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swenson_what_is_pop_art - Y o T L MAY COPYRIGHT LAW(mm 17...

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Unformatted text preview: Y o T L MAY COPYRIGHT LAW (mm 17% sl’clfggECTED BY \w “M L From WHAT IS POP ART? PART] r ~\u_w Interviews by C. R. Swenson pop Ar; painters recently have received massive publicity. Their work has been praised and explained by a small army of curators, promoters and critics, but the artists them- selves have stayed cool and tight-Zipped. This is especially surprising as most American painters are characteristically voluble. For example, anybody who wanted to know what Franz Kline was up to in 1950, or Willem de Kooning or Barnett Newman, could drop by the ‘iArtists’ Club ” of the favored bars and cafeterias to hear painters define their posi- tions with vivid recklessness. T 0 keep the record straight and to balance the often inaccurate claims from the par- tisans and enemies ofPop Art, Art News has elicited comment from eight leading “mem- bers ” of this new “school. ”Four appear on these pages; interviews with the other artists —— Jasper Johns, Oldenburg, Rosenquist and Wesselmann, will appear in a forthcoming issue. ANDY WARHOL Someone said that Brecht wanted everybody to think alike. I want everybody to think alike. But Brecht wanted to do it through Communism, in a way. Russia is doing it under government. It’s happening here all by itself without being under a strict government; so if it’s working without trying, why can’t it work without being Communist? Everybody looks alike and acts alike, and we’re getting more and more that way. I think everybody should be a machine. I think everybody should like everybody. Is that whatPop Art is all about? Yes. It’s liking things. And liking things is like being a machine? Yes, because you do the same thing every time. You do it over and over again. And you approve of that? Yes, because it’s all fantasy. It’s hard to be creative and it’s also hard not to think what you do is creative or hard not to be called creative because everybody is always talking about that and individuality. Everybody’s always being creative. And it’s so funny when you say things aren’t, like the shoe Iwould draw for an advertisement was called a “cre- ation” but the drawing of it was not. But I guess I believe in both ways. All these people who aren’t very good should be really good. Everybody is too good now, really. Like, how many actors are there? There are millions of actors. They’re all pretty good. And how many painters are there? Millions of painters and all pretty good. How can you say one style is better than another? You ought to be able to be an Abstract—Expressionist next week, or a Pop artist, or a realist, without feeling you’ve given up something. I think the artists who aren’t very good should become like everybody else so that people would like things that aren’t very good. It’s already happening. All you have to do is read the mag— azines and the catalogues. It’s this style or that style, this or that image of man —- but ArtNews, November 1963: 24—27 ff. 103 that really doesn’t make any difference. Some artists get left out that way, and why should they? Is Pop Art afad? Yes, it’s a fad, but I don’t see what difference it makes. Ijust heard a rumor that C. quit working, that she’s given up art altogether. And everyone is saying how awful it is that A. gave up his style and is doing it in a different way. I don’t think so at all. If an artist can’t do any more, then he should just quit; and an artist ought to be able to change his style without feeling bad. I heard that Lichtenstein said he might not be painting comic strips a year or two from now - I think that would be so great, to be able to change styles. And} think that’s what’s going to happen, that’s going to be the whole new scene. That’s prob- ably one reason I’m using silk screens now. I think somebody should be able to do all my paintings for me. I haven’t been able to make every image clear and simple and the same as the first one. I think it would be so great if more people took up silk screens so that no one would know whether my picture was mine or somebody else’s. It would turn art history upside down? Yes. Is thatyour aim? No. The reason I’m painting this way is that I want to be a machine, and I feel that whatever I do and do machine—like is what I want to do. Was commercial art more machine-like? No, it wasn’t. I was getting paid for it, and did anything they told me to do. If they told me to draw a shoe, I’d do it, and if they told me to correct it, I would —- I’d do anything they told me to do, correct it and do it right. I’d have to invent and now I don’t; after all that “correction,” those commercial drawings would have feelings, they would have a style. The attitude of those who hired me had feeling or something to it; they knew what they wanted, they insisted; sometimes they got very emotional. The process of doing work in commercial art was machine-like, but the attitude