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Editorial Note:
            These interviews were conducted in the spring and summer of 2005 between Barbara Truex (BT) and Roy Lerner (RL), recorded then transcribed verbatim. The transcripts have been edited primarily to trim repetitive comments and verbal tics. To keep the chronological order clear certain sections have been moved.
            One intriguing aspect that I did not change is Roy's fluid use of personal pronouns. "I", "we" and "you" get utilized in ways that are not always conventional. Roy may use "we" when another might use either "I" or "he/she." For me, this is directly connected to his philosophy and attitudes about being an artist. For as long as I've known him Roy has used phrases like, "He's on the team." when referring to someone connected to a gallery or a studio assistant and so on. He acknowledges the contributions made by others involved in his calling. While painting itself maybe a solitary activity, nearly everything else involved with the professional life of an artist involves collaborators. Roy's language is often a salute to those who contribute, from building stretchers to cropping pictures to exhibiting them and on to all the logistical and registrarial tasks associated with running a studio.

-Chris White

Childhood and Early Influences

BT:      Let’s start with the very beginning; what kind of things did you get involved with as a kid?
RL:      I was born in Chicago. My dad was a scientist and inventor working for the government. When his jobs would move, we would move, so we moved a lot.  We moved from Chicago to Hartford to Idleboro, Massachusetts to Bloomfield, Connecticut and then finally to Greenwich.
Growing up in Greenwich had an interesting dynamic because it was home for heavy hitters that worked in New York, at the same time it had a small-town atmosphere.  I’m not sure that’s true now. Those were the formative years.
There was an organization in Greenwich called The Art Barn. It was a school, it was unaccredited, but they taught all the arts: theater, dance, painting, photography, ceramics and so on. I was taking pictures on my own and a guy named Jim Bartholomew worked on Greenwich Avenue selling cameras. He said to me, “I’m running a course up at The Art Barn.  Why don’t you join in?”  It was a summer thing and I signed up.
That was significant because photography taught me to see the beauty in nature.  When I say nature, I mean cityscapes and whatever.  Get your camera out, look through the lens and it frames things -- it brings more significance to what you’re looking at.  What you see often makes for great abstract pictures.  Whether it’s the repetitive pattern of shadows under a fire escape or looking at water, the lapping waves and currents colliding. You look out and frame what you’re looking at, isolate it so it brings a certain significance to it.  You can break it down into these abstract elements. Later on, when I was studying painting and going to all the museums in Europe, I realized how important that is.
BT:      It would seem that with photography you had been learning how to look at things.
RL:      Yeah, definitely.  Photography taught me how to look, it taught me how to find a picture. In this room, the wrinkles on this leather couch are fascinating.  The juxtaposition between this mirror and lamp against the geometry of the wallpaper, I see how you could make a picture. 
If I drew any wisdom out of this, it's that what's eye catching are changes.  You set up a pattern where it leads you to expect something and then throw something else in there; that’s a change, that’s eye catching.  There’s something about human nature that focuses on changes. I tend to call it modulation.  It's the same with music.  You’re going to punctuate the music with a beat and you’re going to vary the pitch, tone and volume, it’s the same way with the visual.  You want to vary things.

 

College

RL:      My journalism professor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Dr. Jay Rocky took a look at my photographs and said, “This is too artsy fartsy. I want ‘whammo’ photographs.” He wanted to see in a photograph whatever I was talking about ... where you already knew what the headline was going to say when you looked at the picture, that kind of photojournalism.
            I ended up quitting school in my second year.  This was during the Vietnam War, and I was immediately made 1-A.  I went from 1-H, which is a student exemption, to 1A.  They said, “The only way you can become 1-H again is to go back to school.”  My intention was to go back, but I was going to wait a couple of years and have some living experience before I went back to school, but that definitely inspired me to go back sooner rather than later.  Not that I was afraid to go to war, but I really disagreed with that war.  It seemed to be so unnecessary, there are some wars that seem necessary, but this really wasn’t necessary.  And in hindsight it turned out it really wasn’t necessary.
I went to this summer photography course being offered at Franconia College and there was a guy there named John Craig.  He taught there until that school closed.  He had studied under Jerry Oulsman who did surrealistic photography.  Oulsman would take a picture of a tree and make that float in the sky and then underneath he’d put something else; he would composite an image. This was before computers, too.  This was all done in a dark room.
So I took this course, and it was interesting because I learned how to mix and match all these different negatives that I had and build composite pictures. What they were teaching me to do was to break out -- use photography as a tool to make an art that was bigger than photography.
We made our own photographic emulsion and added different dyes to it. You could take something the size of a medium-sized painting -- 40 by 60 -- and brush on photographic emulsion, add different dyes, then project the negatives onto these. You ended up with something that looked painted because the emulsion was actually painted on. 
I had a show of this work and the painting teacher, Peter Bradley, came. He looked around the room, looked at me, looked at the pictures, looked back at me and said, “Why are you doing photography? Why don’t you try painting?” He pointed to a yellow dot and asked, “How did you do this?”  I took about ten minutes to explain all the different processes.  He goes, “You know how you can make the yellow dot?  Open up a jar of yellow paint, take a brush, dip it in, and put it there.  It’s done. Here’s my card.  Come into my class.  I want you to try painting. Besides, you’ll get more chicks.” So, I did. I switched to painting. The most important part was getting more chicks, of course.
So I got some paint and canvas and plastic and, to the amazement of the guys I was living with (We were renting a house and going to school with three different guys. They were afraid I was going to wreck the house and they’d never get their security deposit back because I was going to get paint all over.) I made this plastic swimming pool on the floor of my room and laid out some canvas.
Although my art knowledge was limited, I'd had some exposure, so I had some reservoir to draw on. Whenever my uncle, Glen Frankfurter, would come down from Toronto and visit us, we’d go into New York.  We’d go to the Met; we’d go to the Modern; we’d go to the Guggenheim, the Frick, all these different places, and we’d learn as much as we could about the art.  We’d read about it; we’d look at it; we’d go out to lunch and discuss what we’d looked at and so on.  So when I started to paint I wasn’t that well versed in art history or the art of the past, but I had something.

BT:      At Franconia you also met and have remained friends with a lot of people who have also gone on with their own artistic careers. It would seem that time period was really a turning point in a lot of ways.
RL:      Franconia College was an interesting school in that it drew people who were innovative, both professors and in the administration, as well as students. They were offering an alternative, but on a high level. Leon Bottstein was the college president and he still holds the record of being the youngest college president from that time.  He was in his twenties I think, but he had been on Firing Line with William Buckley and gained a lot of notoriety.
They didn’t give grades.  They wanted something that was more of a detailed description of your progress; and they included self-evaluation. The basic philosophy was, "Do whatever you want."  And this was when they were holding people’s feet to the fire in liberal arts because of the military draft.  At Franconia it was do whatever you want, but you'd better really give it your all.  If there was anybody in that system that was trying to shirk their responsibilities of really working hard at something, they were ferreted out. There were a lot of students here who had a lot of creativity and independent thinking. Randy Bloom was a painter. Campbell Wright was a sculptor.
BT:      Those were the two that you stayed closest to for longest and overlapped careers and exhibitions with?
RL:      Yeah. Peter Bradley was up there teaching. He drew an interesting crowd. Larry Poons came to visit, gave a talk and visited everybody’s studio. So did Jim Wolfe who was a sculptor with André Emmerich Gallery at that time.  He brought up Paul Hire who was the head of architecture at Pratt. I got there in ’74 and I left in ’76.

