swenson_what_is_pop_art

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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 personalities. Pop might be a difficult starting point for a painter. He would have great difficulty in making these brittle images yield to compositional purposes . . . Interaction between painter and painting is not the total commitment of Pop, but it is still a major concern — though concealed and strained. Do you think that an idea in painting —— whether it be “interaction ” or the use of com- mercial art — gets progressively less powerful with time? It seems to work that way. Cubist and Action Painting ideas, although originally formi— dable and still an influence, are less crucial to us now. Some individual artists, though — Stuart Davis, for example -— seem to get better and better. A curator at the Modern Museum has called Pop Art fascistic and militaristic. The heroes depicted in comic books are fascist types, but I don’t take them seriously in these paintings — maybe there is a point in not taking them seriously, a political point. I use them for purely formal reasons, and that’s not what those heroes were invented for . . . Pop Art has very immediate and of-the-moment meanings which will vanish -— that kind of thing is ephemeral — and Pop takes advantage of this “meaning,” which is not sup- posed to last, to divert you from its formal content. I think the formal statement in my work will become clearer in time. Superficially, Pop seems to be all subject matter, whereas Abstract-Expressionism, for example, seems to be all esthetic . . . I paint directly -— then it’s said to be an exact copy, and not art, probably because there’s no perspective or shading. It doesn’t look like a painting of something, it looks like the thing itself. Instead of looking like a painting of a billboard — the way a Reginald Marsh would look — Pop Art seems to be the actual thing. It is an intensification, a stylis- tic intensification of the excitement which the subject matter has for me; but the style is, as you said, cool. One of the things a cartoon does is to express violent emotion and pas- sion in a completely mechanical and removed style. To express this thing in a painterly style would dilute it; the techniques I use are not commercial, they only appear to be commercial - and the ways of seeing and composing and unifying are different and have different ends. 15 Pop ArtAmerican? Everybody has called Pop Art “American” painting, but it’s actually industrial paint— ing. America was hit by industrialism and capitalism harder and sooner and its values seem more askew . . . I think the meaning of my work is that it’s industrial, it’s what all the world will soon become. Europe will be the same way, soon, so it won’t be American; it will be universal. IIM DINE What isyour attitude to Pop Art? I don’t feel very pure that in that respect. I don’t deal exclusively with the popular im- age. I’m more concerned with it as a part of my landscape. I’m sure everyone has always been aware of that landscape, the artistic landscape, the artist’s vocabulary, the artist’s dictionary. Does that apply to the Abstract-Expressionism.7 I would think so — they have eyes, don’t they? I think it’s the same landscape only in- terpreted through another generation’s eyes. I don’t believe there was a sharp break and 109 this is replacing Abstract-Expressionism. I believe this is the natural course 0f things. I don’t think it is exclusive or that the best painting is being done as a movement . . . Pop Art is only one facet of my work. More than popular images I’m interested in personal im- ages, in making paintings about my studio, my experience as a painter, about painting it- self, about color charts, the palette, about elements of the realistic landscape — but used differently. The content of a Pollock or a de Kooning is concerned with paint, paint quality, color. Does this tie you to them in theory? I tie myself to Abstract-Expressionism like fathers and sons. As for your question, no. No, I’m talking about paint, paint quality, color charts and those things objectively, as objects. I work with the vocabulary that I’ve picked up along the way, the vocabulary of paint application, but also the vocabulary of images. One doesn’t have to be so strict — to say, “Let's make it like a palette,” and that’s it . . . It always felt right to use objects, to talk about that familiarity in the paintings, even before I started painting them, to recog- nize billboards, the beauty of that stuff. It’s not a unique idea — Walker Evans pho- tographed them in 1929. It’s just that the landscape around you starts closing in and you’ve got to stand up to it. Your paintings look out and still make a statement about art? Yes, but a statement about art the way someone else talks about new Detroit cars, ob— jectively, as