had feeling to it. Why did you start painting soup cans? Because I used to drink it. I used to have the same lunch every day, for twenty years, I guess, the same thing over and over again. Someone said my life has dominated me; I liked that idea. I used to want to live at the Waldorf Towers and have soup and sandwich, like that scene in the restaurant in Naked Lunch . . . We went to see Dr. No at Forty-second Street. It’s a fantastic movie, so cool. We walked outside and somebody threw a cherry bomb right in front of us, in this big crowd. And there was blood, I saw blood on people and all over. I felt like I was bleeding all over. I saw in the paper last week that there are more people throwing them — it’s just part of the scene — and hurting people. My show in Paris is going to be called “Death in Amer- ica.” I’ll show the electric-chair pictures and the dogs in Birmingham and car wrecks and some suicide pictures. Why did you start these “Death ’Zvictares? I believe in it. Did you see the Enquirer this week? It had “The Wreck that Made Cops Cry” — a head cut in half, the arms and hands just lying there. It’s sick, but I’m sure it happens all the time. I’ve met a lot of cops recently. They take pictures of everything» only it’s almost impossible to get pictures from them. Well did you start with the “Death ”series? I guess it was the big plane crash picture, the front page of a newspaper: 129 DIE- I was also painting the Marilyns. I realized that everything I was doing must have been 104 Death. It was Christmas or Labor Day — a holiday — and every time you turned on the ra— dio they said something like, “4 million are going to die.” That started it. But when you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn’t really have any effect. But you ’re still doing “Elizabeth Taylor ’Qoicturcs. I started those along time ago, when she was so sick and everybody said she was going to die. Now I’m doing them all over, putting bright colors on her lips and eyes. My next series will be pornographic pictures. They will look blank; when you turn on the black lights, then you see them — big breasts and . . . If a cop came in, you could just flick out the lights or turn on the regular lights — how could you say that was pornogra- phy? But I’m still just practicing with these yet. Segal did a sculpture of two people mak- ing love, but he cut it all up, I guess because he thought it was too pornographic to be art. Actually it was very beautiful, perhaps a little too good, or he may feel a little protective about art. When you read Genét you get all hot, and that makes some people say this is not art. The thing I like about it is that it makes you forget about style and that sort of thing; style isn’t really important. Is “Pop ”a bad name? The name sounds so awful. Dada must have something to do with Pop — it’s so funny, the names are really synonyms. Does anyone know what they’re supposed to mean or have to do with, those names? Johns and Rauschenberg — Neo—Dada for all these years, and everyone calling them derivative and unable to transform the things they use — are now called progenitors of Pop. It’s funny the way things change. I think John Cage has been very influential, and Merce Cunningham, too, maybe. Did you see that article in the Hudson Review [T [26 End oft/1e RenaissanceP, Summer, 1963]? It was about Cage and that whole crowd, but with a lot of big words like radical empircism and teleology. Who knows? Maybe lap and Bob were Neo—Dada and aren’t any more. History books are being rewritten all the time. It doesn’t matter what you do. Everybody just goes on thinking the same thing, and every year it gets more and more alike. Those who talk about individual- ity the most are the ones who most object to deviation, and in a few years it may be the other way around. Some day everybody will think just what they want to think, and then everybody will probably be thinking alike; that seems to be what is happening. ROBERT INDIANA What is Pop? Pop is everything art hasn’t been for the last two decades. It is basically a U—turn back to a representational visual communication, moving at a break-away speed in several sharp late models. It is an abrupt return to Father after an abstract 15-year exploration of the Womb. Pop is a re-enlistment in the world. It is shuck the Bomb. It is the American Dream, optimistic, generous and naive . . . It springs newborn out of a boredom with the finality and over—saturation of Ab— stract-Expressionism which, by its own esthetic logic, is the END of art, the glorious pin- nacle of the long pyramidal creative process. Stifled by this rarefied atmosphere, some young painters turn back to some less exalted things like Coca-Cola, ice-cream sodas, big hamburgers, super—markets and “EAT” signs. They are eye-hungry; they pop . . . Pure Pop culls its techniques from all the present-day communicative processes: it is Wesselman‘s TV set and food ad, Warhol’s newspaper and silkscreen, Lichtenstein’s comic and Ben Day, it is my road signs. It is