The Early Years

BT:      What happened after that?
RL:      Peter arranged for me to work for Anthony Caro, at least he thought he'd arranged it.  He was writing letters saying, “I have this young man that is very interested in working in an art studio and I’m sure he can be of assistance to you.” Tony was saying, “Whatever you do, do not send this guy.  I don’t need any help.  Thank you very much.” Peter would turn to me and say “Everything’s A-okay.  We've got the green light.  Go on ahead.  Get your passport and your airline ticket; there’s no problem.” 
I arrived in London and, much to the horror of Tony Caro, I called up the studio and said, “I’m here.”  "What do you mean you’re here?  Where’s here?” “I’m in London.”  After some consternation on the phone, he said, “Well, you made the effort and you’re here, why don’t you come by the studio and we’ll see what we can do.”  So I got down there and he showed me the Camden Town studio, which was their main headquarters. Pat Cunningham was the head assistant and he would figure out how to scale up these small maquettes and bring them to full size. In ’76 when I was there they were really getting into the rusted welded-steel sculptures. They quickly found out that I didn’t know anything about welding. I was a danger.  There were some sculptures that had been made in the ‘60s that were painted. They had come back damaged and needed to be refurbished.  They knew I was a bad welder, but they quickly learned that I was a pretty good painter and could exactly match colors Tony had started.  Some of the more complicated things they were really afraid to touch, they gave me. There was one that had a very modeled finish.  It had a silver coating on top, the idea was to take different colored oil paints and rub them into the surface, but then rub them out.  In a way, it was like an Olitski spray painting where you didn’t know where one color started and the other stopped. I had to refurbish some of those. Then they had me do the finishes on the new ones, the rusty ones.  They required a formula he probably doesn’t want to reveal.  My job was to take a mop and scrub this stuff into the surface, leave it for a time and rinse it off until it got to that point where it was starting to get that crusty, interesting, patina. Once they were completely dry, the job then was to spray them with lacquer and preserve them so they wouldn’t rust any more. I did that for several months. 
I also did some installations for Peter Hyde who was then in charge of installations of Tony’s work. Peter is a sculptor who has been out in Edmonton for many years; he's a professor at the University of Alberta. 
There was a project installing sculpture in Hyde Park. They had trucks drop the pieces off, and then we had to assemble them.  That was a very steep learning curve for me, but I did enjoy it. I like to think I was helpful putting these pieces together, finding which pieces fit with what other piece, finding the holes that matched and the right bolt. Chris is probably happy I did learn all of that then because almost ten years later I worked for the Aldrich Museum. Chris was Assistant Director at that time.
BT:      Then you wandered around Europe, right?
RL:      Tony had a piece to move to Paris. I think it was for Gerald Piltzer, I know that sculpture ended up with Piltzer who had another fantastic Caro in Saint Tropez. Tony liked my ability to sort out issues when things go wrong. When you’re trying to ship something like that every step of the way, there’s something going wrong and somebody had to be able to make a decision.  So that was my assignment. The project got postponed, and that’s when Tony said, " I was hoping you could go to Europe and take care of the sculpture, but I think you should go anyway. Go to each city -- go to their major museum and just look at the great masters of the past.  Don’t try to make judgments about them; don’t try to figure anything out, just look at them. Keep coming back and look again and again and again.  Get some cheap hotel or hostel; camp out if you have to. Keep going back to look at Rembrandt again and again and again. Look at Vermeer and de Hooch and so on." He was suggesting that I go to Amsterdam first.  That would be the closest to England and easy to get to.
So I went there first to see all the great Dutch painters. I went from Amsterdam to The Hague and then on to Paris. I went to the Louvre and l’Orangerie and the Jeu de Paume. I saw all the great French Impressionists. I especially liked Cézanne, I especially liked Monet and I especially liked Monet’s Water Lilies. That's been a touchstone throughout my career because I was just a kid at this time. It was back in ’76 and I was touching base with these water lilies.  I had seen one at the Museum of Modern Art in New York but it wasn't as big and there was only one. 
These were done in what you might call cinemascope.  They're on a concave curve around a big room that spans maybe 50 or a hundred feet. There’s a couch in the middle. You can sit and look around at these water lilies. There are two rooms.  It just struck me how advanced they were in terms of abstract painting.  They’re weren’t purely abstract as we now use the term because they depicted his pond with the light, the lilies, the water and everything else, but they also convey all of these things that are universal. Water reacts in a certain way, light reacts in a certain way, you get that with the lilies the surface of the water, under the water and the reflection of the sky.  All the things -- when you go out in nature and walk to enjoy what nature has to offer, those pictures touch on why you love nature so much. They were also about what man brings to the table, which is creativity.
Nature alone is not going to have the meaning that results when man brings creativity to the table, because our creativity reaches beyond the obvious. It's our signature.  It’s more about who we are and life, what it’s like to be alive and expressing what that feeling is all about. Without it, all you have is nature and science.
            I went from museum to museum, from the Netherlands to France and ended up in Italy. I kept taking Tony’s advice, which was find a masterpiece and keep coming back to it day after day until I had it under my belt; studied it and looked at it long enough so you knew how it was put together and could remember it in the mind’s eye.  There’s really no other way to learn them. 
If you stare at a Rubens long enough and keep coming back day after day and then keep thinking about it so that it’s in the forefront of your mind. When the artist painted the picture certain things were going through his mind and he had to make different decisions about things.  You could see what he might have been thinking. After doing that through Europe, I came back to the States.
Tony felt it was very important, that for me to move forward in a meaningful way I first had to grasp an understanding of the greatest art that came before.  To find a universal thread that existed in all.  That’s the one thing I discovered on that trip.  Whether it was Vermeer with a highly finished surface where you couldn’t see the articulation of the brush strokes unless you looked really closely or Van Gogh with the roughest kind of finish possible.  There was some commonality, a universal thread that existed -- and I started spotting this certain something.  It’s hard explaining what that something is, but it manifested itself in different ways.  One way was the brush strokes that, no matter what piece of art I was looking at -- whether you had to look close or you had to look far away, there was a pattern set up with paint -- whether it was a knife or a brush or whatever -- you set up a texture and a pattern.  Laying down something then dragging a glaze over the top that would settle into the valleys of the rough texture and the impasto.  That's the modulation I was talking about before.  You wind up with these alternating mountain peaks punctuated by valleys and each one has this different color to it and different shades. If you start that pattern and then break it, put it in something else, a drawing, a line, or shape or figure, then start the pattern up again; you could develop some aesthetic drama.  You could evoke feelings.
For me, what all the great art masterpieces I saw shared were a sense of the sublime. To reach the sublime is to reach this level where it comes out of the most profound moments in our life, like religion deals with -- birth or death or whatever the most profound moments in your life are -- without being specific, without being literal. If you can evoke those feelings by manipulating all the aesthetic tools of art, modulating the paint, breaking up the pattern, using color or dark or light chiaroscuro or texture or shape and all of these things read like -- it’s been said before and I’m going to have to say it again -- it’s like a language unto itself.  So that’s what I was doing, all these experiences were allowing me to be more fluent in the language of art.
BT:      Yeah, and really building your vocabulary as an artist, which you could draw upon and bring into your work at that point.  Because I can’t imagine that anybody who deals with any kind of art, whether it be a performing art or a visual art or something else, can get on down the road without having those moments and experiences to build the vocabulary so they can speak the way they want to afterwards. I would think, hopefully, it’s this never-ending process that continues as your life continues. You continue having those experiences and you get into a period of time where you’re kind of grooving along and then something happens.
RL:      In ’86 I revisited the Monet Water Lilies, Caro had just had the exhibition in the Trajan Market in Rome. I was visiting that and starting up with Piltzer in Paris. I went from Italy and met my wife Patty and Gerald in Paris. That was the beginning of the whole thing in Paris and it led up to my solo show in ’93. I got to see those water lilies again as this touchtone. When I finally did get my first show in Paris, I revisited them again. Each time, it was this magical place, a church or temple.
BT:      There are probably a lot of moments like that in every artist’s life, no matter what discipline they’re in. You hit a particular time and place and experience that clicks more strongly than other things, that has an effect on your art from that point forward. When you think about those moments, that that’s what really touches your particular passion and brings it to life. 
RL:      Yeah. Certain art has done that for me. I remember the time my uncle was taking me to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York when I was a kid; we were walking up the grand staircase and they had a David Smith at the top of the stairs, one of those Cubis -- the welded stainless steel cubes that are sanded with that circular kind of texture. That was something about the industrial age or the workings of New York, the buildings and skyscrapers and flying of jets. We had just come from the Museum of Modern Art where I’d seen Mondrian's Broadway Boogie-Woogie.
Or when I went to visit the Met in the late 70s I saw one of the first Larry Poons paintings I’d ever seen. It had almost the same effect on me that the Water Lilies did. He had poured so much paint on this particular canvas.  It was about 40" by 60". It just looked like you were out in the woods standing next to a great pine tree with all this gnarly bark -- which also hearkens back to, Cézanne and the way Cézanne would draw those pine trees. There was something experiential about that painting that reminds you of the bliss you get when -- it’s a perfect day or you're out in nature, feeling how lucky you are to be alive.
RL:      Well, I discovered how powerful this stuff could be; it’s not easily dismissed.  When I showed some of my earliest work to my cousin he turned to me and he was in tears. I said, "Are you okay?" He said, "This is great."  There are moments in your life -- maybe where you had to make big decisions about something -- so you go somewhere and stand on the hilltop and look out at the view and you think, "It’s great to be alive." It’s whatever that place is.
John Coltrane said when he played his music he wanted to take people to that place in the universe where they wanted to live. I think I always had that ability to paint like that as early as my earliest paintings, but I didn’t realize it at the time.  Now I realize what I do. I really didn’t know what I was doing then; I was just doing it.  Now I know what I’m doing and that’s always the elusive goal I’m trying to get at.  Of course, if you try too hard, it's easy to lose it.  It’s better in the beginning because you don’t even know what you’re doing; you’re just doing it.  You have to keep that naïve, childlike, approach, because if you know too much what you’re doing, all of a sudden you’re producing commercial stuff like these songs you hear on Top Forty radio, they’re just pushing people’s buttons.
BT:      You start doing the same thing over and over again.
RL:      Yeah, we know this works so do it again rather than a genuinely felt, heartfelt, evoking of the most profound emotions that we feel when we’re alive. One thing my experience with Caro did is helped inform me about how sacred art was. While I love Tony Caro’s art, there were times when we were working for a corporation or museum with something that maybe wasn’t your favorite piece of art, still you treated it as though it were sacred.  Because you knew that this was powerful and had certain significance.
This reminds me of something Tony Caro said when Chris and I went to see a lecture at the University of Hartford. Tony was reminiscing about a plane flight that he took, which he often took from London to New York. You sit next to somebody and start chatting. They want to know what you do and you ask them what they do.  So this guy asked Tony what he did, and he told him he makes abstract sculptures. The guy’s response was, “Oh, that’s the stuff that doesn’t look like anything but it means a lot.”

Everybody laughs.

RL:      I always loved that because that really does explain it.  A lot of people don’t understand but if they thought about it long enough, they would. If you look at a narrative picture, a realistic picture it has to do that, too.  To be a good picture, if it is a narrative picture, you almost have to forget about what it’s about and look at it from a purely artistic standpoint and if it means a lot anyway, then you know that it’s great art.



