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>> Exclusive: Richard Artschwager
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>> "No guarantee" - Insights into the Work of Richard Artschwager
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Cheryl Kaplan: In Road to Damascus, from 1960, you take a wonderful swipe at the face, almost eliminating the eyes, making a large gash through the middle. It's a very timely work. The drawing recalls Rauschenberg's Erased Drawing of De Kooning, but it's more violent and haunting. The figure feels puppet-like – a figurehead caught in the process of being eliminated.

Richard Artschwager: There are a couple of drawings from that time. One is mainly red and has a hand of anger in the face. In the drawing you're talking about, the man's wearing a tuxedo and sitting at the table. It's a flash. It's blindness and revelation. It's definitely an explosion. It's St. Paul on the road to Damascus, struck blind by a wow. I really started with drawing. Drawing allows for this sort of thing.

Road to Damaskus, 1960
©VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2003

How did the exhibition at Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin come about?

Deutsche Bank has a respectful interest in what's going down – they're an open-minded supporter of art. The show is a survey, a putting together of things that enlighten and talk to each other.

I'm curious about your version of Tintoretto's The Stealing of the Dead Body of St. Mark from 1969. It's done in acrylic on Celotex. In your version of St. Mark, the figures are reduced to blps and rectangles. In the Tintoretto, there's a mad rushing, especially as the figures exit to the left and the body is carried forward. How is it that a tamped-down surface becomes extremely airy and buoyant?

The Stealing of the Body of St. Mark, 1562-66
©VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2003
Tintoretto's Rescue of the Body of St. Mark, 1969
©VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2003

There are two things – one is shallow space and one is a space with perspective. The point where I get weird, by what I consider a useful flash, is that the vanishing point actually becomes a point that has substance. Doing the opposite of what's around, which would have been painting it flat, which is chapter and verse from —

Donald Judd?

Well, no, Donald Judd is doctrinaire, he created his own dogma, which is a different matter. A good friend of mine, Catherine Kord, said artists are generals of imaginary armies. I did finally see the Tintoretto in Venice. It was an exploitation of perspective. I could do that painting and do some programmed abstraction of things that would be the beginnings of the blp or maybe mid-blp. The blp would be a monad, a large particle. There's one of those fellas (pointing). I had an interest in particles, but that has other consequences coming from the drawings I made, like looking into your own organs to see what the hell is going on. Drawing on a rough surface was another choice, which is cranking or ratcheting up the given. The given is always a lot more than what's seen – there's no tabula rasa. With surface, everything is working, nothing is edited out, which is already a definition of art.

In the Tintoretto, these angelic women exit through the archways; at the right, the body is carried out. There are two exits. Deep and shallow space contend with one other.

The drawings I did early on were squirmy. They had smaller elements that squirmed. I could be nice and say they were inventive. There was a lot going on in some of those little forms. The blp had already happened. That would be a place for a scheme. Perspective certainly does not adhere to a flat surface, quite the reverse.

There's a physical quality to the fleeing as well as a rising up and sinking down in your drawing that's independent from Tintoretto's.

By rising up, you mean off the surface?

Something escapes and comes off the surface.

A friend of mine who's probably the best painter around, Brice Marden, went to the trouble of using encaustic, not just to bring the surface that much (gestures a half inch) into your own space, but by using unsaturated color and pulling it off the wall, toward oneself. Mine would really lift off the surface. The squiggles tend to hover because they're cut free from gravity. They're too busy squiggling to submit to gravity. Coming to that surface activity, wanting that specifically and looking for it or stumbling upon it, I did a cityscape in 1962, Lefrak City, which came from an image about 2" x 3" in size that I blew up to 7.5 or 8 feet and gridded off in 1/8" squares on a stock piece of Celotex. Why do that? It's like lifting up rocks to see if there's anything under there. The original image was a badly printed ad out of a newspaper. Newsprint doesn't refine, it's rough to begin with. There are particles and they have shapes sometimes.

Lefrak City, 1962
©VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2003

That appear in the stretching out?

Gridding the thing off, one square at a time, inevitably you're going to compose inside the square. You're looking for energy in whatever shape or form. That was consciously done.

Lefrak City from 1962, the Apartment House from 1964 and even the Office Scene from 1966 are solemn and eerie works. You feel what it is to be anonymous. I think of Cathy Opie's highway photographs and the L.A. strip malls. On a larger scale, Gursky's documentation of apartment houses comes to mind, though his work seems more active, more commercially public. Have you seen Pierre Huyghe's installation at the Guggenheim? There's a video of two apartment towers, the lights are going on and off in each floor, as if they were sending Morse code to each other in the fog. The buildings are obscured, but a tension exists between them. Does the documentary or the anti-documentary enter into your work? The coolness or distance in your drawings and paintings create disturbances that linger.

The thing is to put some soul into it or to find the soul that's there and give it a different tone. At the time, people actually lived there. One little square and somebody is frying eggs or agonizing in heartache or doing anything. This is a spin-off on the first one to see the personality.

Untitled, 1990
©VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2003
Deutsche Bank Collection

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