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
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 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.
rising up, you mean off the surface?
Something escapes and comes
off the surface.
A friend of mine who's probably the best
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
That appear in the stretching
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
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.
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.
©VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Deutsche Bank Collection