 Stamford & Soho

BT:      So what happened when you returned to the States?
RL:      I was visiting friends in Soho.  Campbell Wright was a sculptor; he had a place on Mercer Street.  Randy Bloom was on Mercer as well, and many others I knew had lofts in New York. I was spending a great deal of time there, meeting other artists and writers like Valentin Tatransky, Clement Greenberg, Karen Wilkin and Howless. So I was starting to really meet the whole crew.
I found a loft in Stamford, Connecticut, which was about an hour out of the city.  If you leave New York and go northeast along the shore you end up in Stamford. The Yale Lock Company had a huge loft building there mostly built in the mid to late 1800's and some was built just after the turn of the century. It was definitely part of the industrial revolution.
It was the same kind of loft building you see all over the world that had these glass windows with metal grates that the glass fit in, and there was this hinged piece in the middle that you could bend out and that would open. It was a huge 12 by 12 foot opening and it had steel bars that made this grid pattern and in between are all these glass plates, but there was a four-foot square hinged in the middle you could open up. And it was fantastic in that it had a view of Long Island Sound.
            This was before Stamford got built up and there were no big buildings.  Now there are a lot of buildings, marinas and everything else. But then the loft had a clear shot of the Sound and you could watch all the great oil tankers and barges and submarines.  You could see a lot of submarines from New London going back and forth.  If you looked out the other side, you were looking at the New England Throughway and up through the Stamford skyline, which was actually kind of interesting, so the view was absolutely fantastic.  Looking at Stamford reminded me of looking in FAO Schwartz at Christmas when they had the train set up and the fake town; it really had that look about it. 
An art collector owned this building, Sam Hayman, and he was eager to rent it to artists because he knew that artists would bring the value of the building up. There were a lot of broken windows, birds were living inside and floors had been rotted out.  They had hardwood floors on top of cement but they were rotted out in many spots because leaky radiators, broken windows and what have you.  Artists went in there and we fixed the windows, we fixed the floors and we brought the bathrooms up to the 20th Century, but you really weren’t allowed to live there. And we weren’t about to do all this fixing up unless we were going to live there. So we were always fighting a battle, and they were always trying to sneak up on us at all hours of the day and night to catch us off guard.  Everybody knew we were living there. When we threw parties, even the mayor of Stamford would come to the parties.  It was obvious. We had an understanding, but the landlord had to be able to tell his insurance companies that he was making attempts at us not living there. But I think people are still living there today.
One of the shows that I did when I was in the loft before I moved to Vista was with Jack Tilton when he was up on 57th Street in the old Betty Parsons Gallery space; he showed Keith Haring and a number of other people. When he called me he said, “I’m picking you because you’re a painter, but you can’t submit a painting.  It has to be something other than a painting.  It can be made of paint, but it can’t be a painting.” 
There was an enormous amount of tempered glass that had been left in the loft.  They came in 6 by 10 inch pieces about 3/8 of an inch thick and were hard as a rock. I took those and a lot of paint that had dried on the plastic next to the painting area.  Everyone’s always remarked over the years that some of the best looking paint you find is either in the bucket of paint itself or dried off the edge or on a piece of plaster or something, and wouldn’t it be great to incorporate that in some way into the painting.  So I peeled that up and put it in between two pieces of glass. I put these glass and paint sandwiches in a vice and squeezed them as hard as I possibly could, then taped the outsides shut and sealed them with an archival mylar book tape.  I was very careful to tape them so they were very neat. I had a lot of fun with those pieces. It was one of the few times I’d done something that could have been called a series, and I had fifteen or sixteen of them.  If you held them away from the wall, light would shine through them and they would cast the hue or the color of the paint on the wall behind it.  It wasn’t just a shadow.  It was actually like a color filter that would make colors on the wall.  So we put them in a row, held out from the wall a couple of inches so that the light could pass through. That’s the show that we had at Jack’s gallery ... eight or ten of them in a row, maybe three inches out from the wall, and the lighting was directed in such a way that it cast this light ... behind.  That got a very positive response.  People seemed excited by it because it really achieved what Jack was looking for at that time which was to take the quality of the paintings that I was doing -- but do it in a way that was different than a painting.  Interestingly enough, in the group New New Painters some of the people work with the transparency of the paint and using Plexiglas or Lexan and, of course, Olitski has done that and stained glass windows are nothing new, but there’s something futuristic about using paint in this way.
[image of glass/dried paint sandwich piece or pieces]
I was seeing a lot of Jack Tilton while I was in that loft. Other things were happening, too. Ruben Nakian was there so people from Marlborough Gallery had to walk through my space all the time because Ruben had two studios -- one on either side of me.  So it was a good place for people to come and look at art, and I was getting a lot of positive feedback.

CW:    So there are the pictures you’re talking about with the glass, that come up again in an aesthetic sense with the gel, that idea of light traveling through the material, transparency and throwing color and shadow. Those pictures fit into that. What were some of the paintings from that era that stand out in some way?
RL:      There was a picture called Early North that was purple and blue and white. It had very high contrast. It was actually a small to medium-size picture. There was a group of pictures that were shown in the Federal Plaza, that came at about the same time as the Tower show; there I definitely hung Flagstaff, Land of Punt, and I'm trying to think what else
                                                                           
                                                                 Land of Punt                                                                                           Flagstaff

CW:    What was it about those pictures, though; what unified them or what were you concerned with as a painter?
RL:      At that time I was working a lot with the space between the strokes of paint. I was looking at the painting like it was a puzzle. There’s this tug of war between the space between the strokes and the strokes of paint themselves.  I’d been working on this concept for a number of years. Wouldn’t it be interesting if a painting was like a jigsaw puzzle and you kept taking away pieces, leaving only the essential ones; so that you could have the least number of pieces and mentally fill in the missing spaces – to see more in your mind’s eye than the information you were actually being presented with?
One of the trademarks of my pictures is they’ve always have had some kind of implied movement.  So all those pictures had these areas we’ll call islands strategically placed, applied in a way that indicated motion.They look like you’re not sure if they’re still wet, and they always look like they’re moving or have moved. All of this adds together to form rhythms and patterns and also to trigger something in your mind’s eye where you end up seeing more than the actual thing you’re being presented with.

 

Stamford to Vista

RL:      I was there for something like eight years. In 1984 (double check date) I married Patty and we went to Europe on our honeymoon. We traveled around Italy and Spain and all over, looking at great works of art, enjoying the wonderful landscapes we traveled through and our whole experience. When we came back, I didn’t want to put up with having to say I don’t live there but I do live there ... everything that’s involved with quasi-legal artist loft living.
It was great studio space and a great location for collectors, not only from the area but also from New York.  It was very easy for them to get there.  Just take the Stamford train and then walk or take a taxi.  It was a terrific location, when I was moving out Helen Frankenthaler was moving in.
Anyway, that’s when I started looking for an alternative. I looked all over Connecticut. I looked in the City and almost got a place on the Upper East Side.  They were selling condos for, like $75,000 --
BT:      Sounds like pennies now.
RL:      I know.  They’re selling now for $2 million, $3 million or something. That would have been nice. It was on the top floor and had a view of the Hudson. I would have had roof rights and it would have been quite a different life, really. 
But that trip to Europe made me not want to be in an urban setting so much but something more rural and beautiful.  I just wanted to put myself in a beautiful setting and that’s when I went to visit Ken Noland. 
Ken Noland was having an opening. Peter Bradley invited me and afterwards the three of us went out.  We basically stopped at every bar, starting at the Oak Room at the Plaza and worked our way south until we got to Soho.  We ended up in the Mudd Club on White Street. I think Ross Bleckner owns that place now.  We weren’t drinking hard liquor and we were still pretty cohesive.  But we were tired.  It was three in the morning and we were tired.
            Ken said, " I think it’s probably time to go home now."  He handed me his card and he said, "I live in Vista, New York. I know you’re in Stamford.  Get some paintings and bring them up to my house.  I’ll give you a call."  So we all left and we went our separate ways.
            A week or so goes by and I’m in my loft in Stamford; the phone rings and it’s Ken. He says, "Tomorrow is Saturday.  I want you to get some paintings and bring them up here in the morning.  There’s somebody I want you to meet.  His name is Ken Moffett, he’s the curator of 20th Century Art at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts." 
I got very nervous about it, didn’t sleep that night. I obsessed over which paintings to bring. But I piled a whole bunch of paintings in the van and drove up. I got there and what he did was interesting. 
At that time, I would usually crop the paintings by taking paper or masking tape and marking out a rectangle afterward.  But in this case, I'd decided to take the canvas, fold the edge over, and staple it on a platform and then paint.  After it was dry I would rip the folded edges away from the center image.  It’s funny because you ended up with a painted image on all four edges on the back, and on the front side you’d have the image in the middle. 
Seeing that, Ken had a field day and started folding this thing all over the place. Then he asked if we could cut, not through the painting but the part that was raw canvas. He was putting together some kind of a hard edge. He was figuring out a way to use the hard edges of these folds and coming up with new ways of putting together a painting. I still have some of those. We collaborated on a couple pieces.
            Ken Moffett was there, so I met Moffett and that started a history of exhibitions with Moffett that went on for the next 27 years or so.

 

[An image of one would be good here. Sal's painting in Ft. Lauderdale w/Donna Zemo]
CW:    And counting.
BT:      Did you end up finding your place in Vista shortly after that?
RL:      I did.  Randy Bloom and I drove all over hell-and-gone, all over Connecticut, all over New York State.  We found the place where we are now, right near the reservoir. It had a pond and enough land to build a barn. It’s a gorgeous area.  So we ended up with that.
BT:      And it’s served you well.  Once you moved there and got yourself set up, did you find a change in the work that you were doing, based on the setting?
RL:      It was a difficult transition because in the loft I had 3,000 square feet, which is twice the size of my studio now. I could lay out six, six by ten foot canvases and have them all over the place and then, as I was inspired, I would work on one and then switch to the other.  The minute I felt I was running out of juice on whatever I was working on, I didn’t force it.  I would move on to the next one and the next one and the next one.  By far the greatest way of continuing the creativity and flow was switching from one painting to another. It was a bad idea to stay on one painting and force it all the way through.  So, to keep it fresh, unexpected, and interesting, you had to do that.
I kept that studio for a while after we bought the house.  We narrowed it down.  We didn’t lease as much space so the cost wasn’t as great. But that’s when the real estate market starting taking off.  So all of a sudden, instead of a hundred a month, it was a thousand a month and then it was $2,000 a month and then it was $3,000 a month, so after a while, I just had to let it go.
I made a studio in the basement of my ranch house. I cleared everything out; it had cinderblock walls and a white floor and low ceiling, not an eight-foot ceiling.  It was eight feet to the floor above but with the rafters, it made it more like seven. We took recessed lighting and attached that to all the ceiling joists and put tons recessed lighting in with halogen floodlights. 
It was actually a fairly interesting place to paint because the whole ceiling was lit.  Everything was painted white.  But I only had 1,800 square feet instead of 3,000 and I had the low ceiling. I worked well down there. Being in a new environment there’s always a transition period. Moving into a new studio you don’t really get going the way you’d like to for about a year. But, then again, being in a new environment frees you up; it’s not the same old thing anymore when you’re starting in a new place, it’s more fun. I think I painted some pretty good pictures down there, maybe even some of my best pictures.
It’s nice to have a big studio with light and a view and all, but it’s really not about the studio. Morris Louis painted in a closet and painted some of the greatest paintings known to man. He was never even able to look at the whole picture at one time because the room was too small.  So, it’s not the studio that makes great art, you know?
            And it’s not the material. A lot of people say it’s this new kind of paint and so on and so forth that’s making the picture.  Well, it’s not making the picture.  The artist is making the picture.  I don’t care if you use crushed blueberries or mud from the street; it doesn’t matter.  It’s what man brings to the table, which is creativity.