another kind of thing, a subject. Not as both subject matter and content? No. Abstract-Expressionism tended to look in? Yes. Is this the difference between your work and theirs? I don’t know what the difference is. Certainly Abstract-Expressionism influenced me, particularly Motherwell. I think he’s continually growing and making problems. His paint— ings meant a lot to me, especially Pancho Villa Dead orAlive and the Je t’aime paintings, although it now seems a bit strange to write it in French. Still, the climate Motherwell has to live in is rarer and he has to do that for his style, the idea of style, this hothouse flower — but really that’s all frivolities compared to the real structures he sets up. Style as a conscious striving for individuality? I suppose so. I’m only interested in style, as content at least, if it makes the picture work. That’s a terrible trap — for people to want to have style. If you’ve got style, that means you’ve only got one way to go, I figure; but if you’ve got art, if you’ve got it in your hands going for you, style is only an element you need to use every once in a while. The thing that really pulls a painting out is you, if you are strong, if it’s your idea you’re want- ing to say — then there’s no need to worry about style. Do you fire] related to Dada? Not so much, although I never saw any reason to laugh at that stuff. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to have that furlined teacup. It wasn ’t anti-art? N 0, not at all. I thought it was just a beautiful object; it wasn’t anti-art at all. Some of my friends used to say I was square because I was interested in art. Jan van Eyck and R0- gier van der Weyden are great favorites of mine. I’m interested in the particular way they manipulate space. With Northern painting there’s more than just seeing it . . . And I love the eccentricity of Edward Hopper, the way he puts skies in. For me he’s more excit— ing than Magritte as a Surrealist. He is also like a Pop artist — gas stations and Sunday 110 mornings and rundown streets, without making it Social Realism . . . It seems to me that those who like Hopper would be involved with Pop somehow. Or those who like Arthur Dove - those paintings of sounds, fog horns, the circle ideas that were meant to be other things. There’s a real awareness of things, an outward awareness . . . Actually I’m interested in the problem and not in solutions. I think there are certain Pop artists who are interested mainly in solutions. I paint about the problems of how to make a picture work, the problems of seeing, of making people aware without handing it to them on a silver platter. The viewer goes to it and is held back slightly from being able to get the whole picture; he has to work a little to deal with the problems — old artistic problems, that particular mystery that goes on in painting. You once said that your audience tends to concentrate too much on t/ze subject matter in your work. They can7t get past it? Well, that’s their tough luck. Iwas talking about the big audi— ence. The smaller audience gets through it and lives with it and deals with it, just like things coming up all day — in a shooting gallery, you know, things keep popping up to shoot at. And some guys can’t shoot, that’s all; they can only stand there with a gun in their hands. I’m interested in shooting and knocking them all down — seeing everything . . . But the statement about bridging the gap between art and life is, I think, a very nice metaphor or image, if that’s what you’d call it, but I don’t believe it. Everybody’s using it now. I think it misleads. It’s like the magic step, like — “Oh, that’s beautiful, it bridges art and life.” Well, that’s not so. If you can make it in life — and I don’t say that’s easy to do - then you can make it with art; but even then that’s just like saying if you make it with life then you can make it as a race-car driver. That’s assuming art and life can be the same thing, those two poles. I make art. Other people make other things. There’s art and there’s life. I think life comes to art but if the object is used, then people say the object is used to bridge that gap — it’s crazy. The object is used to make art, just like paint is used to make art. Does Pop Art serve a social fimctt'on? Is it a comment? There are only a handful of people who seem to understand what I‘m doing, so I’m certainly not changing the world. People confuse this social business with Pop Art — that it’s a comment. Well, if it’s art, who cares if it’s a comment. If you write some fantastically obscene thing on a wall, that may be an even better comment, but I’m not sure that’s art. I’m involved with formal elements. You’ve got to be; I can’t help it. But any work of art, if it's successful, is also going to be a comment on what it’s about. I’m working on a series of palettes right now. I put down the palette first, then within that palette I can do any thing — clouds can roll through it, people can walk over it, I can put a hammer in the middle of it . . . Every time I do something, the whole thing becomes richer; it is another thing added to the landscape. But once I’ve done something, I’m no longer interested in it as a problem. It just becomes another facet of my work. I’m interested in striving to do something tougher. 