straight-to—the-point, severely blunt, with as 105 little “artistic” transformation and delectation as possible. The self—conscious brush stroke and the even more self—conscious drip are not central to its generation. Impasto is visual indigestion. Are you Pop? Pop is either hard-core or hard-edge. I am hard—edge Pop. Will Pop buryAbstract—Expressionism? No. If A~E dies, the abstractionists will bury themselves under the weight of their own success and acceptance; they are battlers and the battle is won; they are theoreti- cians and their theories are respected in the staidest institutions; they seem by nature to be teachers and inseminators and their students and followers are legion around the world; they are inundated by their own fecundity. They need birth control. Will Pop replace Abstract-Expressionism ? In the eternal What—ls-New—in-American-Painting shows, yes; in the latest acquisi— tions of the avant—garde collectors, yes; in the American Home, no. Once the hurdle of its non-objectivity is overcome, A—E is prone to be as decorative as French Impressionism. There is a harshness and matter-of—factness to Pop that doesn’t exactly make it the inte- rior decorator’s Indispensable Right Hand. Is Pop here to stay? Give it ten years perhaps; if it matches A—E’s 15 or 20, it will be doing well in these ac- celerated days of mass-medium circulation. In twenty years it must face 1984. Is Pop esthetic suicide? Possibly for those Popsters who were once believing A-Eers, who abandoned the Temple for the street; since I was never an acolyte, no blood is lost. Obviously esthetic “A” passes on and esthetic “B” is born. Pity more that massive body of erudite criticism that falls prostrate in its verbiage. Is Pop death ? Yes, death to smuggery and the Preconceived—Notion—of-What—Art—Is diehards. More to the heart of the question, yes, Pop does admit Death in inevitable dialogue as Art has not for some centuries; it is willing to face the reality of its own and life’s mortality. Art is really alive only for its own time; that eternally-vital proposition is the bookman’s delu- sion. Warhol’s auto—death transfixes us; DIE is equal to EAT. Is Pop easyart? Yes, as opposed to one eminent critic’s dictum that great art must necessarily be dif- ficult art. Pop is Instant Art . . . Its comprehension can be as immediate as a Crucifixion. Its appeal may be as broad as its range; it is the wide-screen of the Late Show. It is not the Latin of the hierarchy, it is vulgar. Is Pop complacent? Yes, to the extent that Pop is not burdened with that self-consciousness of A—E, which writhes tortuously in its anxiety over whether or not it has fulfilled Monet’s Water- Lily-Quest—for—Absolute/Ambiguous-Form—of-Tomorrow theory; it walks young for the moment without the weight of four thousand years of art history on its shoulders, though the grey brains in high places are well arrayed and hot for the Kill. Is Pop cynical? Pop does tend to convey the artist’s superb intuition that modern man, with his loss of identity, submersion in mass culture, beset by mass destruction, is man’s grea’test problem, and that Art, Pop or otherwise, hardly provides the Solution - some Opti' mistic, glowing, harmonious, humanitarian, plastically perfect Lost Chord of Life. 106 Is Pop pre—sold? Maybe so. It isn’t the Popster’s fault that the A-Eers fought and won the bloody Bat— tle of the Public-Press—Pantheon; they did it superbly and now there is an art—accepting public and a body of collectors and institutions that are willing to take risks lest they make another Artistic-Over-sight—of—the—Century. This situation is mutually advanta- geous and perilous alike to all painters, Popsters and non-Popsters. The new sign of the Art Scene is BEWARE — Thin Ice. Some sun-dazed Californians have already plunged recklessly through. Is Pop the newmorality? Probably. It is libertine, free and easy with the old forms, contemptuous of its elders’ rigid rules. Is Pop love? Pop is love in that it accepts all . . . all the meaner aspects of life, which, for various esthetic and moral considerations, other schools of painting have rejected or ignored. Everything is possible in Pop. Pop is still pro-art, but surely not art for art’s sake. Nor is it any Neo-Dada anti-art manifestation: its participants are not intellectual, social and artistic malcontents with furrowed brows and fur-lined skulls. Is Pop America? Yes. America is very much at the core of every Pop work. British Pop, the first—born, came about due to the influence of America. The generating issue is Americasm [sic], that phenomenon that is sweeping every continent. French Pop is only slightly F renchi- fied; Asiatic Pop is sure to come (remember Hong Kong). The pattern will not be far from the Coke, the Car, the Hamburger, the Jukebox. It is the American Myth. For this is the best of all possible worlds. ROY LICHTENSTEIN WhatisPop Art? I don’t know —— the use of commercial art as subject matter in painting, I suppose. It was hard to get a painting that was despicable enough so that no