BT:      Working in the basement studio, you were working on one painting at a time?
RL:      I couldn’t do six at a time but I laid it out so I was painting maybe three at a time.
BT:      Did that take a while to get used to that? You had fewer pieces that you were focusing on so you’d come around to the first one sooner than you might have if you were working on six.
RL:      It made me look closer. In the studio I have now and the studio I had in Stamford it was easy to take a painting that was on the floor, put it on the wall, stand back and look at it. But when it’s on the floor and you’re at an angle and you’re close, it’s a whole different thing, so I think that had an effect on the pictures.
            The only time we could see them normally, on a wall, was by taking them out of the studio. We closed up a doorway from the living room into the kitchen, so we'd have a view wall. Chris and I would go up there with a staple gun.  We’d drag the paintings up the basement stairs and staple them on the wall.
BT:      Did you often have a surprise when you put it up that way and stepped back to look at them?
RL:      Yeah.  Oh, yeah.
BT:      Sometimes good, sometimes not so good?
RL:      Right, most of the time good, actually.  Downstairs, when you’re looking so damn close, it was hard to get the whole picture. Then, when you stand back, really look at it and take it all in at once, it usually worked out for the better.
            When we had them upstairs we would take rolls of calculator paper and we would staple and tape those strips onto the canvas to crop the picture. That was a natural process for me. That was something I was comfortable and familiar with because of photography, cropping is just part of the process of doing photography. So we did a lot of that, and interestingly enough, I don’t do that much cropping anymore. I’m not sure why that is.
BT:      Now, having something finally up so you could stand back from it and looking at the areas that you still wanted to go back in and work on, then rolling it up, taking it back downstairs, laying it out on the floor again where you’re back to looking at it at a different angle, how does the process go at that point?
CW:    Sometimes we’d look at it and you’d go "No, it’s not done yet, it needs something over here." and then you’d bring it back down to the studio.
RL:      That would happen. You are at a disadvantage now because it’s harder to see exactly.  You have to remember what you were thinking upstairs.
That also goes along with the paint looks different when it’s wet. It’s not like oil paint. It’s much more white and pastel-like when it’s wet. When the gel of the acrylic paint dries, it turns clear.  As the water evaporates out of the paint mixture -- water molecules are in the way of the paint molecules when they’re wet, once they leave and evaporate, there’s nothing left, so now you’re looking through the pure ground Plexiglas and pigment -- colors become much more intense. You have to calculate in your mind when you’re trying to mix the colors, to know what’s it going to look like when it dries.  But, if you paint for more than a few years you get a handle on that. You know pretty much how something is going to dry.
BT:      If you have a spot that’s exceptionally thick, that’s going to take more than a week or two to dry, right?
RL:      Right.  That could take months.
BT:      So, you have this situation where for some pieces it goes through that change and you're not still sure if it’s done until it’s done changing.
RL:      Also what we found was you’d paint a picture and it would look fantastic when it was wet; then it would go through the next stage of drying and when it was it that intermediate stage before it’s completely dry, which takes about three weeks if it’s normal thickness, meaning a quarter inch of paint, that takes about three weeks. But it would look awful during that intermediary stage, and there was always the danger that we’d look at the picture and go, "Oh, my God, what happened?  I thought this thing was looking differently before." 
If you go in then and try to work on it, it’s probably a huge mistake; you’re just going to get all bollixed up.  You’ve really got to wait for that three-week period to pass. Clem used to call that the cooking period.  He’d say, "Let it cook, let it cook."  Just before I’d take a picture down after looking it for a long time, he’d always go, "Take that down and let it cook.  Pull it back out in a couple of months."
BT:      Which is probably a hard thing to do sometimes, but I suppose you get better at it as time goes on because you’ve seen the results of waiting so often at this point.
RL:      Some good things can happen and some bad things happen.  If the clear paint looks white while it’s wet and the picture is really looking good, then maybe it’s that contrast between the white and the color it’s next to.  It’s very highly defined and is looking good.  And then as it dries, let’s say that white goes away, it turns clearer and behind it is more blue.  So, now you have blue on blue, maybe they’re subtly different and it’s less contrast, it’s less defined, it’s less exciting. Or, maybe it’s interesting to look through the clear lens-like quality of the gel, to get through that to look at the paint behind. But that’s just another thing to keep in mind. While the paint’s wet, if it’s looking right to you having that white there, you'd better get either some white paint or molding paste or interference or something that’s going to be white. Anything to give you the contrast you might need at that point. It’s frustrating and disappointing if you forget about that, then the latter happens and you lose the contrast you wanted, so it’s a tricky business. There’s a lot to keep track of.  You have to incorporate time. And the depth of thickness of the paint can change everything. 
BT:      With some of your pieces and thickness of paint that you use, it’s almost like you’re hovering in between the issues of painting and sculpture in certain respects.  Because when you get that much texture in the paint and you are not only dealing with color and texture, but you’re also dealing with shadows.
RL:      What I picked up from looking at Picasso and also Caro that’s interesting is that sometimes I’d be searching for a shape, so I didn’t just have some random pattern across the picture. I was looking for a shape and a good way to get that shape is to create in your mind’s eye a sculpture -- as if you’re painting a picture of an abstract sculpture.
            That’s what Picassos look like, at least the later period. I’ve heard Caro talk about how painters can learn from sculptors and sculptors can learn from painters. So if I paint a painting with sculpture in mind, it comes out doing something pretty interesting. And he was saying if he makes a sculpture with painting in mind, it gets him where he needs to go.  So that’s a funny thing.
But then you have this surface that you’re talking about with the thick strokes, it could be super shiny or matte or whatever.  If I then take the canvas and, taking a cue from Monet, put it on a convex or concave surface, start shaping the canvas and adding to the surface sculptural, tactile, textural elements, then yeah, you’re definitely weaving in and out of asking, "Is it painting? Is it sculpture?"  I’m not sure why we should even care. What is the difference in painting and sculpture and what difference does it make?
I think because there’s still an assumption or an expectation that a painting is illusionary, no matter how non-illusionary it is, that they're still some kind of magic box where illusions take place and sculptures are things.  You know sculptures are objects. It gets a little confusing, I think, both to the artist and the viewer, with paintings that are painting/sculptures or whatever -- but I also think it’s an interesting point that needs to be explored
            I think something happens when a painting is clearly a painting, even though it has sculptural characteristics about it. There is that certain magic you can perceive that is very intriguing. When it does become more and more of an object, it kind of gets heavier.  It’s less ethereal and it’s heavier and it’s more of this object that you can admire but it’s not another world, an experiential world or something where you let the painting carry you away, you get into the painting. So I think that’s maybe why it’s important to be clear.
            I’ve been exploring that area and doing these curved paintings, cylindrical paintings.  It’s funny, always when you think you’re doing something new or you’re discovering new issues, all you have to do is go anywhere in Italy or France or Spain and look at architecture from the Renaissance and there’s so much stuff that deals with the same issues.
CW:    Go back to the caves where the shape of the rock dictated where the bison’s butt was.  But that was still painting. Your work is always painting to me, as a viewer. It hasn’t made the transition. Frank Stella kept going, kept going, kept going; his work got to a point where you really said, "That’s sculpture." Maybe it’s still on the wall, but it's not a painting anymore.
RL:      It’s a painted sculpture.
CW:    Right. There was a point where Stella's works ceased to be paintings on a sculpted surface and became sculpture with painted elements on the wall, then became sculpture on the floor.  It’s the old cliché, "I can’t define pornography but I know it when I see it!"  There is something about the context, and I think it really does have to do with that idea of the painting as an illusionary space, as a visual experience versus sculpture that’s more of a tactile one.
RL:      When I went to the Triangle Workshop in 1984 I had this discussion with Caro; he was talking about a fight going on amongst the painters whether paintings should be framed or not. He gave an argument that went something like what you were just saying. "I understand why you may want the paint to go over the edge and all of that, but the thing that I like most about the use of frames on pictures is that it isolates the painting from its surroundings in your house or the museum or the gallery or wherever it is." There’s this hard edge line that defines it. This is the real world and this is the imaginary world. 
BT:      You mentioned the term earlier 'magic box', which I like, too. The painting being the magic box, which would support that argument of keeping it separate from the real world by clearly defining where the edge is, which is different from a sculpture, where you can go all around it and you can pick it up and move it.
CW:    So you’re back in the in the basement studio. That’s when I was starting to hang out with you.  You keep mentioning Clem, so, Mr. Greenberg was visiting on occasion?
RL:      Greenberg was always visiting Noland.  It seems like he was there every other week, maybe every three weeks, but he was there often.  He would hold court. I’d go over and visit. We’d either sit in the studio and look at pictures or sit outside and talk and have a few drinks. Then they would come over to my studio. I always felt like they came over to raid my house.  That’s when we’d drag paintings out of the basement, bring them up and hang them.  We’d take a whole bunch of canvases; staple them all at once to that wall, then look at each one and peel them away, roll them up and bring them back downstairs.
CW:    And this is why we came home tired and sweaty and in pain.
RL:      It was a lot of work.  What was Noland’s assistant's name? He came over all the time and helped us.  He ended up going up to Syracuse.
CW:    Steve Ginsberg. An excellent studio assistant who was pretty much in charge of Ken’s Katonah Studio the way Jon Isherwood was in charge of Caro’s place in the States and Pat Cunningham in London and so on; one of those really great guys for building stretchers, dealing with transportation and moving the pictures around.
RL:      Yeah.  And he’s head of the woodworking department at Syracuse now.  He was terrific.  And he drew very, very well.  All these people were around and Silvermine Artists Guild was less than ten minutes down the road. We would all go down there, Jillian Jones, Steve Ginsberg, Jeff Damberg, me, and some others. You’d pay your ten dollars and you could sit there for four hours and draw from a professional nude model.  We used to do that every Monday, which was a good thing to do. 
CW:    That's getting to the time you were working on the crew at the Aldrich and there were exhibitions like the Tower Show going on in New York, right?
RL:      Yeah. I showed at the Dyansen Gallery before they changed the nature of what they show. Then we had that show at the Tower Gallery in Chelsea. We also had a show at one of Tony Goldman’s spaces. I was part of this group called the New York Five, and that was Randy Bloom, Campbell Wright, Joseph Scorselo ... am I forgetting somebody?
CW:    You. And who was the fifth; was it Peter Reginato?
RL:      Who was the fifth?
CW:    We'll have to look it up.  I can’t remember.  Part of that group comes out of Franconia. Does all this group come out of Triangle?
RL:      Everyone except for Joseph Scorselo went to Franconia. We had Patricia Yi as our manager, and Patricia Yi got us that show in Dallas at the Beverly Pepper Gallery.
After all of that, I’m trying to figure out when we built the studio; what year was that?
CW:    Well, before you built the studio ... you were subletting Joe’s loft in Soho.
RL:      Yeah, that’s right. First, I had that loft with Campbell on Mercer, then I sublet Joe Scorselo’s loft for six or eight months. I found that when I did paint down there, I can’t figure out for the life of me why this happened, but I was painting smaller. I was obsessed with the detail of the picture and I didn’t paint any really big pictures. I was painting bigger pictures in my basement than I was in the loft in New York.
CW:    So that was a period when you were in and out of Soho a lot. The gallery scene was in full swing and Randy and a bunch of people lived down there. During that time, too, was when you were working with me on the installation crew at the Aldrich, so we got to see a lot of art by hanging a lot of art.
RL:      That’s true.  At that time we were working at the Aldrich. An interesting piece would come in from a gallery, Mary Boone, Holly Solomon or whatever, then we would go down to Soho to the gallery; we saw a lot of things.  That’s when Soho was genuinely in its Renaissance period.  None of the boutiques had moved in yet and there was plenty of art action going on, plenty of artists and so it was a good time. 
Then we built the barn.  It was something we had drawn plans for.  We decided that we didn’t want to rent space anymore but wanted to be self-sufficient and that the key to longevity in terms of staying alive and being able to make your art and pay your bills was to keep your overhead low.  We decided lofts made landlords rich and made us poor.  So we thought we could beat the system by simply building a loft out in the country and the best way to do that would be to hire a horse stable builder and build a horse barn and then outfit it ourselves inside to be a studio ... and it almost worked. 
We built a 1,500 square foot structure that is 32 feet tall. It has an insulated cement floor, insulated walls and ceilings. It has skylights and a cupola that’s all windows and great big doors that are 11 by 12 feet on sliders; when they’re open you have a 24-foot wide opening which is great for drying the paints.  And it’s on a hill overlooking a pond that we stock with goldfish. Past that, you go up the hill and you can see the house.  So it’s sort of a perfect little setting.  It’s very pastoral.  It’s New England but it’s also very French.  All my French friends, when they see it, claim that it really reminds them of France. 