111 From WHAT IS POP ART? PART II Interviews by C. R. Swenson This is the second part of a two-part series of interviews with painters who have recently come into international prominence. Their new kinds of subject matter and attitudes have been labeled “Pop Art” — a phrase picked up in England from the commercial jazz world and recently promulgated in America by establishments as difiiarent as those of The New York Times and the Guggenheim Museum. Complex genealogies have been proposed ~ Jasper Johns is a precursor of Pop; Stephen Durhee is a legatee, etc. But our interest is not in such artificial categories, but in the artists themselves and what they have to say, indi- vidually, about their work and their careers. In the November issue, GR. Swenson inter- viewed jim Dine, Robert Indiana, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy lVarhol. This completes the first published documentation on a group of artists who —~ as they keep repeating in their statements — have been as misinterpreted by over-eager publicists as they have been by a handfitl of disapproving critics. TOM WESSELMANN Whatis Pop Art? I dislike labels in general and Pop in particular, especially because it over-emphasizes the material used. There does seem to be a tendency to use similar materials and images, but the different ways they are used denies any kind of group intention. When I first came to painting there was only de Kooning — that was what I wanted to be, with all its self-dramatization. But it didn’t work for me. I did one sort of non—objec- tive collage that I liked, but when I tried to do it again I had a kind of artistic nervous breakdown. I didn’t know where Iwas. I couldn’t stand the insecurity and frustration in— volved in trying to come to grips with something that just wasn’t right, that wasn’t me at any rate. Have you banished the brushstro/ce from your work? I’m painting now more than I used to because I’m working so big; there’s a shortage of collage material. So brushstrokes can occur, but they are often present as a collage ele- ment; for example, in one big still—life I just did there’s a tablecloth section painted as if it were a fragment from an Abstract-Expressionist painting inserted into my picture. I use de Kooning’s brush knowing it is his brush. One thing I like about collage is that you can use anything, which gives you that kind of variety; it sets up reverberations in a picture from one kind of reality to another. I don’t attach any kind of value to brushstrokes, I just use them as another thing from the world of existence. My first interest is the painting which is the whole, final product. I’m inter- ested in assembling a situation resembling painting, rather than painting; I like the Use of painting because it has a constant resemblance to painting. that is the purpose ofjuxtaposing different kinds of representations? If there was any single aspect of my work that excited me, it was that possibility — 1101: just the differences between what they were, but the aura each had with it. They each had such a fulfilled reality; the reverberations seemed a way of making the picture more N cerpt, ArtNews, February 1964: 40—41 ff. 112 Tom Msselmann, Bathtub Collage #3, oil on canvas, enamel on wood, and assemblage, 84 X 706 V: X 20 inches, 1963. Museum Ludwig, Cologne. intense. A painted pack of cigarettes next to a painted apple wasn’t enough for me. They are both the same kind of thing. But if one is from a cigarette ad and the other a painted apple, they are two different realities and they trade on each other; lots of things — bright strong colors, the qualities of materials, images from art history or advertising — trade on each other. This kind of relationship helps establish a momentum throughout the pic- ture — all the elements are in some way very intense. Therefore throughout the picture all the elements compete with each other. At first glance, my pictures seem well—be— haved, as if — that is a still—life, OK. But these things have such crazy gives and takes that I feel they get really very wild. What does est/zetz'cs mean to you and your work? Esthetics is very important to me, but it doesn’t deal with beauty or ugliness — they aren’t values in painting for me, they’re beside the point. Painting relates to both beauty and ugliness. Neither can be made. (I try to work in the gap between the two.) I’ve been thinking about that, as you can