one would hang it — everybody was hanging everything. It was almost acceptable to hang a dripping paint rag, everybody was accustomed to this. The one thing everyone hated was commercial art; apparently they didn’t hate that enough either. Is Pop Art despicable? That doesn’t sound so good, does it? Well, it is an involvement with what I think to be the most brazen and threatening characteristics of our culture, things we hate, but which are also powerful in their impingement on us. I think art since Cezanne has become ex- tremely romantic and unrealistic, feeding on art; it is utopian. It has had less and less to do with the world, it looks inward — neo-Zen and all that. This is not so much a criticism as an obvious observation. Outside is the world; it’s there. Pop Art looks out into the world; it appears to accept its environment, which is not good or bad, but different — an- other state of mind. ‘How can you like exploitation?’ ‘How can you like the complete mechanization of work? How can you like bad art?’ I have to answer that I accept it as being there, in the world. Are you anti-experimental? I think so, and anti-contemplative, anti-nuance, anti-getting—away-from—the—tyranny— 107 of-the-rectangle, anti-movement—and—light, anti—mystery, anti-paint-quality. anti-Zen, and anti all of those brilliant ideas of preceding movements which everyone understands so thoroughly. We like to think of industrialization as being despicable. I don’t really know what to make of it. There’s something terribly brittle about it. I suppose Iwould still prefer to sit under a tree with a picnic basket rather than under a gas pump, but signs and comic strips are interesting as subject matter. There are certain things that are usable, forceful and vital about commercial art. We’re using those things — but we’re not really advocat- ing stupidity, international teenagerism and terrorism. Where did your ideas about art begin? The ideas of Professor Hoyt Sherman [at Ohio State University] on perception were my earliest important influence and still affect my ideas of visual unity. Perception? Yes. Organized perception is what art is all about. He taught you “how to look ”? Yes. He taught me how to go about learning how to look. At what? At what, doesn’t have anything to do with it. It is a process. It has nothing to do with any external form the painting takes, it has to do with a way of building a unified pattern of seeing . . . In Abstract—Expressionism the paintings symbolize the idea of ground- directedness as opposed to object-directedness. You put something down, react to it, put something else down, and the painting itself becomes a symbol of this. The difference is that rather than symbolize this ground—directedness I do an object-directed appearing thing. There is humor here. The work is still ground-directed; the fact that it’s an eye— brow or an almost direct copy of something is unimportant. The ground—directedness is in the painter’s mind and not immediately apparent in the painting. Pop Art makes the statement that ground—directedness is not a quality that the painting has because of what it looks like . . . This tension between apparent object-directed products and actual ground-directed processes is an important strength of Pop Art. Antagonistic critics say that Pop Art does not transform its models. Does it? Transformation is a strange word to use. It implies that art transforms. It doesn’t, it just plain forms. Artists have never worked with the model — just with the painting. What you’re really saying is that an artist like Cézanne transforms what we think the painting ought to look like into something he thinks it ought to look like. He’s working with paint, not nature; he’s making a painting, he’s forming. I think my work is different from comic strips — but I wouldn’t call it transformation; I don’t think that whatever is meant by it is important to art. What I do is form. whereas the comic strip is not formed in the sense I’m using the word; the comics have shapes but there has been no effort to make them intensely unified. The purpose is different, one intends to depict andI intend to unify. And my work is actually different from comic strips in that every mark is really in a different place, however slight the difference seems to some. The difference is often not great, but it is crucial. People also consider my work to be anti-art in the same way they consider it pure depiction, “not transformed.” I don’t feel it is anti-art. There is no neat way of telling whether a work of art is composed or not; we’re too comfortable with ideas that art is the battleground for interaction, that with more and more experience you become more able to compose. It’s true, everybody accepts that; it’s just that the idea no longer has any power. 108 Abstract~Expressionism has had an almost universal influence on the arts. W'illPop Art? I don’t know. I doubt it. It seems too particular —- too much the expression of a few personalitie...
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