{studio pics here]

I remember first starting to paint there.  It was a virgin studio, never been painted in before. I was going to do a show with C.S. Schulte Gallery, so Carol and Steve Schulte came up. I painted these pictures, one of which was Enduring Silence(photo of Tears of the Moon), the painting on the stairs. It was stainless steel with the purple stain. I was working a lot with high texture, high impasto and pouring liquid stainless steel and micaceous iron oxide all around it. I was picking up what I had learned in Europe, the way the great masters dealt with oil paint ends up with these ridges of mountain peaks and valleys.  If you look at the brushstrokes under a microscope, you’re going to see mountains and valleys; in the valleys are washes of color and then the mountain peaks of another color peeks out.  It modulates the color.  It’s not just a solid color.  It’s an interesting, textured, multicolor thing that forms intriguing patterns.  So, I was really just picking up on master oil painting, done with acrylics and on a large scale
You guys have one of the paintings, Philip Miller has one and Robert Salvatore’s estate has another one. I’m not sure who else has those paintings.

 

CW:    I think you still have one and another may be in a museum collection.
RL:      I think the Schultes sold some, too.  That was actually the first time the Schultes bumped the prices. He felt they were being valued too inexpensively and deserved a higher price tag.  So that was the first time that was not coming from us, but market forces at work.  That was a little bit of a milestone, something to feel good about, when somebody says something like that.
CW:    There were a number of collectors involved and you’d been in the Abstract Art in New England show that Ken Moffett curated.  So, there was all of that activity.
RL:      One of the first shows I actually did out of that studio was for Gallery One. Goldie Kanopny and Sharon Fishstein came down from Toronto. I remember them looking at the new pictures I had done in the studio where I went from doing the high texture stainless steel wash and it was evolving into something else where I was still using the iridescence but doing it more in a wash.
BT:      How do other aspects of the painting environment affect your work, like listening to music, the weather -- are there particular things that you often gravitate to in order to get into the mood to paint, or not?
RL:      Yeah, but it’s not always the same thing.  There are times when I want total silence so I’m just with my thoughts and not distracted by anything. Then I hear my inner voice and try to follow what I hear.  There are other times where I want to get the place rocking -- and it doesn’t have to be rock-n-roll.  It can be classical music, could be anything; a great masterpiece that has crescendos then quiet periods, rapid periods and slow periods. All these different things can be inspiring. I used to listen a lot to Miles and a lot of jazz, although not so much now. I still listen as much as ever to John Coltrane.  For me, as the years go by, he holds my interest longer than Miles has.
            There’s two ways to paint with music.  You can just get swept away with the music and free your mind from obsessing about the irritating details of the day-to-day stuff in the studio so you can just go to that place you need to go to get spiritual with your painting. To be able to send and receive, just be sensitive to all the issues you need to with painting and having it feel good; freeing you up and making you feel good so you can paint. 
With Miles it wasn’t so much that, you had to stop and listen.  He would poke at you too much to let you just listen and forget it’s there.  So, that could inspire you, where you could translate in a way - like, "Gee, he did this solo and then after a long space, he came in and did something else."  and so on. You could translate that into paint. I’ll do this thing on the edge but then I’ll let it sweep across the middle; then it’s like a solo over here and this part is like the rhythm and so on. 
The funny thing is sometimes I just want to listen to the news. I like listening to all these different arguments and points of view, even the stock market, anything. And that way I get a feeling so I can paint which goes like this; all those guys, they’re out there on the radio working; they’re all working the stock markets where everybody’s trading; and I’m in the studio and I’m working. Everybody’s working and it gets the momentum going. And you can learn a lot.  People always accuse me of knowing a lot about a lot of little things, you know. Or maybe I know a little about a lot of things.
BT laughs.
RL:      But whatever it is, you learn a lot by listening to the news constantly, day and night. I’m not as bad as my dad.  My dad used to have a transistor radio with the all-night news radio plugged into his earplug while he was sleeping every night because he wanted to learn while he was sleeping.
CW:    Ouch, phew.  [laughs]  I like the sound of silence myself when sleeping.
RL:      When you said the sounds of silence, it made me think of Simon & Garfunkel and Bridge over Troubled Waters, all these incredible tunes. Or Neil Young has these incredible tunes that pull at your heartstrings and just about rips ‘em out and everyone’s getting teary eyed ... Steve Winwood, I Can’t Find My Way Home. When I experience that with music, I would like my paintings to be able to do something like that. And that’s really quite a difficult thing to achieve in a painting.  But I like to get to that place where people are open, they’re vulnerable, and they connect -- that’s like the highest form of celebrating life, to have that feeling.
BT:      I certainly think so many of your paintings do that. It's the kind of work where if you just walk in and walk out -- that’s not really where it’s at, but you can sit and live with these things for years and years.
RL:      When you go into the Louvre, there are stairs that go up and up and up. When you get to the top of this massive staircase, there’s Winged Victory -- it looks like it’s flying down the stairs, but it’s missing its head. It resonates.  The Monet water lily paintings we talked about-- in the Chagall Museum in Nice there are blue stained glass windows-- there’s Raft of the Medusa. I felt that way the first time I saw the David Smith Cubis.
            But it takes one helluva great masterpiece to do that.  And usually it has to be big but not always.  It has to be a mixture of sex and adventure, thrilling and dangerous, courageous and colorful ... without calling attention to itself. Hitting you from every angle - all your senses.
I get that out of nature -- after it rains, the smell of rain. Or going out in the middle of summer in the middle of night when there’s not much around and you look up at the sky and you see how many stars there are up there.
CW:    In a lot of ways the goal of art ends up being to offer an experience that is as compelling as you can make it; the way the experience of looking up at the stars is compelling and uniquely what it is.
RL:      It’s like meeting somebody and afterwards, if you have a good meeting, you feel different.  You feel better or maybe you feel worse, I don’t know.  But I think art that changes how you feel is doing its job.
But the other thing is -- I play guitar -- if I pick up a guitar and just start playing something -- (a) I don’t know why, but I just need to create that music; (b) I love to listen to it. I don’t know why I have to pick it up and create this thing, but I do. When I do, I enjoy it. And if somebody else can get that enjoyment by looking at a painting of mine, if they can get lost in the painting and feel better because of it, if it’s up to the level of quality of some of these kind of natural phenomena and great masterpieces -- if it can do it on that level, that’s what it is I'm trying to achieve.
CW:    That’s what you aspire to do.  And sometimes it works.

 

Living in a Material World(before this line was a photo of Anchorage at Ararat)