see. Perhaps “intensity” would be a better emphasis. I al- ways liked Marsicano’s quote — from Art News —- “Truth can be defined as the intensity with which a picture forces one to participate in its illusion.” Some of the worst things I’ve read about Pop Art have come from its admirers. They begin to sound like some nostalgia cult — they really worship Marilyn Monroe or Coca- Cola. The importance people attach to things the artist uses is irrelevant. My use of ele- ments from advertising came about gradually. One day I used a tiny bottle picture on a table in one of my little nude collages. It was a logical extension of what lwas doing. I use a billboard picture because it is a real, special representation of something, not because it is from a billboard. Advertising images excite me mainly because of what I can make from them. Also I use real objects because I need to use objects, not because objects need 113 to be used. But the objects remain My rug is not to be walked on . Is Pop Art a muntear-revolun‘o,Z P I don’t think 50' A5 for me a I got my subject matter from Hans Memling (I started with “Portrait Couages”) and de Kogning gave me content and motivation. M from that. What influences haveyoufislt in your work from, say, Dada? When I iiI‘St came EICTOSS it, I respected it and thought it was pretty good; but it didn’t have anything to do Wlth me- As my work began to evolve {realized - not consciously. it was like a surprlse — that maybe it had something to do with my work. It was the same with Rauschenberg. When I saw his painting with the radios in it I thought it was fine, OK, but it had no effect on me. It ceased to exist for me except in Rauschenberg’s world. Much later I got interested in the addition of movement to paint— ing, so apart of the painting was attached to a motor. An interest in using light and sound followed — I put in a teleViSion. But not only for the television image — who cares about television images? — but because I cared about the dimension it gave to painting, some— thing that moved, and gave off light and sound. I used a radio and when I did I felt as if I were the first who’d ever used a radio. It’s not that I think of that as an accomplishment —— it’s just that Rauschenberg didn’t seem an immediate factor in it. He was, of course; his use of objects in paintings made it somehow legitimate; but I used a radio for my own reasons . . . I’ve been painting more, lately, in these big works. I’m more and more aware of how audacious the act ofpainting is. One of the reasons I got started making collages was that I lacked involvement with the thing I was painting; I didn’t have enough interest in a rose to paint it. Some of this, I think, comes from the painting of the ’fifties — I mean. for a painter the love of flowers was gone. I don’t love roses or bottles or anything like that enough to want to sit down and paint them lovingly and patiently. Now with these big pic- tures, well, there aren’t enough billboards around and I have to paint a bowl — and I don’t have any feelings about bowls or how a bowl should be. I only know I have to have a bowl in that painting. Here, in this picture I’m working on, I made this plain blue bowl and then I realized it had to have something on it. I had to invent a bowl and — god! — I couldn’t believe how audacious it was. And it’s threatening too — painting something without any conviction about what it should be. Do you mean that collage materials permit you to use an image and still br- nmnral m- Part of a painting because I don’t make Environments. y work evolves ward the object represented? I think painting is essentially the same as it has always been. It confuses me that people expect Pop Art to make a comment or say that its adherents merely accept their environ» ment. I’ve viewed most of the paintings I’ve loved — Mondrians, Matisses, Pollocks — as being rather dead—pan in that sense. All painting is fact, and that is enough; the paintings are charged with their very presence. The situation, physical ideas, physical presence - I feel that is the comment. JAMES ROSENQUIST I think critics are hot blooded_ They dons: take very much time to analyze what’s in the painting. . . OK, the critics can say [th think it’s very enlightening 1:1’1at at Pop artists accept the mechanization of the soul}. 