation X. Set in Austin, the screenplay intrigued Ally, but Josh intrigued her more. He wanted her to read Smelly People. “That was the ploy to see her again,” Josh now confesses. She thought the screenplay was funny and she liked the fact that she was falling for Josh. Having read the screenplay, “I had to call him to give it back to him,” Ally says. “And somehow that involved a bottle of wine.”
Neither one seems terribly aggrieved that Smelly People never made it to the screen. “You got to use the screenplay to land the girl,” Ally reminds him. “So it worked out in the end.”
Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler were kindred spirits, from different continents, when they met at an artists’ residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada in 1989. Though neither of them gush publicly about their love for one another, it is impossible to believe the first meeting of Hubbard/Birchler, as they’re now known in the art world, wouldn’t have been revelatory for both of them. Teresa was born in Ireland to American parents but grew up in Australia; Alexander is from Switzerland. Neither of them are from a family of artists or intellectuals, but now they’re sought-after and highly respected video installation artists, and it’s difficult to imagine them ever apart.
Hubbard/Birchler create inquisitive, atmospheric and even haunting video art that, although it explores film history and how film history resonates in a given place, “traces of the cinematic in social terrain,” as Teresa puts it, doesn’t let the viewer off the hook like a typical Hollywood movie does. Hubbard/Birchler want you to involve yourself intellectually and emotionally in their art. Their resume of exhibitions reads like a who’s who of the contemporary art world: Their most recent artwork, “Grand Paris Texas” and “Méliès,” is on display at the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in Manhattan, and they’ve exhibited at Ft. Worth’s Modern Art Museum, the Miami Art Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art at Altria, New York, the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid and at the Venice Biennial, among many others.
“It was pretty instantaneous,” Alexander says of their realization at Banff that there was a romantic spark between them but also a deep, aesthetic connection. Their relationship has always been grounded in pragmatism, though — they decided at Banff that they should work together because, in competing for a grant there, they realized one of them was going to receive it, so why not work together? When they’re at art openings or other functions, they ask to be seated apart from one another. “People think it’s weird,” Alexander says. “But we come from the studio and we want to talk to other people.” Now, more than 20 years after they met (they married in 1993), their working process is, as Teresa puts it, “like a vocabulary.”