Christo and Jeanne-Claude at The Gates, February 2005 | Photo: Wolfgang Volz
Christo Vladimirov Javacheff was a Bulgarian refugee who arrived in Paris, stateless from Communist Eastern Europe, in 1958 at the age of 21. “I was so angry about my non-existent place in the world—I didn’t belong to anybody,” Christo recalled. The former art student, who survived by washing dishes and eventually portrait painting, had already begun his signature idea of wrapping objects. First he wrapped paint cans covered with fabric, lacquer and string, before moving on to oil barrels on the industrial outskirts of the city.
Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon and Christo were born on the same day. They fell in love when he was commissioned to paint Jeanne-Claude’s mother's portrait, much to her family’s initial dismay. By 1961, however, they were passionately collaborating and their marriage was one that last both their lives. Listening to old interviews of the duo, they exude excitement, constantly expanding on each other’s points about their work.