1 zf we do, we realize it instead of protesting too much. It 114 n’t been my reason. I have some reasons for using commercial images that these peg- has bably haven’t thought about. If I use anonymous images — it’s true my images have not been hot blooded images — they’ve been anonymous images of recent history. In 1960 and 1961 I painted the front of a 1950 Ford. I felt it was an anonymous image. I wasn’t angry about that, and it wasn’t a nostalgic image either. Just an image. I use im- ages from old magazines — when I say old, I mean 1945 to 1955 —- a time we haven’t started to ferret out as history yet. If it was the front end of a new car there would be peo- pte who would be passionate about it, and the front end of an old car might make some people nostalgic. The images are like no-images. There is a freedom there. If it were ab- stract, people might make it into something. If you paint Franco-American spaghetti, they won’t make a crucifixion out of it, and also who could be nostalgic about canned spaghetti? They’ll bring their reactions but, probably, they won’t have as many irrelevant ple pro ones . - - The images are now, already, on the canvas and the time I painted it is on the canvas. That will always be seen. That time span, people will look at it and say, “why did he paint a ’ 50 Ford in 1960, why didn’t he paint a ’60 Ford? ” That relationship is one of the impor- tant things we have as painters. The immediacy may be lost in a hundred years, but don’t forget that by that time it will be like collecting a stamp; this thing might have ivy grow— ing around it. If it bothers to stand up — I don’t know — it will belong to a stamp collec— tor, it will have nostalgia then. But still that time reference will mean something . . . I have a feeling, as soon as I do something, or as I do something, nature comes along and lays some dust on it. There’s a relationship between nature -— nature’s nature — and time, the day and the hour and the minute. If you do an iron sculpture, in time it becomes rusty, it gains a patina and that patina can only get to be beautiful. A painter searches for a brutality that hasn’t been assimilated by nature. I believe there is a heavy hand of nature on the artist. My studio floor could be, some people would say that is part of me and part of my painting because that is the wayl arranged it, the way things are. But it’s not, be- cause it’s an accidental arrangement; it is nature, like flowers or other things . . . [Paint and paint quality] are natural things before you touch them, before they’re arranged. As time goes by the brutality of what art is, the idea of what art can be, changes; different feelings about things become at home, become accepted, natural . . . [Brutality is] a new vision or method to express something, its value geared right to the present time . . . When I was a student, I explored paint quality. Then I started working, doing com- mercial painting and I got all of the paint qualityl ever wanted. I had paint running down my armpits. I kept looking at everything I was doing — a wall, a gasoline tank, I kept looking to see what happened, looking at a rusty surface, at the nature, at changing color. I’ve seen a lot of different ways paint takes form and what it does, and what excited me and what didn’t. After some Abstract-Expressionist paintingl did then, I felt I had to slice through all that, because I had a lot of residue, things I didn’t want. I thought that I Would be a stronger painter if I made most of my decisions before I approached the can— VaS; that wayI hoped for a vision that would be more simple and direct. I don’t know what the rules for Abstract-Expressionism are, but I think one is that you make a connection Wlth the canvas and then you discover; that’s what you paint — and eliminate what you don:t Want. I felt my canvases were jammed with stuff I didn’t want . . . ‘ I .111 amazed and excited and fascinated about the way things are thrust at us, the way this 1IIVisible screen that’s a couple of feet in front of our mind and our senses is attacked by rad-io and television and visual communications, through things larger than life, the 115 impact of things thrown at us, at such a speed and with such a force that painting and the attitudes toward painting and communication through doing a paintlng now seem very old-fashioned . . . I think we have a free society, and the action that goes on in this free society allows en- croachments, as a commercial society. So I geared myself, like an advertiser or a large company, to this visual inflation —- in commercial advertising which is one of the founda- tions of our society. I’m living in it, and it has such impact and excitement in its means of imagery. Painting is probably more exciting than advertising - so why shouldn’t it be done with that power and gusto, with that impact. I see very few paintings with the im- pact that I’ve felt, that I feel and try to do in my work . . . My metaphor, if that is what you can call it, is my relation to the power of commercial advertising which is in turn related to our free society, the visual inflation which accompanies the money that produces box tops and space cadets . . . When I use a combination of fragments of things, the fragments or objects or real things are caustic to one another, and the title is also caustic to the fragments . . . The images are expendable, and the images are in