CW:    I’ve always been fascinated by one of the attributes of your painting -- and some of other painters at the moment due to the technology of the paint itself, the new kinds of paints available -- the interest in light and how light works; in transparency and angles of light and so on –which enables you to give people a different kind of experience in some ways.
RL:      Well, that’s true.  Music is obviously sound and you can study the way nature sounds or all the sounds around you or the sounds that people create with music and so on. With painting it’s studying light; there’s natural light, there’s light of night and day, but there’s also all the artificial lights, the light of the city and so on. As technology moves on, the new paint has dealt with some of the effects that were only achieved when they invented holograms.  For instance, the interference paint shifts color depending on your angle of view.  Rather than having rich pigments like in tempera or oil, where they absorb all the colors you don’t see and reflect back the color you do see, it’s these little facets, tiny mirrors, whether they’re made out of mica or titanium or other things, and it’s all about angling these little tiny mirrors in the paint. They’re like filters and they transform the frequency of the particular light ray. 
If you send in white light, which is all the colors, it’s going to filter all of those frequencies of all the different color into one color and then reflect that back at your eye.  So, yeah, technology and light has definitely affected the work. I guess the materials do matter even though I’m in denial about it. But they’re never going to replace the artist.
I happen to love egg tempera on wood, those medieval German paintings by Memmling and others are some of my very favorite paintings, and the color’s so rich, even after all of these years. Sometimes it beats the hell out of the new paints. 
CW:    It’s merely that this is a new option for painters.
RL:      Well, now you can apply it with a brush or knife; you don’t have to melt glass or crush mica to achieve it. But the other good thing, the reason the twinkle of a glittering facet attracts us, is it’s not what we have in our everyday life.  It’s one of those rare occurrences of something special in our lives and it seems more precious.  And so, yeah, the new paints are making it so that it’s more readily used.  You can open up a jar and use it.
CW:    The other part is the aesthetics, because you create certain paintings knowing, even though it’s looking a certain way hanging on the wall with the track lights, that if we shut off those track lights and turn on a desk lamp fifty feet away, as you and I have done plenty of times, it’s going to glow in a way that it will make it seem like a different picture with its own internal light.
RL:      One reason people are intrigued with this stuff too, subliminally, might be that everybody talks about when you die, you’re going to see light. Everybody’s intrigued with "seeing the light."  Maybe, without being conscious about it, that’s the attraction to this, too.
BT:      I think also there’s something magical about light. When you see it coming from places where you don’t necessarily expect to see it, like looking at the painting reflecting the room light, it can set you back and you go, "Whoa, that’s cool!" As you walk past it and the light changes, it’s almost as if the painting is talking to YOU -- that it has another level of life within it rather than just color on canvas hanging on a wall.
RL:      The thing about light is it’s not a material; it’s not even a gas. And yet you can feel its effect because if light hits something long enough, it’s going to get hot. Same thing with sound; you can’t see it. But you could see it make ripples in water, vibrating the water; or you could feel it, if somebody’s making sound on the other side of a wall and you put your hand on the wall, you can feel it.
            It's also like someone’s spirit. If there’s a connection between you, you can’t see someone’s spirit but you can feel the effects of it. So, in a way, spirit is like light and sound. I think people feel comfortable with that. And it’s very, very mysterious.
BT:      Right.  And even when you pick up a rock and move it in the light and it reflects that light, it takes on a different persona at that point.
RL:      This is one of the things intriguing for me about abstract art, really any great art, but abstraction in particular. I remember the first time Peter Bradley showed me a Noland and I was like, "Yeah ... where’s the picture?"
BT laughs
RL:      It took me a long time to learn to read that language and now I realize that it’s really doing all the things we’ve just talked about.  The light and what happens if you put these different colors next to each other in varying amounts and stretch them out long or short or thin or fat. He was really dealing with the most condensed common denominator of painting.  If you understand painting and want to break it down to its most basic parts, that’s what he’s done. It took me a long time to be able to appreciate that.
BT:      That actually brings up an interesting thing about the issue of abstraction versus realism. Coming from the point of view of a photographer, where you’re taking pictures of actual objects and Peter Bradley shows you an abstract painting and your first reaction is, like many people, "Where’s the picture?" or "What does it mean?" or "What am I looking at?" or "My five-year-old could do it!"  What was the thing that kept you pursuing that question?  Some people just turn and walk away saying I don’t get it.
RL:      Well, there are a couple of things.  One is I was listening to and reading Robert Motherwell. He was saying that any painting and even any photograph was actually abstract because it wasn’t an absolute, exact clone of what we were looking at, it was abstracted from something else. So, in the case of looking at very tight, realistic paintings that difference has been minimized as much as the artist can. Then, as you make it looser and looser, you’re getting more and more abstracted and farther from the original source. But, once you realize that’s what all pictures are, then placing a higher value on realistic pictures -- not value monetarily but a value like intrinsic importance -- disappears; it doesn’t really matter anymore. 
As an abstract painter, you’re always looking for a way to make form – with realistic painting the form is there for you. It gives you the dance floor to dance on. It gives you something to work from, so you don’t have to worry about the form so much, as you do about the color and texture, the gloss or matte, the dark and light of it and that kind of thing. 
            Why that’s important is this; it isn’t important whether the thing is tight or loose or real or not real or any of that.  There’s some importance, but if you were to look at a beautiful picture of a bay in a Turner painting, if you were to look at a beautiful figure in a Caravaggio painting or whatever it is, you've got to stop ... and this goes back to Caro saying you've got to go to the museums, stand in front of the masterpieces and just look ... if this is great, or if I go outside and look at a tree and it’s gorgeous and there’s a sunset there and it’s gorgeous, why?  How come I’m not standing in front of the tree and saying this is the ugliest thing I ever saw? And this sunset stinks.
BT laughs.
RL:      But we don’t say that, so the question is why. Why is it that I’m intrigued with them and want to explore the nature of the visual universe that triggers these responses? Why does it seem that this is beautiful, this is ugly, this is scary, this is sad or tragic or happy or whatever it is?  So that’s what I’m intrigued with.
If there’s a tree and you want to draw the tree, you can try to render the tree on the paper or canvas. I study it and study it and study it; figure it out, look and learn, render it and do all these things, then figure out all the things I’ve learned from this about why I love the way this thing looks.  Now, if I can create my own invention, come up with something that’s based on all of the things I learned by studying those things that I enjoy looking at in nature, if I could take all I’ve learned and make my own creation, then I think I'm really bringing as much as man can bring to the table and expressing myself as an artist.  I just have this need to express these things.
Some people wake up in the morning and they don’t need to express anything. I wake up in the morning and I go to sleep at night and I really need to express something. I don’t know what it is but I just have to and I’m going to find a way to do it no matter what it is.
So there are those who enjoy seeing what I’m expressing, it resonates with them and it makes them feel something. It makes them feel alive.  It makes their life better.  So that’s the one thing I’m trying to do. I think, "Why not try to make the whole universe feel better if you can?" There are always going to be people you’re not going to reach. And there are even people you reach that are going to hate it. But, I just feel that’s my calling in life; that’s my purpose and I can’t help but do that.
CW:    It’s funny, when you asked Roy about that tension between representational art, however abstracted, where there’s still a specific image and pure abstraction -- nonobjective art, abstract expressionism, all of the different labels that have been tossed out for something where there isn’t a recognizable tree, boat, or sunset depicted in the painting – it is the issue of content. It’s people’s ability to understand or recognize content. It’s the same polarity as songs with lyrics versus all instrumental music.
RL:      The songs are always going to be more popular because they’re sexy.
CW:    And they have a story line.
RL:      There’s a reason Winged Victory looks like the way it does.  She’s half naked and her breasts are sticking out and everything’s blowing in the breeze.
CW:    There’s a murder ballad and it can go on for ten minutes and it’s just telling the story, so people listen to the story and that’s what they’re after. People go to look at a painting and it’s of a barn and it’s autumn, the tree is full of color and there’s fruit on the ground, it’s happy painting and it makes you feel good.
RL:      But you know what else, it has to have something in it that’s unexpected and catches you off guard.  In comedy what makes people laugh is always a surprise or saying something that’s nonsensical or, even something going wrong; somebody trips and falls and everybody laughs. There’s the autumn barn and all the stuff you’re talking about -- if it was a Hudson River School painter, they liked to like pump up the volume, they would also put in a waterfall, a forest fire, a bear attacking somebody, and I don’t know what else.
BT laughs
CW:    Right, and so people can project this story that they can be in. 
If it’s instrumental music, which tends to be less popular than songs, the content is all in the music. It can be powerful, think of Beethoven’s Fifth, it can rock you to your socks like Miles Davis, it can make you cry, it can even make you put your hands over your ears and run screaming for the bomb shelter.  But the listener has to  bring something to it, there isn’t an obvious cue that says, "This is about World War II" or "This is about my mother’s rocking chair." People get confused about having an experience with a painting when they can’t say, "Oh, it’s the sun going down."
RL:      Well, it’s funny because you can have a painting that’s so damn exciting you can’t believe it, like Raft of the Medusa. These people are on a raft, sharks are circling the raft and it looks like the thing could fall apart any second. Somebody has their foot hanging overboard, you think they could get bitten and you can wonder what’s going to happen to them; they don’t have any water and they're caught by the wind and the waves. Or you can go to the Met and there’s a Renoir painting that’s been there forever, I can never remember the title, and it’s not even that big, it’s a couple of feet square, it’s a hillside coming down about a thirty percent angle covered in wildflowers. It’s just pastoral French with this blue sky and clouds and everything. It’s amazing, but that picture is timeless.  It could be abstract; it could be realistic. And even though it’s about as mild as you can get, it’s also as powerful as you can get somehow.  It resonates so deeply.  So it’s funny how these pictures are so different, but they both really resonate, each has something that you could really relate to.

 

Back to England

CW:    So, time wise you’re up to what, the late 80s, early 90s?
RL:      Well, in ’86 I went back to England. I don’t think I had built the barn studio yet.  I was still painting in the basement. I visited London. I went to England with Valentin Tatransky because there was a workshop being held in Norfolk, a short train ride from London. John Foster had a workshop there, mostly for sculpture. Valentin and I went out there and it was very interesting.  I think Peter Hyde might have been there and Clay Ellis and a number of the usual suspects from the Triangle sculpture crowd. Tony Caro came out to visit on the opening day.
I went back to London. Frank Bolling’s son still had a flat there, but was called away on work in the Netherlands. He was going to be away on an extended stay, so I had a place to stay. Frank had a student who had moved or quit painting, so there was a studio available over near White Chapel and the docks, not far from where they just built Canary Wharf.  The name of the building was Thames House, the studio was again in one of these lofts; same kind of loft, different configuration.  This one was long and narrow. The building surrounded a courtyard in the middle.
I had a space there and there were other artists there as well.  The only bad thing was that right next door was a gravel yard and every twenty minutes you would hear the enormous roar of tons of gravel sliding down a metal chute. The other problem was that it had the same windows we had in the States, those big metal windows with the glass and the middle that opens, but it was facing south and the sun would beam in something awful; it would fry people.  We’re sweltering today; this was no escape.  You almost had to wear sunglasses just to enter the room. I hung some sheer fabric that cut down a bit on the light and, of course, at night it wasn’t a problem.
I used to work there day and night. Patty was still back in the States and we decided to go sort of independent for a little while. I was working a lot because I didn’t really know that many people, and most of the people I knew were artists anyway and they were either in their studios or working a job.  I kept to myself and went to the museums and galleries all the time, worked night and day in the studio. I would work until like one in the morning. During the day I would take the tube from John Islip Street in back of the Tate where I was living, but the tube stops running around 11, so I would take the night bus, one of those double-decker buses.
I remember sitting on the top deck and it would usually have rained ...  of course, it was England ... but the rain had stopped and the lights were glistening on the wet streets. All the sign lights and the red lights and the green lights and all the different lights and the way the roads were laid out, so it was incredible just to take this bus; it was magical.
CW:    You came back with that British version of a clear gel that was still kind of yellow and then worked with Mark Golden at Golden Artist Colors to develop a truly clear gel medium.
RL:      While I was in London Frank introduced me to the Spectrum Company. I actually went over and got a tour of their factory. I was intrigued with their paint because it had some great features, like staying absolutely transparent no matter how thick it got; it could be ten inches thick and it’s like glass.  But it had some serious issues. Even though it was transparent it would yellow.  When it dried, it would crack; it would shrink and pull itself apart.  So those were two major issues. I remember calling Mark Golden on the phone and saying, "Look, we have gel that’s indestructible.  When it shrinks it never cracks, it never yellows. But it’s cloudy; it’s not transparent.  If they can do it, we can do it. So, why don’t you go back in the lab and figure this out." 
When I finally got back to the States, he had been working on it and what he determined was you buy your ingredients in varying degrees of quality -- we had to buy the highest quality polymer that we could get, which means it has the most ground Plexiglas in it and least amount of vehicle.  We wanted it to be thick; we wanted it to be thick like oil or much thicker than oil. If you made it too thick then the water would have trouble migrating out through osmosis as it dries and in fact, as the outer layer dries, as the dry part of the outer layer gets thicker and thicker, it exponentially slows the drying process down.  It goes slower, slower, slower, slower; the more you dry, the slower it’s going to go, to the core.
Air bubbles would get trapped; it wasn’t just the water molecules.  Air bubbles were getting trapped. Originally, we didn’t give a damn about transparency.  We liked it but we were after thick.  We wanted to go beyond the impasto thickness of oils.  We wanted to see how far you could go.  How thick can you get it?  It has to at least hold the peak like an egg white, but way past that.  Also, we wanted to be able to carve back into it.  So he thinned it down and put it in a machine that shook it and vacuumed the air bubbles out, and he came out with what he called clear gel.
What it did for us that we didn’t even anticipate at first was made it better able to use all those reflective particles because you didn’t have to put it on the surface now.  You could embed it way down deep.  You could layer it.  You could do all kinds of things. Like you’ve seen in sedimentary rock on the side of the road, you could have things layered, but bent and pushed and pulled and God knows what.  Or something more like Chinese glazing in ceramics and going back to the glass blowing on the Island of Murano.  It kind of made it into liquid glass. 
And you could form the gel into a lens.  You could make it either magnify or make what it covers look smaller.  So that, combined with the use of the particles (even though I’m always putting down the idea that the materials are important) you can definitely do different and more things with that paint than you could have done before. Moffett talks about how when developments are made, and this development was made twenty years ago now, it takes that long for the artists to figure out what to do with it, so his feeling is we’re really just now seeing that.
BT:      Once it’s dry, it doesn’t ever return to a liquid state, right?
RL:      That’s a good thing about it too; it's archival.  It is not going to change.
CW     So it was this period of very rapid changes technically that created different tools.  Like guitars going electric and then getting foot pedals.  You suddenly can do a whole lot of new and different stuff. Some of it is just stomping on something to make it yowl because now you can, but a lot of it becomes very musical and learning how to use all of those nuances.
RL       The other thing, too, is that it allows you to do the things you’re not supposed to do.  If you look back through art history, it’s always like that. When Picasso says, "Oh, you can’t do abstraction.  Pure abstraction is bad and you can’t do that."  That was like the next answer. Any time somebody says, "Oh, you can’t." that's what the next thing is.

