Their differences and similarities can be seen in the work. A highly trained artist who taught for years at the college level, she works with oil paint and collage on canvas or wood, blending found images and words with layers of meaning and insight in a style termed magical realism. Her artwork explores themes and ideas through rich colors and deceptively simplistic painted images and text.
He's a prince—the great nephew of the last czar of Russia—who's worked as a sailor, farmer, carpenter, timekeeper, jewelry maker and more. With no formal artistic training, his work has a naive spark that springs to life in his chosen media, Shrinky-Dinks, the plastic children's craft material that reduces after being baked. His hand-lettered titles become part of his artwork. A series depicting moments in his highly unusual life story are featured in his recent book, The Boy Who Would Be Tsar.
Married for 32 years, they're Inez Storer and Andrew Romanoff, longtime fixtures on the Marin County coast. They live in a wood-shingled, three-story, 100-year-old former hotel in Inverness. Romanoff crafts his small creations in the huge dining room, drafting images first on his computer and then drawing and baking them in Shrinky-Dinks. Storer prefers creating in her studio in Point Reyes Station. A home-based studio doesn't work for her.
"A woman thinks that she should be doing the laundry and cleaning the house, and why am I doing this egocentric work? I should be saving the world and yadda-yadda," Storer explains cheerfully. Having a studio to go to, she adds, makes it more "like having a job."
The inspiration for Romanoff's creations comes from his memories and from current events. "My routine is simple," he explains. "I get up and do the Internet. I read the newspapers—the London Times and the Moscow Times." He sketches ideas on his computer, then uses a color printout as a reference when he draws on sheets of shrinkable plastic.
"Sometimes I get tired of it and I don't do it. Sometimes it's very amusing."
Storer thinks she has the answer for her husband's erratic work patterns.
"I've diagnosed him—he has ADHD," she laughs. "He'll have a show, and I look at him and I say, 'You've got to get cracking.' It's a month before and I would be frantic. And he'll say, 'I'm getting to it.' He'll do something else and then all of a sudden, day and night, there's this frenzy. That's typical, leaving everything to the last minute."
"It's all ready," Romanoff counters. "I've got the plan. All I have to do is create it."
Storer is much more deliberate in her work. "I'm afraid I'll be struck down," she explains.
She earned a bachelor's degree in art from Dominican University of California and a master's from San Francisco State University. She's had solo exhibitions nationwide and has taught at S.F. State, College of Marin, Sonoma State and the San Francisco Art Institute.
Two separate friends each claim credit for introducing Storer and Romanoff. Whoever's responsible, the couple met in the village of Inverness in 1973 or 1974. They're not sure of the exact year. She was a divorced mother of two, teaching art classes at San Francisco State. He was a widower with four children, working as a carpenter building homes.
"She was a beautiful lady, full of spark and vim," Romanoff recalls.
"He was really wild looking," Storer laughs, remembering that Romanoff had long hair and a beard. "A couple of my friends said he looked dangerous."
They married. "He moved in with his four [children] and I had my two, in this old hotel," Inez says cheerfully, likening it to the TV show The Brady Bunch. "You'd never do it if you had any brains," she laughs.
Storer is a self-proclaimed pack rat. The couple often visit thrift stores together, looking for the postcards, photographs, old books and other items that she uses for inspiration or incorporates in her artwork. On an easel in her studio, a work-in-progress includes a phrase that might point to the steadiness of this marriage, one that's weathered six children and the stresses of the artistic life.
"Advise strongly against going," the canvas reads. "Stay where you are."
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