the painting and therefore the painting is also expendable. I only hope for a colorful shoe—horn to get the person off, to turn him on to his own feelings . . . The more we explore, the more we dig through, the more we learn the more mystery there is. For instance, how can I justify myself, how can I make my mark, my “X” on the wall in my studio, or in my experience, when somebody is jumping in a rocket ship and exploring outer space? Like, he begins to explore space, the deeper he goes in space the more there is of nature, the more mystery there is. You may make a discovery, but you get to a certain point and that point opens up a whole new area that's never even been touched . . . I treat the billboard image as it is, so apart from nature. I paint it as a reproduction of other things; I try to get as far away from the nature as possible . . . An empty canvas is full, as Bob [Rauschenberg] said. Things are always gorgeous and juicy — an empty canvas is — so I put something in to dry it up. Just the canvas and paint —— that would be nature. I see all this stuff [pointing to the texture of a canvas] - that’s a whole other school of painting. All that very beautiful canvas can be wonderful, but it’s another thing. The image — certainly it’s juicy, too - but it throws your mind to some- thing else, into art. From having an empty canvas, you have a painted canvas. It may have more action; but the action is like a confrontation, like a blow that cancels out a lot of other stuff, numbing your appreciation for a lot of juicy things. Then, too, somebody will ask, why do I want that image there? I don’t want that image, but it’s there. To put an im- age in, or a combination of images, is an attempt to make it at least not nature, cancel it from nature, wrest it away. Look at that fabric, there, the canvas, and the paint — those are like nature . . . I learned a lot more about painting paint when I painted signs. I painted things from photos and I had quite a bit of freedom in the interpretation, but still, after I did it, it felt cold to me, it felt like I hadn’t done it, that it had been done by a machine. The photo- graph was a machine-produced image. I threw myself at it. I reproduced it as photo- graphically and stark as I could. They’re still done the same way; I like to paint them as stark as I can . . . I thought for a while I would like to use machine-made imageS, silk-screens, maybe- But by the time I could get them — I have specifics in my mind — it would take longer 01‘ 116 as long, and it would be in a limited size, than if I did them as detached as I could by hand, in the detached method I learned as a commercial painter . . . When I first started thinking like this, feeling like this, from my outdoor painting, painting commercial advertising, I would bring home colors that I liked, associations that I liked using in my abstract painting, and I would remember specifics by saying this was a dirty bacon tan, this was a yellow T—shirt yellow, this was a Man-Tan suntan orange. I remember these like I was remembering an alphabet, a specific color. So then I started painting Man—Tan orange and — I always remember F ranco—American spaghetti orange, I can’t forget it -— so I felt it as a remembrance of things, like a color chart, like learning an alphabet. Other people talk about painting nothing. You just can’t do it. I paint some— thing as detached as I can and as well as I can; then I have one image, that’s it. But in a sense the image is expendable; I have to keep the image so that the thing doesn’t become an attempt at a grand illusion, an elegance . . . If I use a lamp or a chair, that isn’t the subject, it isn’t the subject matter. The relation— ships maybe the subject matter, the relationships of the fragments I do. The content will be something more, gained from the relationships. If I have three things, their relation— ship will be the subject matter; but the content will, hopefully, be fatter, balloon to more than the subject matter. One thing, though, the subject matter isn’t popular images, it isn’t that at all. 117 THE DOCUMENTS 0F TWENTIETH-CENTURY ART General Editor, Jack Flam FoundingEditor, Robert Motherwell Other titles in the series available from University of California Press: Fl‘ght Out of Time: A Dada Diary by Hugo Ball John Elderfield Art as Art: The Selected Writings ofAd Reinhardt Barbara Rose Memoirs of a Dada Drummer by Richard Huelsenbeck Hans J. Kleinschmidt German Expressionism: Documents from the End of the Wilhelmine Empire to the Rise ofNational Socialism Rose-Carol Washton Long Matisse on Art, Revised Edition Jack Flam RobertSmithson: The Collected V/ritings Jack Flam POP ART A Critical History editedby STEVEN HENRY MADOFF UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS Berkeley LosAngeles London ...
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