 

The New New Nineties

CW:    So, that’s around the time that you’re building into the New New period, the beginnings of New New Painting being shown by Ken when he was at the Fort Lauderdale Museum.
RL:      The first time I met Gerald Piltzer is when I did the Tower show with the New York Five and Mike Steiner brought Gerald Piltzer by. I remember him looking around and he looked intrigued and he focused on my work and asked for my résumé.  It was the first time I knew he was a lot of trouble because he had the résumé in his hand and decided that he would quiz me to find out if I knew what was on my own résumé.
            So, he was holding it up and, in this French accent, he would say, "Okay, I know the résumé and I’m looking at it but let me hear you say it.  Now where does it start?  Now go ahead, I’m reading." I had to recite the résumé from beginning to end.
BT laughs.
RL:      And he said, "No, no, no you forgot! You made a mistake! That’s it!"  He didn't buy anything that time but he flitted off with Steiner. It was maybe six months to a year later that he came to the studio.  This was the new studio that we’d built on the back of the property in Vista. I had already been painting for about fifteen years at that point so we were able to lay out a small retrospective or survey for him and then show him the new pictures. That’s when he started buying pictures and brought them back to Paris.

[Add info about Moffett & the Ft. Lauderdale show image of Divertimento]

We compiled a catalog and that was the first New New Painting catalog.  It was a big hard cover book.  It was also the first time anyone ever asked me to write for a book.  So I did that; I wrote something for the book, which at first I found very difficult and frustrating but, by the end, easy and enjoyable. I was starting to feel I could express myself as well in words as I could in paint or music.  It really turned me on to writing.
CW:    Well, there ended up being a number of connections, as you mentioned there was Mike Steiner, and I first met Gerald when I was working for Ken Noland and he was coming by Ken’s when Ken and Clem were coming by your place, and in that mix was Ken Moffett who was down in Fort Lauderdale and he did a group show that included a lot of artists of your age and generation.
RL:      And there was also Susan Roth -- there was no New New at that point. Susan and I were featured on the biggest wall and we had our biggest paintings.  One of them was Divertimento and that’s the show that convinced Piltzer. That’s when Piltzer called it a movement and wanted to bring it back to France and show it.  And then we had a lot of shows all over Europe.  We had a show in Germany, in Göppingen, Germany that was sponsored Daimler Benz.  We had a small show in Paris on the Left Bank in the Dambier Masset gallery.  We had a show in Seoul, South Korea.

                                                                             
                                                                                                        Divertimento
CW:    Cologne, wasn’t there a show in Cologne and Brussels?
RL:      Right, that was Galerie Tilly Haderek, we had a show with her in Stuttgart, Germany in 1993. Then at the art fair Art Köln 93, we were represented by Galerie Tilly Haderek. Then we did a show in the Museè de Contemporain in Nice.
CW:    Wasn’t that when they published the book?
RL:      No, it was after.  And my solo show came after. First, there was that show with the book on the Champs-Elysèes in the original Piltzer gallery.  Then there were all the shows in Europe, South Korea, and all over the place.  Then there was the show in Nice where I brought my dad before he died.  He was able to see that show.  And that was amazing because the Museè de Contemporè in Nice is in the middle of town and it’s upon these ramparts -- this huge sort of a mountain of granite blocks two hundred, three hundred, feet up in the air and then there are buildings on top of that. The building looks like pictures of what they want the space station to look like.  It’s like a wagon wheel with this long ring all around and then spokes going.  So they placed Monet’s Dream, which was a blue painting of mine, at the end -- like when you’re walking down one of those spokes -- at the end was that blue painting so you just like got closer and closer and closer and closer and closer.  And it was amazing.

                                                                                                    
                                                                                                      Monet's Dream
BT:      Like Winged Victory.
RL:      Yeah, yeah. It’s funny because I can’t remember a lot of the other paintings that were in that particular show, but it was a fabulous place to show.  The only other show in the museum at that time was Yves Klein and all those blue paintings where he’d rolled nude women in paint and then rolled them on canvas.
The Hotel Negresco was very famous because that was the Allied headquarters for the American troops. Mr. Hipp, our neighbor from Connecticut, was the head of the Allied forces there.  So it’s very historical, just interesting as hell, one of the grand hotels of the world. Arab sheiks have entire floors year round and they have a restaurant associated with them that’s just not to be believed and one other restaurant called La Rotunda, which is a step down but it’s still five stars ... fabulous.  Every once in a while in the La Rotunda restaurant they had carousels and mannequins and stuff from a circus sideshow - and they would start moving and doing things. Then they would stop and they wouldn’t do anything for another five or ten minutes and then they’d all start up again. So you’d be eating and then this stuff would be going on. 
We were there with Claude Fournier who was Piltzer’s friend and had this castle next door to the hotel.  The hotel was famous but Claude had this castle and it was just amazing because he was curator of contemporary art for The Louvre.  And in this building were all of his family’s possessions and museum possessions.  Anything from a sarcophagus with a mummy inside it to a wall covered in COBRA paintings [Cobra began in Denmark. Cobra was chosen as the name, taken from the names of the 3 cities involved. COpenhagen, BRussels and Amsterdam. Copenhagen is the head, Brussels is the body, and Amsterdam is the tail of the Cobra.].
Unbelievable stuff.  Shrunken heads.  Everything.  And there was so much of it that you couldn’t get from Point A to Point B in the house.  There were little paths and you had to climb over stuff and turn sideways and skinny through and it was just amazing.  So he gave us a tour of the house and then he made drinks and we went out onto these ramparts, these big stonewalls that separated the bay, the sea, from the land.  And we just enjoyed ourselves out there and it was incredible.  I was trying to think of what happened next. 
Gerald kept finding shows all over Europe. One of the places was in Belgium. I was very happy to go Belgium because of the Rubens.  There are those, and I’m not going to argue with them, that say that Rubens is the greatest painter that ever lived.  And that he was more than that -- he was an amazing genius -- he was also a diplomat and he could talk to somebody, have a meeting with somebody, write a book, and paint a picture all at the same time.  And there were other things that were intriguing about him, too. He was sleeping with the queen and the king found out and so in order to not get killed, he sent his wife to sleep with the king and then all was forgotten.
BT laughs.
CW:    That’s why you like Rubens, that and those voluptuous women.
RL:      Anyway, so they sent us to this little coal-mining town called Charleroi, it was Joseph Drapell and myself. We felt like the Pied Pipers because what the town did was they took their entire school system of kids under the age of fourteen, broke them into groups and brought them through the exhibition. There was an exhibition in the town hall. The whole center of this town hall was like a round staircase and there were pretty good walls for showing on each floor going up six stories or something.  So that’s where the show was.
In another portion of the building I had Golden Artist Colors deliver a roll of canvas and a ton of paint. The town sent these kids through and we would take them in shifts, line them up along each side of this canvas and we only had one roll.  You could do anything you wanted, use any color, draw and paint whatever you want, but it had to be heartfelt, you can’t just fill up space, you can’t just sit there, and you can’t go over the same place more than once.  It was once and you had to move on.  There was no going back for a second shot.  That was the tough one. 
We found ourselves policing so that no one would go back over the same place twice, because that is a natural reaction, but it would make mud. If you put down a beautiful color and then go back over it would wreck it a little bit and wreck it more and more until it was like slather and lathering mud, this purple, brown, horrible stuff.
So we were successful in doing that and we made this mural that was about 150 feet long and they hung it off the side of the hotel in town where we were staying.  And the television people came and we were interviewed and it was a big deal there.  But we felt we had done some good.  The kids really liked it and the whole town liked it and somehow we learned something; everybody learned something. 
BT:      What a great project. What happened next?
CW:    We’re kind of sneaking up on more recent history.  You’d started showing with Goldie and there had been a number of shows there.
RL:      I continued to show with her in Toronto during that time.
CW:    And Elka London...
RL:      In Montreal. And now Stanley Bornstein is my representative there at Galerie de Contemporain. Also Gerald did the art fairs at that time. We did the New York Art Fair, we did the Navy Pier in Chicago, and FICA in France.
CW:    And at this same time, when there were things going on within the context of New New in Europe and so on, you weren’t particularly limiting yourself to New New, you continued to work with dealers, the Schultes and others, and to show in context with other artists like Randy Bloom or Campbell Wright, people that you go back to Franconia with or different artists out of the Triangle Group.
RL:      That's right. We should mention that when Piltzer did the show in Germany, one of the paintings was Miles is Gone. And Miles is Gone ended up also being shown in the New New exhibition at Salander O'Reilly Gallery in New York City.
CW:    What it is about Miles is Gone -- do you think?  Or Divertimento? That was down in Fort Lauderdale, right?  Those are a couple of picture that kind of hit moments, -- first Divertimento then Miles, right?
                                                                                                
