The Third Artist: Painting in Collaboration

Abbe and Harriet stand side by side when they work on a mutual painting. Yes, they create their own work, but since 1998 they have also collaborated on works by a “Third Artist.” Abbe lives in New York City, Harriet in Cabin John, Maryland; they alternate cities. Together two artists create a third aesthetic:

Harriet: I begin a drawn composition, and work the composition, with a linear approach, like a map of how to get there.

Abbe: I start by approaching the depth of field at the same time and in the same way as I approach the color. I try small vague studies at first, in order to see the whole, and to feel what will happen with the paint, and where the problems will arise.  I don’t solve anything any further than that, I stop, and we both begin to combine what we’ve just done.

What they create, says Abbe, “neither would have imagined alone.”

* * *

Abbe Stahl Steinglass paints both landscapes and abstracts. While an abstraction begins as “diagrams of ideas” that become symbols and metaphors to tell a story, landscapes appear real. She paints city views looking out from her studio in Lower Manhattan; beaches on Cape Cod; forests and hills in the Berkshires. When Abbe focuses on objects and form, she aims for a deep perspective.


Snow and Dark Water
Oil on stretched heavy paper
11.5 x 5.5 inches


New York Winter
Oil on canvas
15.5 x 11.5 inches


Acrylic stain on canvas
40 x 32 inches


Chaos or Order: Which Comes First
Acrylic on canvas
32 x 40 inches


Harriet W. Lesser started as a poet. Gradually, images conjured by the words became her primary focus. When painting, she sees her canvas as a flat plane and eschews perspective; she “manipulates line and negative space.” Harriet explores new media, but never loses a connection with more classical processes – “an interesting tightrope.” Her current work combines drawing, painting, Polaroid transferring and monoprinting.



Falling Salad
Mixed media on canvas
40 x 30 inches


Towpath in Summer
Oil on canvas
60 x 40 inches


At the End of the Dance
Oil on canvas
24 x 20 inches


Hong Kong
Mixed media (with transfer) on paper
24 x 20 inches


The Third Artist may not exist, but the works are substantial and quite different from the ones Abbe and Harriet produce alone. Together, they hash out their differences; they talk; they even paint over each other’s work. Watching each other’s developing work, as if they were doing this simultaneously, they are “correcting the course” the way a skipper steers a ship.

During the process as the Third Artist emerges, all the elements of their singularity and their collaboration fuse. Think of these images as a puzzle: see if you can figure out where the Third Artist comes from. Visit their website, for more clues.


Pink, Trees (2004)
Oil, heavy paper, mixed media
60 x 22 inches


Our Toys (2005)
Oil on canvas
36 x 48 inches


 Structure (2006)
Oil on canvas
36 x 48 inches


Red (2009)
Oil on canvas
48 x 36 inches


Uprooted (2011)
Oil on paper
60 x 22 inches


Abbe Stahl Steinglass, born in the Bronx in 1942, began studying at the Art Students League of NY as a child, continued through high school, college and grad school. She studied and taught Art wherever she went – London, Cambridge, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Jerusalem, Massachusetts, and New York. (She was once brought in to teach as the prize for a high school regional Art competition in West Africa.) For many years, while painting, she worked in schools, hospitals and therapy institutes with teachers, artists, therapists, families, and students of all ages.

Harriet W. Lesser, born in the Bronx in 1942, she graduated from Hunter College and continues to work on a joint master’s degree from Parsons and the Bank Street College of Education. Traveling and living in India, Brussels, Burkina Faso, and Rwanda, she learned to adapt and reinterpret areas of communication. She is curator at the Strathmore Arts Center in Maryland, having spent many years creating major art venues in the DC/MD area: The Six School Complex (Washington DC) and VisArts at Rockville, MD. She has exhibited in the US and overseas for the last four decades.

8 thoughts on “The Third Artist: Painting in Collaboration

  1. Joel berman

    Wow. Abbe. I came across your name and remembered you from Brandeis. I’m a surgeon and author and live in California with my actress wife. I like your paintings. You can look me up on facebook dr Joel Berman books or surgeon. I recognized your face! Have a wonderful day. Joel

  2. Claude Nougat

    As someone said here before me, what a treat, I love your art! And I especially enjoyed the sudden freedom exploding in the work of the “third artist”, absolutely fascinating.
    I say this as a painter myself (though at present I’m a writer, some of my poems were just published in a poetry anthology edited by British poet Oscar Sparrow and I’m up to my…6th book published on Amazon!) But art remains something special for me…I guess it comes from my mother – she’s a professional painter and passed on her art to me. She’s 99, it just goes to show that painting keeps you young and lets you live to a grand old age! So here’s to wishing you a long and happy collaboration, do keep it up, I want to see more!

  3. Ruth Krulfeld

    What a treat these painting are! It is like participating in a conversation with two artists, and then being swept away into some wonderland.

  4. Susan/s

    Collaborating in art in this way seems akin to musical jamming, creating a third artistic voice. This is a subject worth exploring, as I discovered when writing about a husband-wife team of ceramic artists, James and Nan McKinnell. Each made work that was theirs alone, and together they created work with a recognizable fusion of their characters. Such creative partnership is rare, for so often, ego resists. But as is evident here, it can lead to the birth of something interesting. Congratulations to Steinglass and Lesser.


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