                                                                                                       Miles is Gone

RL:      Yeah. Well, Miles was definitely about using the clear gel.  It was about embedding it with blue and purple particles and the rhythm of the strokes and the back and forth of the red and blue or the reddish purple and blue. Where as Divertimento was less of an overall pattern and tearing out sections and opening up the picture, letting some air in the picture and letting it be more site specific and not forming an overall pattern.
CW:    And Miles is in that period where you were building layer after layer after layer of those short –
RL:      - stuttered strokes.
CW:    That was around the time that you were picking up on some theories about psychological/physiological interplay from Patty who was studying psychology and about how the human eye determines where an edge is by doing this little micro-vibration; the way things go in and out of focus will give you an edge.
RL:      In order for someone to judge the distance to something or its position in the room, you focus on a line, any line, that you see; your eye is vibrating, seeing it from that angle to this angle. This triangulates in your mind so you position where things are in the room. When we filled the picture with nothing but lines, it made your synapses kind of go crazy and it was very stimulating.
But there were a couple of reasons why I did that stutter stroke. Another is because I was trying to get the paint to stick out off of the canvas but remain thin -- not a big blob but rather a stroke that was thin and elongated. Doing the works in Jack Tilton’s gallery where we had the paint sandwiched in glass and the color was going through and being projected on the wall, I wanted similar effects like that in the painting where it stuck out enough and was transparent enough so that light could pass through and project light -- not so much on the wall but on the painting itself. 
We were talking before about taking out as many pieces of a jigsaw puzzle as you could get away with and still see the image; another thing I was interested in was trying the opposite of that. I was trying to put more surface on. If that painting was 40 by 60 inches, if you took all of the parts of the paint that stuck out and you pushed them down and flattened them out and stretched them out, you’d end up with a painting that was more like 50 by 70, not 40 by 60, so we were putting like more painted surface on the canvas than the size would even allow. 
CW:    He’s distorting space and time.
Everybody laughs.
BT:      See and some people think you’re just throwing paint on the canvas.
RL:      Yeah, it’s been said. Earlier we talked about what paintings I did at the Yale and Town loft. One of them was called Bullish and, thinking about it, it had very similar attributes to some of the things you could see in my pictures now.  It had colored line drawing, it had thick paint, but it also had a lot of open space, thick and thin and raw canvas. What did somebody call it, pseudo fantastical something? It's like another fantasy or futuristic kind of place that wasn’t just a wall of paint, it was like a view of some fantasyland or something futuristic. Vivian K. White. That’s who owns Bullish.

                                                                                              
                                                                                                             Bullish

CW:    But the interesting thing is that all of these attributes go back to the very beginning of your painting career and works like Bullish had all of these elements. There are points in time, as you work through your painting history, where those relative balance points are fairly even or with everything in it. While at other times a more specific set of issues seems to be what you're interested in as you paint. Maybe it’s how close you can get to a pure monochrome There have been times that you’ve gone as close as you might to monochrome, it’s a blue painting or a green painting.  And other times when it really seems like you're pushing your paintings to be as polychrome, with as many different colors, as possible while they still hold together visually. Or painting very thick or very thin; it’s like each of those are things that you’re most interested in for the arc of a period of six months, say. Of the paintings that come out of that six-month period, most of them may follow some ideal, all the stutter strokes and clear gel, building up and getting more surface on the canvas than you’ve got space to put it on, like in Miles is Gone, and that becomes what you’re looking at; running an idea through its changes and creating paintings that you can look at to learn from.
In one sense, there’s the marketing side of it; how can you sell these paintings. And another thing is how can you explain these paintings, how do they fit in art history? These are distinct from you painting because you want to give yourself an experience or experiment with a material.
Then you want the painting to be able to give whoever looks at it an experience. You don’t have to limit what that experience is; it can be happy, it can be sad, it can be profound, it can be funny, it can be light, it can be heavy, it can be thick, it can be thin, whatever.  And each one of those is valid and I think the marketing side or the art history side like things to be neat.  They like things to be tidy.
RL:      They don’t want to confuse the audience. When I used to go around to all the galleries in Soho and up on 57th Street I would show my slides around and they would comment on the work and one of the comments that was made was you’ve got to focus down and narrow down to a certain look, a narrow look and then become known for that so you don’t confuse the audience. Then, when you have a one-man show, they don’t think it’s by twelve different artists.
BT:      Yeah, but that butts right up against your passion as a painter and your creativity as a painter.
RL:      You become more of a factory than an artist at that point. Because the whole reason you make the art is because you have this unrelenting desire to create something and it has your own unique stamp on it.
BT:      There’s certainly the issue of when you do something repeatedly you can get to a different level with it.
RL:      That’s the difference between a painter and a performer because a performer can execute the same piece again and again and again, but when you’re painting, you’re not going to execute the same painting again and again.  It’s a different situation; you have to write a new play every time. I guess writers are like that. A writer is not going to sit down and write the same story again and again.
BT:      But part of what you do carry from one piece to another during a certain period is where you’re working with a new material and getting to the point where you develop a vocabulary with it. Then another new material comes along, or another experience comes through you, so you put these materials together in a different way. But I think it’s definitely true that the people trying to market the art or trying to write about it, trying to do everything about the art except create it, want to have those nice, clean, cubbyholes and predictable places to put you. As an artist I don’t think there are too many really passionate artists that can do that and really make it work because you want to keep the juices flowing.
CW:    It’s funny, I don’t think of it as so much of a dichotomy.  If you take Noland, Ken just decided that he wanted, for a period of time, to be as pure about color and color relationships as possible in terms of what he was trying to make and look at and do as an experience.  So he eliminated the brush stroke by sanding the canvases ... literally.  And all these other things to get it down to where he was looking at this one thing and in, say, the Chevron series he had the composition laid out.  So he was saying, "I am only going to concentrate on how these colors relate to each other."  Or like Albers, Homage to the Square.  Now you can argue that some of these people really succeed in making great, brilliant art whereas other stuff ends up just being color charts or what not, but that’s a valid way of working and that’s something artists get encouraged into doing. 
It’s perfectly valid to write a pop song that everybody loves, but the producer and the record label want you to write another pop song just like the last song so that we can have another hit so that the money can keep flowing. There’s nothing wrong with doing a series and there’s nothing wrong with doing a pop song or whatever, but that’s not for everybody and some people need a wider room to play in and all of that.  So what it's about is finding your own path as an artist.
I think the pitfall for those artists that find it comfortable to do series is that you can do the series long after the reason you started to do the series in the first place has lost meaning to you, that’s really the issue.  If you’re looking at what happens if you stack these colors embedded in the clear gel with these short, stutter strokes and just keep building up the surface, you get to a point where you’ve learned what that does and how it works and what happens when you make it thicker or thinner or change the color or whatever. You’ve now absorbed whatever that experience is that those paintings that are done all over like that can give people, you’ve explored that.  And so in doing that, other ideas come out.  What’s a different idea?  These things are really, really, really heavy.  Can I get thick without it being so heavy? And so you bring in the screen.

RL:      Right, I didn’t talk about the screen. Yeah, the one thing we didn’t mention yet is the screen paintings and I think it’s appropriate at this time to bring it up.
I’d been getting a lot of complaints from the dealers saying that the paintings were unbelievably heavy because of all of the different layers of the clear gel, one on top of the other. When you added it up it was hundreds of pounds and so they were difficult to ship, they were difficult to hang on the walls and so on.  So a couple of different things happened.
One is Golden had an antidote for this problem which was a light molding paste, but if you use the light molding paste you give up total transparency.  But I started thinking about the gel and what the gel does.  If you take traditional oil paint and want to get a lighter color, you might take white and add it to the color and that would be like the molding paste solution to the problem.  It would get lighter and lighter in color but the gel really was something quite different.
Somebody said that working with white paint is like taking water and dropping milk in it. Pretty quickly it turns white and stays white.  But gel isn’t like that. Acrylic gel is not like oil paint, and it's not like you can use white to lighten something, it’s more like the theory of concentration. If you have a glass of water and put a drop of wine in it or grape juice, then with each successive drop it’s going to become darker and darker and darker; it’s a matter of gradation and the concentration of the amount of paint in a pigment and the gel.  So you’re able to let a lot more light pass through and you can use your metallic particles or mirror particles and you’re still utilizing light, whereas when you’re adding white, you’re kind of shutting off the light and now you’re back into old-fashioned, absorbent, reflective color.  So, how can we do this with another material? 
I decided to try using something different, other than the paint, that’s going to achieve this, have the same properties and achieve the same results. I thought, "Isn’t it interesting? You can take screening, window screen, and if you look through one layer of it, it’s almost completely transparent.  If you put two layers, it becomes a little grayer.  If you add three layers, it’s getting darker still.  By the time you get to four, five, and six layers, it’s almost black. I realized how I could shape screens like a Caro sculpture and that it was mimicking the gel in the way that it worked with the concentration, that the more wire mesh, the darker it gets.  And so we created this series of screen pictures.
They actually came about, not because of this whole methodology of thinking that we’re talking about, but because, again, we were trying to make paintings that were lighter but thicker.  We’d build wire mesh armatures, it was as if you were making a plaster sculpture over an armature, so we made an armature of screening and we painted over that and that’s how we got our very thick passages.  But in doing so I realized that these were looking pretty intriguing with no paint over them, or maybe just some paint on them, and that’s when I started exploring the issue of using the wire mesh, either by itself or in conjunction with the gel.  And some fascinating things came out of it and you have to see it to understand it, but when you have the grid set up by the screen and we’re using these reflective particles what was happening was, when you got back and you were at just the right angle, the screening would obscure all the little sparkles of metallics except for maybe one.  And this shiny, shining, bright white, little thing would be shining through all of this. You go, "What the heck was that?" It’s so elusive and if you move it goes away.  If you move further still, there may be another one.  Okay, so they all get featured in the spotlight by being obscured by the wire screening.  So, again, it was exploring that whole deal of it is it sculpture, is it painting, and walking that fine line -- maybe not walking but wrestling with that line between painting and sculpture. 
And also I was inspired to do that by looking at Caro’s sculpture with the idea of "Is it there or is it not there?"  Is this a plane cutting through the air and being part of the abstract sculpture or is it something you were looking through because it’s screen, and it’s not there.  You know, so it’s sort of there and not there all at the same time.
I didn’t want to forget to say that the one thing that everyone noticed when I started doing the screening is that it looked like lingerie.

Everybody laughs.

 

 

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